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4 Steps to Surviving AP Season

If you are taking one or more AP exams this year, here is everything you need to know to do well. Before you get started, make sure to find your motivation to study and do well and write them down to keep you engaged. Two very common motivators are saving time and money in college by transferring your AP credits and improving your chances at getting admitted to great colleges and universities. 

1: Know your schedule and plan ahead

Depending on the exam and the date of administration, the tests will differ in format. Make sure to check the website for the specific subject and date that you are taking the test and the format offered that day so you know what to expect. 

2: Organize your materials and take full advantage of them 

When it comes to AP prep, always put quality over quantity. There are a lot of materials out there that might not be reliable, especially the ones found online. The three best places to find legitimate practice materials are the official AP Central website, Khan Academy, and the Princeton Review prep books.

AP Central is the official website for the College Board and should be your starting point: there you will find all the information you need regarding the structure of the tests and the approximate percentage of each topic that will be covered in the exam. For instance, unit 6 of the AP Calculus AB course (Integration and Accumulation of Change) will have a weight of 17% to 20% on the multiple choice part of the exam. You can typically find this information for all of the AP subjects on their official pages

Khan Academy is another great resource because they have a partnership with the College Board, so all of their AP prep content is official, with the additional benefit of having course challenges to highlight areas of weakness and videos explaining each and every topic on the tests, followed by practice problems. 

During your preparation, plan to take at least one fully timed practice test. This will help you practice the endurance of sitting through the exam, and will give you a better idea of your strengths and weaknesses. Spend time going over your mistakes and note the topics you don’t feel confident in. Then plan your study time accordingly. 

Finally, the College Board has released a new digital practice app that serves as great prep for the content and format of the questions that you will find on the test. If you are taking one of the digital administrations of the test, the app will also serve to familiarize you with the digital interface you will be using during the official exam. 

3: Don’t neglect your mental and physical health 

Studying is obviously very important to do well on the exams, but so is eating healthily, exercising, and getting enough rest. Do not underestimate the power of a good diet and a good night’s sleep. A balanced diet will give you the physical energy and mental strength needed to endure these long and mentally demanding exams. 

Exercising is a natural way of releasing stress and anxiety. If you feel nervous about the test, the best thing to do is to take a walk and a nap after a good study session.

It is during sleep that learning is consolidated, when our brains process our short-term memories and turn the important ones into long-term memories. Sleep deprivation is very serious; it impairs cognitive and motor functions at levels equivalent to alcohol intoxication. If you only had one day to prepare for the exams, it is far more effective to study during the day and get a good night of sleep than it is to stay up all night to study and then go into the test sleep-deprived. Do not let panic take over the day before the test – go to bed early.

4: Use good test prep strategies

Set up Effective Study Sessions

Studying a little bit every day is better than cramming at the last minute. Studying in smaller intervals and taking short breaks in between is better than trying to maintain your focus for 8 hours straight. Here are two great methods for breaking down your studying: 

Method 1  Method 2
25-minute study session 52-minute study session
5-minute break 17-minute break
25-minute study session 52-minute study session
5-minute break 17-minute break
15 to 30-minute break and repeat 30-minute break and repeat

If you find it hard to gather the motivation to study, start with just five minutes. After those five minutes are up, give yourself a choice: you can renew this “contract” with yourself for five more minutes or you can stop and be free. Either way you make progress because five minutes is better than nothing! Odds are, though, that once you get started, you will realize that studying is a lot more doable than it seemed when you were procrastinating. 

Taking Effective Breaks 

To optimize your study time as much as possible, take effective breaks: before you go on TikTok or YouTube or anywhere near your phone for that matter, drink water, move around, stretch, breathe some fresh air and get some sunlight if you can. 

Strategies for Multiple Choice Questions

Don’t leave anything blank. If you have to guess, try to eliminate as many answer choices as possible. Sometimes you will find an answer choice that contradicts itself and can immediately be ruled out. However, if you have absolutely no idea or are running out of time, choose your favorite letter and guess on that same letter whenever you need to guess. Whenever you guess, mark the question so you can revisit it later if you have time at the end. Keep in mind that you don’t need to get everything right to get a top score on the exam, so try to spot the questions that will be easiest for you and budget your time wisely. This strategy will only work if you are taking the paper exam. On the digital exam, you will NOT be able to go back to any of the questions once you answered, so be aware of that before making a final decision, but don’t spend too much time on any given question. 

Strategies for Free Response Questions

While preparing for the exam, it is a good idea to read sample student responses and how each of them were scored so you know the level of depth and detail required in order to get full credit for your answers. You can find free response samples on the official page for each AP exam

On the actual exam, always write something down for the free response questions. If you don’t know the answer, but you have an idea of how to get it, describe your thought process for a chance to get partial credit. If one part of the question depends on a previous part of the question that you weren’t able to answer, you can make something up and use it going forward. That way you have a chance of getting a few points of partial credit. For example, if you are taking an AP Calculus exam and you have a question where part a) asks you to evaluate an integral that you cannot solve, and part b) requires the result from part a) to proceed, you can make up a value for the integral and use it in part b).