AP Exam: Tips to Help You Choose Your Learning Style

Taking an AP exam is a great way to earn college credit in high school and demonstrates academic rigor. However, not all AP exams are created equal. Choosing the right AP exams to self-study can be a difficult task. Below are some tips to help you choose the best ones for your learning style.

Know the Rubric

Ultimately, the rubric determines your score. The more you understand the scoring criteria, the easier it is to mold your knowledge into a valid answer. The College Board provides a rubric for each exam and scoring guidelines explaining the criteria graders seek. These documents vary by course and essay type, but they all clearly show what your teacher looks for on your exam. During the year, your teacher will help you understand these documents and what they ask of you on test day. It is the best way to prepare for any AP exam.

You can also use AP study guides on your own to get familiar with the structure of AP exams and the questions you’ll face. Try taking multiple-choice and free-response questions similar to those on the actual AP exam. It will help you determine what specific exam skills you need to build. For example, if you’re taking an AP course with a significant writing component, consider practicing the various essay prompts and working on your thesis statements.

Make a Study Schedule

It’s important to begin your AP study plan early. Time can fly by, and you don’t want to find yourself in the last month of the semester with only a few weeks until your exam! First, start by correlating the table of contents in your test prep book with the AP course syllabus provided on the College Board’s website. It will help you determine the material you need to review. Next, create a weekly schedule to ensure you stay on top of your review. Daily studying is far better than cramming an all-nighter right before the exam. A sleep-deprived brain is a sieve for information and will not retain it either. As you approach your exam date, incorporate more full-length practice tests into your studying schedule. Use your performance on these practice exams to identify the areas you most need to focus on. These practice tests will also help you familiarize yourself with the format of the exam and will teach you how to manage your time under pressure.

Take Practice Tests

AP exams are challenging because they require you to learn and retain information rapidly. To ensure you are ready for the test, taking as many full-length practice tests under the same conditions as you will encounter on exam day is a good idea. It is especially important for classes that have both multiple-choice and free-response questions. When preparing for your AP exam, be sure to use all the resources available to you, including your textbook, which may include practice tests and quizzes at the end of each chapter, online study guides, podcasts and other audio videos, Khan Academy and other content review tools, and even a study buddy. These will help you to understand your course material better and give you a different perspective on the information, which can be a great asset. You should also look for and find (official) practice tests and questions, such as those published by the College Board. Taking these, particularly the free-response questions, will familiarize you with the style and format of AP questions.

Mark Up the Text

Having a good understanding of the material is critical for doing well on any exam. While reviewing class notes and textbooks can be helpful, a study guide created specifically for your AP exam is essential. Whether you make flashcards for important facts or dates, draft a one-page “cheat sheet” of equations, construct a timeline of key events or create a concept map, a carefully crafted study guide can help you remember and retain the information on the test. Taking on the challenge of self-studying for an AP exam can be daunting, but it also represents an incredible opportunity to demonstrate your dedication and initiative as a student. Getting a top score on an AP exam will boost your college application and show colleges that you are dedicated to your education and willing to take the time and effort needed to master difficult material. If you hit a snag, don’t give up! It is better to ask for help than to figure out what you don’t understand.

Take a Break

Taking a break at least every 20 minutes is important while studying. It will refresh your mind and help you focus for longer periods. A quick outdoor walk, light exercise (like jumping jacks or push-ups) or even a small snack are great study breaks. Avoid food high in fat and sugar, which will zap your energy! Talking with someone is also a great study break, as long as you can stop talking once your break is over. It’s best to choose someone who knows your schedule well and will be understanding when you tell that person that your time-out is up. Avoid procrastinating or working past your brain’s ability to concentrate by keeping track of your break time using a timer. You can use the alarm on your phone or a kitchen timer. Set the timer right before your break begins so you can return to your studies on time. It will help keep you from wasting your hard-earned break time!