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AP Exam Survival Guide

Updated: Jul 4, 2021

AP exam season has begun, and you may be feeling a little lost. Maybe your first AP exam is coming up and you don't know where to start. Maybe you've taken quite a few but just haven't quite had the time to do some AP exam review. Whatever the reason you've decided to read this article, I am here to help!

I’m well aware that it’s hard to work up the motivation to review all of the material that you’ve been learning since September, so here's some advice to guide you. Over the years, I’ve developed a (somewhat) foolproof method of cramming every single possible detail into my head in the fews days leading up to the test. However, you should take my methods with a grain of salt, as cramming is not real learning. In an ideal world, you would retain and internalize all of this information in a healthy way, but the current goal is to just make it out of AP exam week alive and relatively unscathed.

Different types of APs require different study methods in order to most effectively utilize your time, so below I have a list of APs grouped together by method.


Skill-based APs: (Ex. Math)

When it comes to APs that involve a lot of problem-solving skills (like math), the best way to go about cramming is doing a complete practice test (multiple choice, free response, the whole shebang) and finding the places where you have a relatively weak understanding. It doesn’t make sense to review the entire curriculum when you’re in a time crunch, since going over information that you already understand will be a waste of time. Instead, you should just focus on strengthening those weak areas. In particular, definitely focus on going over the released free response questions, since there are a lot of parallels across the different years. For Calculus BC, they will almost always have a problem about differential equations and series on the free response. Rather than studying topics that will hardly ever show up, focus on the topics that you can almost guarantee will be there on test day.


Material-based APs: (Ex. History)

When it comes to more material-based APs such as the History APs, shoring up your general knowledge across all of the units/time periods is most important. This doesn’t mean skimming your textbook or reading through the notes you’ve compiled throughout the year; it means review that hits the general themes and topics of each time period, as well as grasping a few key events or examples that highlight those themes. This is where review videos come into play, with channels like Heimler’s History that release videos built for cramming. The videos are often long, but are well worth your time (and you can always watch them on 2x speed).

Also, go over the rubrics for the LEQ and DBQ, but don’t actually write an LEQ or DBQ. Your main focus should be on reviewing the material and not doing practice questions. The specific topics for free response will likely not be applicable across different years; practicing the free response does help you get familiar with what you should include, but you should have already built up the writing skills in class over the past few months. Also, if the rubric says that you need to include at least 6 documents for the DBQ, try to include 7 (just in case you interpret one wrong).


Skill & Material-based APs: (Ex. Science)

The science APs require a balance between the study methods used for math and history APs, because they are simultaneously material-based and skill-based. I try to do a combination between a deep review of all of the material and practice of free response questions. If you can hardly remember anything about intermolecular forces, reaction kinetics, or any of the information that you learned, start off with a review or you’ll just be wasting time staring at problems without actually writing anything. If you have a more developed knowledge of the topics, then just go straight into practicing free response questions and go on from there.


General Advice:

I don’t want to rehash advice that you’ve heard a million times over, but I think there are a couple of important things to remember.

  1. If you don’t understand what a question is asking or you don’t have an immediate answer, just circle the problem, skip the question, and go back to it after you’ve gone through all of the other multiple choice questions. Sometimes you’ll see something in a later problem that will spark an idea and help you answer the skipped question.

  2. Make sure you’re actually answering the question! I know this seems pretty straightforward, but it’s easy to get caught up in the stress of test day and just completely miss what the question is actually asking for.

  3. Don’t panic! I know that it’s easy to say and hard to actually do, but remember that the score that you get on this AP does not define you or your intelligence. Some people are just not good at standardized tests, and that’s ok. It’s not the end of the world.

With all of that said, I hope that this has been helpful to you and best of luck to all of you taking an exam!


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