Every year, millions of students take AP exams at the beginning of May. While the majority of them pass, published AP scores by the College Board reveal that a significant percentage—in some cases, almost half of all test takers—do not. How do you make sure you’re in the group of students who gets maximum credit for their AP tests?
First, put in your best effort all year and take responsibility for your own learning.
If you’re taking an AP class, you should be prepared for college-level work, which also means college-level independence and responsibility. I learned this lesson when I took my first AP class, US History. Our teacher would have us read and outline one chapter per week. On Monday morning, she’d collect our outlines, check them off, and give them back to us. Students quickly realized that, given time constraints, she didn’t actually read the outlines. Some began taking advantage of this by not reading the chapter, writing gibberish in outline form, and then delighting in the fact that she would check off their outlines and give them “credit.” (To be fair to the teacher, three AP classes multiplied by 40 students each is 120 students, so giving each outline a good skim would have added two hours of work, time that she needed to actually read our practice essays.) Were these students “getting away” with not doing the work? Not when it came to test time. Most students who cheated in this way didn’t pass their tests, while those of us who actually read and outlined the chapters did. In college, professors often assign reading and don’t even pretend to check your notes or outlines. Instead, you’re expected to demonstrate your knowledge on a limited number of exams and term papers, each of which counts heavily towards your grade. If you do your work throughout the course, you’re likely to be ready for the big test. If you’ve been coasting your way through any classes this school year, try to catch up, because waiting until the week before is a recipe for a low score.
If you’re a senior, research the score you’ll need to get credit at the college you hope to attend.
Some institutions, like the University of California, award credit for any score of 3 or higher. Other schools, like Harvard, only grant credit with a score of 5, and only for certain classes. If you already know which school you’re attending or hope to attend, aim to achieve the scores you’ll need for that school. Given limited time, you may choose to focus your attention selectively where you’ll be able to receive the most credit.
Take advantage of review sessions and opportunities offered by your teachers and school.
Most AP classes have some sort of review worked into their program. Unless you have valid concerns about the quality of the teaching or cannot adjust your schedule to attend, these sessions are the best place to start. Of course, the intention of a review session is to review what you’ve already learned, so it’s up to you to make sure you learned the material well the first time around.
Review your previous multiple-choice tests and feedback you’ve received on practice short answer and essay questions.
While it’s tempting to want to simply forget a low-scoring test or writing assignment, the best students use these assignments to learn from their mistakes. If your teacher lets you take home your tests, pull out your previous assignments and review your errors. Note anything you still don’t understand for further review, and use your resources (your textbook, teacher, classmates, valid websites, and possibly a tutor) to clarify your confusion. If your teacher holds onto the tests, try to arrange a time to visit the classroom during lunch or after school to review the test(s) in your teacher’s presence.
Take advantage of previously released tests and commercially available review materials.
Once you’ve exhausted all the resources available from your school, you can access additional practice questions on the College Board’s website. There are also many good commercially available review books with practice exams. Use these to practice with the exam’s format and identify any weak areas where you might require additional review.
Be open to learning from the review process.
Preparing for AP exams—especially multiple exams at once—can be arduous, but the skills of preparing for a cumulative test and writing clear and concise essays and short responses will serve you well in college and beyond.
If you have any questions at all about test preparation, tools or resources, feel free to reach out to us directly. We are rooting for your success!