If you’re in an AP class, you’re likely painfully aware of looming AP exams. These rigorous 3-hour exams determine whether colleges will provide credit for all of your hard AP coursework—no matter how great your grades in the class might be, your chance at college credit all rides on that one test.
AP exam prep is a marathon, not a sprint. There exams are long and intense, and many students take two of these tests in a single day or several tests in a single week. Unless you’re a lean, mean testing machine, that’s a whole lot of really tough tests to take in a pretty short amount of time.
If you’ve been studying all along, you’ve done well in your classes, and you already started taking practice tests, you’ve got a great foundation for AP exam prep. If you’re getting by in class and you haven’t taken a single practice test, it’s time to start building an AP exam prep foundation. Whichever end of the spectrum you fall on, we’ve got some AP exam tips to help you succeed in May:
AP Exam Prep Tip #1: Start months in advance.
You wouldn’t start training for a marathon just a couple weeks before the big race, and you shouldn’t start studying for your AP exams with days to spare either. You can prep for AP exams all year long by taking practice tests, completing practice questions, and working on your free response skills. We recommend developing an AP exam study plan two or three months before the exams start so that you have plenty of time to review and revisit a whole year’s worth of information.
So if you haven’t already started your AP exam prep, there’s no time like the present. Go get your highlighters and note cards. We’ll wait.
AP Exam Prep Tip #2: Gather your materials.
Most AP exams cover an entire year’s worth of information. Condensing all of that information into something you can reasonably study is a big first step in AP exam prep.
First, gather your notes from class. Hopefully you took really thorough notes (or perhaps a really generous friend took very thorough notes he is will to share). One great AP exam prep tip is to condense your class notes into a homemade study guide—basically, take notes from your notes. The act of rearranging and summarizing information you’ve already written down once will help to reinforce the concepts in your head AND provide you a good study guide to use for future review.
Next, find a prep book that works for you. There are tons of AP exam prep guides available, and all of them take slightly different approaches to the information; some include a lot of explanation and information while others place a stronger emphasis on practice problems. Depending on your comfort level with the subject, decide whether you need more help with reviewing information or with practicing for the test.
Finally, gather official practice tests and questions. The College Board publishes several years’ worth of practice material, including both full-length tests and free response questions. Your AP teachers probably have practice tests available as well.
AP Exam Prep Tip #3: Take practice tests.
One of the hardest parts of AP testing is simply getting through the test. For most AP exams, you’ll do about 3 hours’ worth of reading and writing with little pause. Taking plenty of timed practice tests will help get you ready for the marathon ahead by building your test-taking endurance.
Practice tests also offer a great way to review information. The more often you recall a piece of information, the easier recall becomes in the future. Moreover, practice tests can help alleviate testing anxiety by eliminating surprises on test day.
AP Exam Prep Tip #4: Focus on weak spots but don’t overlook strengths.
It’s natural to focus your AP exam prep efforts on your weakest areas, but it’s just as important to maintain your strengths.
Let’s say you’re getting ready for the AP US History exam. You feel really good about the post-World War II material that you just finished covering in class, but you can barely remember anything about pre-Revolutionary War history. If you focus exclusively on pre-Revolutionary War material, there’s a really good chance that you’re going to forget a lot of that post-World War II stuff in the process.
When it comes to knowledge, use it or lose it. If you rarely review or test yourself on the stuff you know well, you might not remember it on test day.
AP Exam Prep Tip #5: Build a support system.
You’re not in this alone. Your fellow AP students, your AP teachers, your parents, and your local C2 Education center are all pulling for you. Take advantage of your support system as you prep for the exam. Put together study groups with classmates to pool knowledge, test one another, and combine class notes. Ask your AP teachers for after school review sessions or testing pointers. Have your parents quiz you with flashcards at the dinner table. And consider visiting your local C2 Education center for expert AP exam prep sessions.