“I just bombed my AP Calc test!” is something that you have probably heard in the hallway sometime in the month of May. The infamous AP tests are important to many Rowland Hall students and recently, Rodrigo and I wrote about some tips and tricks to excelling in some Rowland Hall AP classes. However, many students don’t value doing well in the actual class as much as doing well on the AP test. Regardless, if you have a desire to get a 4 or 5, or even just pass your AP exam, read on to find some strategies to be successful.
The AP exams are tests administered by the College Board over two weeks in May, which fall on May 2–6 and May 9–13 this year. AP exams can be hard to ace, but doing well on them can be highly beneficial; getting a 3, 4, or 5 can get you out of some college classes by giving you the necessary credits for a class, and a high score can also look good on your college apps and tell the college that you are capable of excelling in a college-level course. So, with AP season right around the corner, I am going to give you some tips and advice to maximize your chances of passing the exams. This information comes from certified AP-prep companies as well as students who have been successful on past exams. Hopefully applying these tips will result in some success for you!
The first fact you should know as you go into studying is how difficult your upcoming AP exam is likely to be. Looking at the national average and pass rate for the test will give you some insight into how difficult the test will be. For example, the easiest test to get a 5 on in 2021 was AP Chinese Language and Culture, with 57.2% of test-takers receiving a 5, and the most difficult test to do well on was AP English Literature and Composition, with only 4.9% of test-takers receiving a 5. Knowing this information will help you figure out how much you need to study as well as how difficult the test itself will be.
The next piece of advice, which may be one of the best ways to do well on your test, is to take AP-style practice exams. Companies like the Princeton Review, Barron’s, and AMSCO all sell AP prep books (The Princeton Review tends to have a huge variety of books). These types of books usually give you a full rundown of the course along with mini-quizzes and full-length practice tests to help you do well. These tests are formatted in the same way as your AP test will be, so they include multiple-choice questions, free-response questions, and document-based questions, depending on what test you are taking. One of the main reasons these texts are so invaluable is that they help you get used to taking the test in the set amount of time that the College Board will give you. I recommend buying these books at least a month before your test to give yourself an ample amount of time to study. Additionally, the college prep website CollegeRaptor recommends that you take a practice test before you start any of your studying to see how well you know the material. Lastly, Ané Hernandez says that “answering the practice questions on AP Classroom that have been assigned to you by your teacher is especially helpful because they are written by the College Board and are catered to the information specifically meant for the AP exam.”
But, most of us already know that practice makes perfect, so the real question is HOW should you practice? To begin, you should study in a place without distraction and do NOT seek out any help. Doing so will only make you overestimate your skills and sabotage you when the real test comes around. Next, strictly time all of your sections and take the tests in one sitting. Splitting up sections or extending your time can give you an inaccurate estimate of your preparedness. This is because during the real test you could run into troubles with how you pace yourself, you could experience tiredness between sections, or a lack of motivation to sit/test-take for long hours, all of which you will be unready for if you do not practice ahead. Next, annotating your incorrect answers is also an amazing way to learn from your mistakes and cement the correct ideas in your head so that you do not repeat them on test day. My last recommendation is to read through and take notes on the answer explanations to any questions you are remotely confused about. On document-based questions, long-answer questions, and short-answer questions, grade your own responses or go over them with a teacher to see if you answered all required parts (which you can find on a rubric provided by the College Board).
My next piece of advice is to start early and drill the information into your head. If you are unfamiliar with the actual information on the test, it will be difficult to figure out how to answer the questions. I have found that highlighting and annotating the information they give you in the prep book and separately taking notes can help ingrain the information in your brain, as if they were an assigned reading/lecture your teacher has given you. Starting early will also reduce stress when the test is nearing. For students who are taking multiple AP exams, CollegeVine, another college-prep website, recommends creating a study schedule early to divide your time productively. These study schedules can look like assigning specific days to specific AP tests, or studying multiple AP tests per day. I would recommend doing practice and using memorization techniques every time you sit down to study. This will help you remember the information in your long-term memory.
Lastly, learning some tips on what to do while actually taking the AP exam can be helpful. Tascha Knowlton, AT Chemistry teacher, recommends “reading through the questions quickly before you even start and answering” and to “prioritize the questions you know how to do and going back and answering the harder questions at the end.” These tips will help you pace yourself and ensure you get as many points as possible. In the multiple-choice section, she encourages “physically crossing off the wrong answer so your brain doesn’t consider it again,” which helps you move faster. For those of you taking STEM AP tests, she suggests looking at the equation sheet (for tests that let you have one) for any questions you are stuck on because the equation sheets can help you get any partial points or can even fully clue you in on how to do a problem.
Although AP tests can be a nerve-racking time for many high schoolers, all of the tips shared above can help make the time easier. You likely know your own study habits and what works for you, but for many students, AP exams can be a daunting challenge. But, hopefully, with these tips you will never be screaming “I just failed my _______ AP test” ever again. AP exams are nearing soon, so get studying!