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Tips for Taking the 2020 AP Exams

College Board made several changes to this year’s AP exams in response to COVID-19 in order to allow students to take the tests from home. Most of the 2020 AP exams are 45 minutes long, consist exclusively of free response question types, and will be submitted online. This means that all of the tests are open book/open notes, and therefore test takers should be using some different methods to prepare than they might have used for the traditional mixed multiple choice/free response tests that are typically administered. This post will provide some suggestions for how to best prepare for this year’s modified tests.

Understand the Format of Your Particular Test

College Board has provided several useful resources for students preparing for the 2020 AP tests. First, we recommend that you visit the College Board website to double check on the format for the particular test you are taking. While most tests are now 45 minutes long and consist of one or two free response questions, the types of free response questions vary by test.

Additionally, for some tests (humanities and social sciences) students will be typing their responses into the online system and should therefore be practicing by typing their essays in a blank word document. While in other tests (math and sciences) students may have the option to handwrite responses or be provided with tips for how to type common mathematical/scientific expressions on a standard keyboard. In that case, students should practice both methods to determine which they are more comfortable with prior to the exam day. For either option, you will need to type or write your AP ID, initials, and page number at the top of each page of the response. See College Board’s guides on both methods here. [hyperlink: https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/pdf/ap-testing-guide-2020.pdf] Starting on 4 May you will be able to access the 2020 AP Exam Demo [insert hyperlink: https://cb.org/apdemo] to practice submitting your response.

Lastly, the College Board has a number of resources for students to better understand their scoring guidelines for each test on each AP course exam page. These resources include things like scoring guides for graders, example essays with their scoring sheets, and past example questions. Use these resources in your studying so that you can understand what test graders will be looking for in your essay and the nuances of how College Board test graders like to see your information presented.

Organize Your Notes Effectively for an Open Notes Exam

While many students think open notes exams are easier, that is not always true. Students will save some time and energy in memorizing fewer details and formulas, but AP exams are testing synthesis, application, and analysis, meaning that you should still spend significant time preparing for the exam. The shorter time period (45 minutes) for each exam also means that you will not have time to learn material on test day or spend significant amounts of time searching back through your notes or trying to search for answers on the internet. In fact, College Board notes that students who try to find answers on the internet often earn fewer points than students who use their own materials to develop a coherent and logical response.

Think about how to best organize your class notes to be useful while taking the exam. For science and math, making formula sheets or definition sheets might be a useful strategy. For social sciences and humanities, organizing your notes by time period or by overarching trend or theme might be more useful. Remember that more material is not always better, the more time that you spend searching through your notes, the less time you will have to draft your response. Therefore you want your notes to be as easily accessible as possible.

Additionally, it could be useful to you to create your own checklist of what information essay graders will be looking for in your essay. You can find that information in the scoring guidelines provided at each course page. [hyperlink: https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/courses] That will help you ensure your essay will achieve the maximum number of points possible if you use your checklist when outlining your response.

Use Your Time Effectively

During the exam, there will be a timer at the bottom of the screen showing how much time remains to create and submit your response. The timer will turn red when you have only the 5 minutes left to submit your response.

For essay questions, you should spend 10-15% of your time reading the question and associated documents, brainstorming, and outlining your response. Good essays are well-organized and that requires spending time up front thinking about that organization.

Final Test Day Tips for 2020 AP Exams

College Board has said that all AP test takers will receive an exam confirmation email on 4 May with your AP ID and a list of exams you’re registered for. Two days prior to the test you are registered for, you will receive an email with your e-ticket and AP ID.

On exam day, you should use your e-ticket to check in to the exam 30 minutes prior to its start time. At the start time, the question will appear automatically. At the end of the test, students will have 5 minutes to submit their response. For exams with two questions, the questions will be completed one at a time, with 5 minutes in between questions to submit the response to the first question and 5 minutes at the end of the test to submit the response to the second question.