When I was entering my sophomore year, I had a crazy thought: “What if I took the AP exams for three different AP classes without actually taking the test?” At the time, my friends thought I was crazy, but there are actually a lot of reasons why a person would choose to subject themselves to the torture that is known as self-studying for an AP test.
Now that the school year has started, you may find yourself on the outside of a class looking in. Because of class size caps, scheduling issues, and a plethora of other reasons, a lot of students are not able to take a specific AP course that they want to take.
Or maybe your courses aren’t challenging enough this year, so you’re looking for some outside work to stimulate your academic faculties.
Or maybe you just want to make your college application more impressive.
Or maybe you just want to learn something new.
Regardless of the reason, self-studying for an AP exam is completely doable, and there are multiple ways to do so, depending on how you learn.
1. The Sponge
Everyone knows a sponge, and if you don’t, it’s probably you. They’re the person who puts off studying until the last minute, opting to cram weeks of information the night before an exam. Despite the magnitude of an AP exam compared to a regular school exam, they refuse to put in more effort than they deem necessary. Rather, they will opt to soak everything in when it seems like time is all but gone.
If you’re a sponge, then your best friend would be an AP test prep book. During AP testing season, my go-to book was my Barron’s book. However, different publishers might have strengths in certain subjects and weaknesses in others. If you’re in doubt, a good resource is to scroll through College Confidential forums to see what other self-studiers would recommend.
By now, if you’re a sponge, then you already know the drill. When AP prep time comes around, head to Starbucks to pick up your caffeinated beverage of choice, and hit those books!
2. The Control Freak
The control freak wants everything to go perfectly during their self-studying adventure. They will set aside a set time each week dedicated to going over new material and reviewing past material. For most control freaks, a prep book should be fine to study with. However, they may choose to supplement their materials with outside resources.
If you’re a control freak, the best thing you could do for yourself is to get an AP prep book and start outlining your schedule. You should set aside a specific portion of your week to studying, but make sure you are flexible with your schedule. You have ongoing classes and extracurricular activities at the same time, and those should take precedence over your self-studying.
3. The “I’m Completely Prepared, But I Think I’m Going to Fail” Perfectionist
The perfectionist is basically the control freak, but taking it to a whole new level. In addition to planning out their own personal AP self-study schedule, they will seek outside resources, such as a teacher who teaches the AP test’s corresponding course.
If you’re a perfectionist, then you should contact an AP teacher who teaches the subject you want to self-study (preferably at your school), and ask for tips. Many AP teachers have print-outs that they will share with their students on how to prepare for a specific AP test. If you can get your hands on those, you’ve scored big.
Another way perfectionists will prepare themselves is to plan their AP study schedule with an AP teacher’s teaching schedule. If this is you, get a copy of the class’ textbook, and ask the teacher if you would be able to take the same tests and do the same homework as the students throughout the course of the year. This way, you have a benchmark to gauge your progress and understanding of the material.
As a veteran self-studier, I know that all of this can seem daunting at first. After all, what kind of a person would choose to subject themselves to extra (and copious) amounts of work? In all seriousness, if you choose to self-study for an AP test, it is completely doable. If AP prep books are too pricey for you or you just want extra material to review, make sure to check out Khan Academy and Sparknotes. Those are just some of the websites available that offer an abundance of AP test information. Remember: Google is your friend! A simple search for “AP (insert course here) review” will turn up websites devoted to that subject, and sometimes teachers will post their handouts on websites. Another fantastic resource is AP Central on the College Board website, which contains examples of past FRQs and DBQs (when applicable) and the scoring guidelines that go along with them.
There are tons of ways you could approach self-studying for an AP test. Whether you’re a sponge, a control freak, a perfectionist, or an entirely different category, there’s no one “right” path that will guarantee everyone success on self-studying. Look at your previous study habits for other big tests, and just follow your instincts on how to prepare for the AP exam, which, in all honesty, is just another one of those big tests.