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Self studying is a great way to get AP credit and learn more about a subject that you are interested in. The Prospect already has a guide for all things self-studying (actually, more than one), but which subjects are actually self-study-able? There are currently 33+ Advanced Placement courses offered. Below is a breakdown of each exam and advice for self studying each one.

Science APs

“I somewhat self-studied AP biology while I was in honors biology. Everything I learned in class was applicable, I just had to do more in-depth studying outside of class. Environmental Science may also be easy to self-study for if you feel you already know much about the environment. I took AP Environmental online on Florida Virtual School (FLVS). Plenty of topics on the test are somewhat common knowledge, but there are definitely environmental areas that I had never heard of.” – Jordin Giles

AP Biology is a hard subject to self-study; however, if you recently took honors Biology / are taking honors Biology, you might consider self-studying for this test. AP Biology covers a broad range of facts and complicated concepts. If you’ve got a knack for Biology or have a strong background in it, then go for it. Otherwise, there are plenty of other tests to self study.

Recommended Resources: Review Books (Cliffs, Barrons), Textbooks (Campbells Biology), YouTube (CrashCourse), Review Packets (use this, this, this, or make your own)

Self Study Friendly? Maybe.

AP Chemistry is one of the hardest tests to self study, and definitely takes a lot more time to prepare for than the other subjects. It deals with concepts that are pretty hard to understand on your own, which you have to apply on test day.

Self Study Friendly? No.

AP Environmental Science is probably one of the most popular subjects to self-study (probably because it is one of the easiest). There isn’t much information to learn and it’s easy to understand. You can easily get the information from a couple of review books and learn it quickly.

Recommended Resources: Last-minute review guides (herehere, and here), review books (The Smartypants Guide, The Princeton Review)

Self Study Friendly? YES!

AP Physics, like many of the other science courses, is hard to learn by yourself because of the difficult concepts it covers. To pass this test, you’ll need a strong background in math (especially for Physics C) and a good teacher to help you learn difficult concepts that many struggle with.

Self Study Friendly? No.

AP Psychology is one of the easiest tests to self study because there are relatively few concepts to learn. The FRQs are easy to understand and you can gather most of your information from review books.

Recommended Resources: Review Books (Barrons), YouTube (CrashCourse), last-minute review sheets (crib notes, Cram packets, Quizlets)

Self Study Friendly? YES!

English APs

“AP Lang would be easy [to self-study], if you’re a pretty decent writer, really good at multiple choice, and study literary terms.”  – Arlena McClenton

AP English Language & Composition and AP English Literature & Composition are both fine to self study if you’re gifted in the subject. The AP Lang exam is like a harder version of the SAT critical reading test with a few essays to write. It’s kind of hard to prepare for, as many of these skills are developed with time and practice. AP Lit focuses on analyzing literature and requires lots of practice with essay writing. Similarly to AP Lang, you should only study it if you’re a naturally gifted writer and can’t take the class.

Recommended Resources: review books (Barron’s and CliffsNotes for AP Lang, and Barron’s for AP Lit ), someone to grade your essays, practice tests (AP Lang, more AP Lang, AP Lit)

Self Study Friendly? Maybe.

Language APs

Includes: AP Chinese Language and Culture, AP French Language, AP German Language, AP Italian Language and Culture, AP Japanese Language and Culture, AP Latin, AP Spanish Language, AP Spanish Literature

“The foreign language [AP tests] are a bit harder to self-study for, especially because the languages have speaking and listening parts; however, if you have an aptitude for the subjects or you’re a native speaker, why not take them!” – Sophia Chiang
AP Languages are best learned in the classroom where you can practice in front of teachers and peers; however, if you feel comfortable with speaking the language or if you’re a native speaker, go for it.

Self Study Friendly? Maybe.

History APs

“I self-studied for World History. I’d say get a Barron’s book and make note cards, Quizlets, a Word doc with a timeline of the [events], and [do] lots and lots of highlighting in the book. Also, do all [of] the practice tests. You get what you put in.”

AP Art History requires a lot of memorization: you’ve got to identify, recognize, and discuss the artworks; however, it will take a lot of time to do this. You shouldn’t self-study this unless you’ve 1) got a photographic memory or 2) you have a lot of time and you’re super interested in learning more about art history.

Self-Study Friendly? No.

AP United States History is one of the easier history AP tests to study for. There isn’t as much information to cover as AP World or AP European History, and since you live in the United States, you might have a stronger background in the subject compared to other history APs.

Recommended Resources: Review Books (AMSCO, The Essential Content, REA), YouTube (CrashCourse, Adam Norris), Study Guides (AP Study Notes, Review PacketQuizlet setsQuick Review)

Self-Study Friendly? YES!

AP World History is definitely self-studyable. Like most history AP classes, it’s mostly memorization and reading. World History covers lots of material; however it isn’t as in depth as the other AP history classes.

Recommended Resources: Review Books (Barron’s, 5 Steps to a 5), YouTube (CrashCourse), study guides (Cram packets by eraMr. Hubbs History Reviews)

Self-Study Friendly? YES!

AP European History is similar to World History, but it covers fewer events and goes more in depth than World History. There may be some overlap in those two courses, so if you take one, why not take the other?

Recommended Resources: Review Books (Modern European History, REA), study guides (study guideexam review sheet), practice tests

Self-Study Friendly? YES!

AP Human Geography is easy to understand and the information is pretty basic. It would definitely help to have a little background information, but you’ll still be okay if you know little about it.

Recommended Resources: Review Books (Barron’s), Study Guides (Course-notes), Practice Tests

Self-study Friendly? YES!

Economics APs

“If you are planning on taking either Micro or Macro, I would pick Macro. If you are a pretty concrete sequential thinker you should enjoy Macro actually. I really didn’t think the class or the test was too hard. Most of it really boils down to logic.” – Emily Xie

AP Macroeconomics and AP Microeconomics both deal with the economy. Microeconomics examines it on a smaller scale (per individual firm), while macroeconomics examines the economy as a whole. You’ll need some knowledge of basic math, but the concepts in both aren’t very hard to grasp. You have to apply the theories you learned in class on the test, but with some practice, it will be simple.

Recommended Resources: Review Books (Barron’s), YouTube (ACDC Leadershipmjmfoodie), Study Guides (microeconomics, macroeconomics)

Self-Study Friendly? YES!

Political Science APs 

“U.S. Government is exactly what it sounds like. You must be familiar with both the institutions of American government and American political history. Background knowledge is helpful, but the history-type questions are very predictable, so you can probably pick them up from your textbook or a review book.” – Goodluckcollege

AP U.S Government & Politics should be easy if you already have a pretty solid understanding of the United States government; however, even if you do not, it is easy to learn and understand.
Recommended Resources: Review Books (Princeton Review), Study Guides, YouTube (CrashCourse)

Self-Study Friendly? YES!

AP Comparative Government & Politics is a step up from AP U.S Government; however, it is still manageable and easy to learn.
Recommended Resources: Review Book, Notes (Government ComparisonsStudy Sheet), Practice Tests

Self-Study Friendly? YES!

Art and Music APs

“AP studio art would be very easy to self-study. The only thing you really get out of a teacher is forced time management with creating your portfolio.” – Isabella Starvaggi

AP Music Theory is hard to self study unless you’ve had lot of exposure to music. If you’re already good at music, you should be able to self study this class with the help of a teacher.
Recommended Resources: Review Book + CD (Barron’s) YouTube (whsaptheory), Practice Tests (here), a music teacher

Self-study Friendly? Maybe.

AP Studio Art is harder than most people expect it to be. If you’re already great at art, then you should self-study this class; however, if art isn’t your forte, take an art class first.

Self-study Friendly? Maybe.

Math and Computer Science APs

“The class that I found self studying to be most helpful was statistics. I would say this: Practice all of the time, this means do your homework. Always write out four steps completely. Review the basic concepts.”  – Ashtyn Nichols

AP Calculus is one of the harder AP classes you can take (even with a teacher) and there are definitely some hard to understand concepts.
Self-study Friendly? No.
AP Statistics is easier than calculus, but it is still hard since there are still difficult concepts. If you’re a naturally gifted mathematician, you might be able to self study it after doing a few practice tests and going over a review book.
Recommended Resources: Practice Tests, Review books (Barron’s)
Self-study Friendly? Maybe.
AP Computer Science is hard to learn if you don’t have anyone to help you; however, it’s definitely possible to learn with the right resources.
Recommended Resources: Textbook (Java Software Solutions), Review Book (Barron’s), Programming Software (Eclipse)
Self-study Friendly? Maybe.

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the author

Lily Lou is a writer and student living in Atlanta. In her free time she likes to make lists, learn random things, and watch the Cooking Channel. You can reach her at, her twitter (@countingteacups), her instagram (counting_teacups), or

5 Readers Commented

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  1. Hugo Herrera on May 21, 2015

    Hey I am going to be a sophomore and I am going to move schools next year. I will take AP Spanish Language, AP Computer Science and planning on adding AP World History. The problem is my new school will not offer AP CS or AP WH for the second semester. I will attend the first semester at my current school wich offers all these courses but for my second semester I will move to the new school that does not offer APCS, APWH. Should I take these cources as a sophomore and self study APWH? I am planning to take AP CS on amplify so,that won’t be a problem but APWH is what gets me worried, I also love history and CS and I speak fluent Spanish.

    • Lily Lou on May 21, 2015

      Hey Hugo! I’d say go for it if you think you’ll have time to self study it for the next semester. If you think you’d be really busy, don’t. What is your course load for second semester (are you adding more AP’s / IB classes?). Also, since you’re interested in the subjects, you’ll probably do better at it when you self study since you’ll have more motivation to learn it. Self study takes a lot of discipline, but it’s definitely do-able. I hope that helped!

  2. Wanjiru on July 20, 2015

    I’m going to be a senior this year, and my school does not offer AP Chem anymore. I took Honors Chemistry as a sophomore, and I plan to take the SAT Subject Test for Chemistry too. I also have a college-level chem textbook (Chemistry: The Central Science 11e). Is it a good idea to self study for the AP exam and the subject test?

  3. Leesa Johnson on January 19, 2016

    Nice blog for the students to understand about AP exams for different subjects.

  4. Mara on May 1, 2016

    This article is SO helpful!! Thank you for posting.

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