Every May, a wave of panic and stress surrounds high school campuses. Students from all around the world take the infamous AP exams, furiously pouring their knowledge onto test booklets and praying for straight 5s. After 19 AP exams, I’ve discovered a few things about the AP madness that will make it less intimidating. This guide will make sure you are ready to go this AP season!
1. Don’t sign up if you know you won’t be ready
This may seem like common sense, but many students sign up for exams with the “wing it” mentality. Although some AP exams are relatively easier than others, they aren’t wing-it easy and require more preparation than you think. Walking into exams unprepared will be a total waste of time!
2. Prioritize your AP prep
When you are studying for multiple AP exams, you should prioritize your preparation based on your exam schedule and the importance of the exams. Of course, each exam is important in its own way, but you are more in need of a good score for some than others. For example, if you really don’t want to take that intro government course in college, you should focus on studying for the AP exams that will get you credits for that course.
3. Prep books aren’t always necessary
Buy prep books selectively! Prep books are accessories for studying for AP exams and are not absolutely necessary. For more abstract (less memorization) courses, such as AP English Literature and AP English Language, you won’t need a prep book at all. A lot of times, going through AP guidelines on the College Board website and using your teacher’s prep materials are sufficient.
4. A little motivation goes a long way
Remember, there’s a difference between useless stress and useful motivation! The last weeks of AP prep is always the hardest—you pore over an insane amount of practice materials, sit through countless prep PowerPoints, finish one practice test after another… However, everything gets reasonably easier with self-motivation and positive thinking. Just as my AP Biology teacher said, you really know more than you think you do.
5. Planning makes perfect during exam week
Mark your calendars for AP week! When you have multiple exams during exam week, you can avoid silly mistakes like messing up exam dates by listing a detailed schedule. Write down the exam (or exams) for each day and your prep/cram plan. This will help you stay organized throughout AP season.
6. Bring a watch
I can’t stress how important watches are for AP exams. A few of my friends who forgot to bring a personal watch struggled with time management during their exams. Even though testing sites provide clocks or a timer on a projected screen, you probably won’t be able to see the time as clearly as you’d like. A personal watch (that won’t beep) will be your best friend during exam week.
7. Details matter on exam day
What you eat and wear on exam day can affect your testing performance. Remember to dress in comfortable layers for AP exams because you never know how grossly humid or mind-numbingly cold the testing rooms will be. I also recommend bringing hardy energy bars and water to stay energized and a sack lunch if you have two (or even three) AP exams on the same day.
8. Time FLIES during exams
The actual exams really aren’t like the practice ones. Time passes a lot more quickly, especially for essay sections on English or history-related exams. One way to avoid running out of time (and panicking about it mid-exam) is practicing with a shortened time period. I usually subtract five minutes from the required time when I practice to make room for blank-out time.
9. Take AP curves into account
Many students (including me) gets a little upset when they find out they did something wrong on the exam—maybe it was making a few silly mistakes, or messing up an entire free response question. A way to relieve the unnecessary post-AP frustration is thinking about the almighty AP bell curve. College Board makes adjustments based on the overall performance of the student body. If you messed up something, someone else probably did too.
10. Not getting 5s isn’t a big deal
Many exams are graded harder than previous years due to change in grading rubric or addition of new testing materials, so please don’t get too stressed or upset over not getting a 5. A lot of colleges accept AP scores of 3 or 4 (and above) in exchange for credit, especially for more difficult courses such as AP Physics and AP Calculus.