AP exams are some of the toughest courses you can take in high school. Practically every AP exam not only requires you to excel in answering multiple-choice questions, but also in synthesizing your own unique responses to questions posed in the often-dreaded free-response section (FRQ).
To help you prepare for your AP exams, here are six study tips you should know to make sure you excel this year.
1. Follow the Pomodoro method to prep.
It’s hard to stay focused when you’re looking at the same subject for hours on end. Instead, space your practice out! The Pomodoro technique is a popular productivity method. What you want to do is spend 25 minutes intensely studying for your AP test, and then take a five-minute break. When your break is over, repeat the process. Before you know it, you’ll have completed several study sessions in just a few hours.
2. Pace your practice.
This one goes hand in hand with tip #1. It’s incredibly important to make sure you have a good grasp of how long it’s taking you to answer multiple-choice questions. Time your practice sessions. If you’re using a review book, use a timer app or ask someone to time you as you work through a practice test. When you’re practicing, make small checkmarks next to questions you felt you had to spend a lot of time on. Try to identify the similarities in the questions you mark to see if there’s an overall area you need to improve on before the test.
3. Know the rubric like the back of your hand.
A few weeks before the test, make sure you begin reviewing the rubrics for your AP exams. Each AP exam has a rubric on how the graders will assess your ability to craft meaningful responses to the questions asked. A lot of students miss out on easy points by not knowing that they need to do simple things like clearly take a position when stating a thesis. You can find all the rubrics and more at AP Central.
4. Make a + / – list.
One of the fastest ways to improve is by knowing where you need to most help. As you work through different AP practice questions, start a list of areas you’re strong at and areas you need to work at. This is really easy to do. On a single sheet of paper, fold it in half vertically, then put “+” on the left hand side and “-“ on the right hand side. If you’re using a practice site like Learnerator, make note of the tags that you are frequently getting wrong so that you can review them later.
5. Block out certain times throughout the week to practice for your APs.
You may often find yourself being “busy”, but not actually being busy. It’s natural. The best way to fight this is to block off time in your calendar. If you’ve been struggling to get started in practicing for your APs, an effective anti-procrastination technique is to reserve time for AP practice. For example, you could say every Tuesday and Thursday from 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM is AP review time. What you’ll find is that if you block out the time, you’ll have fewer excuses to not study since it’s already in your calendar.
6. Prep smart, not hard.
In high school, I really struggled to grasp this concept. I thought that studying meant putting 10 hours toward a test. Something I noticed though was that I would have friends who only studied two or three hours still do better than I did on the test! It wasn’t so much that they were smarter than I was, but rather that they simply prepped smarter than I did. There’s a difference between studying with purpose and studying for the sake of studying. After every study session, take a second to reflect on what you learned. Ask yourself, “What’s the main insight I can draw from this? How does this relate to X theme on this AP test?”
You can answer 100 AP practice questions not knowing where you went wrong or you can answer 50 AP practice questions and truly understand the reason why you got the question right or wrong. Which student do you think would end up doing better on the exam?
There you have it. Six AP study tips to keep in mind for the next time you begin studying. The APs may be a series of challenging tests, but they don’t have to be. If you study smart, you’ll get the AP exam scores you want. Good luck!
Looking for specific AP test guides? Check out our tips for:
- AP World History Exam
- AP Environmental Science Exam
- AP Statistics Exam
- AP Calculus Exam
- AP Language and Composition Exam
- AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam
You can also find additional AP resources through these links at TwoFace School!
About the Author
Will Yang is a co-founder of Learnerator, an online platform that provides thousands of AP practice questions. In high school, William took six APs as well as a full IB diploma course load.
Don’t forget — working with a test prep tutor will give you the edge you need as you study! Find a tutor near you here.
Photo by Stewart Black