High 5! How to Prepare for Success on Your AP Exams

By: Mitch Hughes

It’s early April, and for students taking AP classes, that can only mean one thing: it’s time to start preparing for AP exams. Just under a month remains until the infamous “AP Week,” which is actually the first two weeks of May, where AP exams are administered two classes per day. These two weeks and the days prior can be the most stressful time of the year for students hoping to earn college credit for the Advanced Placement classes they have been taking all year, because these exams determine whether or not they will receive any credit.

AP exams are scored on a scale from 1 to 5, with scores 3 and above passing. What credit you receive for your score, if any, is determined by the college you plan on attending. Most public schools will grant credit for 3’s and above, depending on the class. More prestigious universities will only accept 4’s or higher, sometimes only 5’s. Knowing what score you need to receive credit for the exam you are taking is important for preparation, but you always want to get the highest score possible.

In order to get your target score, it’s imperative that you put in a considerable amount time and effort into preparing for your exam.  ASSUMING THAT YOUR SUCCESS IN THE CLASS DURING THE YEAR IS ENOUGH FOR YOU TO SCORE WELL IS A BAD IDEA. There is a wide variety of resources available for each and every AP class, and it’s a great idea to familiarize yourself with several.

If you were to only use one source to prepare for your AP exam(s), it should without a doubt be apcentral.collegeboard.com. You can then click on “AP Courses” to choose the class you wish to view. Once you select a class you can then see a course overview along with other important information about the class, and more importantly go to “Exam Resources,” where you can view multiple choice and extended response questions from previous years, become familiar with the test format and procedures, view score reports to see the distribution of scores, and even take an entirely new practice exam. This is all FREE and set up through CollegeBoard, the agency that makes the AP tests.

Another reputable preparation resource is prep books from companies like Barron’s. They usually run under $20, which is a small price to pay for the college credit you might receive. In these books, you’ll find diagnostic tests to get a baseline of what you know before you start your preparation. Next you’ll find brief but helpful lessons on the course material that will be on the exam. This is very helpful because it provides all of the essential information that will be tested, some of which you may have missed. The most valuable parts of these prep books are the practice tests. They closely mimic the real AP test and have detailed and easy to follow explanations for each question in the answers section.

It is also important that you take advantage of any resources and opportunities provided you by your teacher or school. This includes review sheets of all sorts and extracurricular study sessions. The preparation resources available from your individual class are wonderful because they allow you focus on more specific topics that are fundamental to gaining a competitive edge against all of the other students taking the test nationwide. Outside of class review sessions are a fantastic way to add dimension to your preparation, because it is likely that you’ll be engaging the material in ways other than just reading and taking practice tests.

Though these resources are indispensable to success on AP exams, there are many, many more available to you in various forms. A quick Google search for “(insert class here) Ap exam prep” will find you many more dependable prep resources. The preparation you do from now until AP week can be the deciding factor in whether or not you get your desired score. No matter what score you’re aiming for, starting your studying now rather than the night before the exam will save you from a headache and a good deal of stress if nothing else.


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