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AP Exams: Test Prep Plan and Timeline From an Expert Tutor

By Priyam, IvyWise Master Tutor

The secret recipe for AP exam success is simple: one part content knowledge and one part standardized test savvy. While many students take AP exams at the culmination of their AP course, others might self-study for an exam. Whether you’re prepping for the AP exam as part of your course curriculum, or you’re taking the exam on your own, it’s important to make sure that you not only know the content and how to review it, but know how to take the tests.

AP Exams: The Basics
Generally, students take AP classes for the relevant AP exam, but in some cases, self-studying for an AP exam is also an option. However, self-studying requires high-quality review material and the ability to learn that material with minimal guidance.

Typically, AP courses are a year-long, but others such as AP Micro or Macro-economics, AP US Government, Statistics, and several others may be half to even a quarter year long. This means that while there might be less material to learn, there is also less classroom time to review it before the exam day or even a large gap of time between when you took the course and when you take the AP exam. It’s important to take this into account in order to budget your test prep timeline accordingly.

Most AP exams are divided between multiple-choice and free-response questions. For students who are self-studying, the hardest part of AP exam prep is usually the free-response questions, since these are the most difficult to assess without feedback from an instructor. For the multiple-choice questions, you can use previous exams with the answer keys or outside prep material to score your responses. Other AP courses, like AP Spanish Language and Culture, can be difficult for self-studiers because they require collaboration – in the form of conversational practice. Unless you are a native speaker of a non-English language, this form of AP exam could be difficult to self-study for. Beyond that, your background, the amount of time you can devote to studying and the resources you have will determine which tests you can effectively self-study for. Tests in English, history, math, and science are likely suitable options if you have a strong foundation in the subject and can devote the time to learn the material.

Recommended AP Exam Study Timeline
Assuming you are among the majority of students taking an AP exam as part of your AP course, it is imperative to create an AP exam study plan in order to master the content. This is why organization is key. The old school method using a three-ring binder, which uses dividers based on categories (i.e. notes, handouts, quizzes, and tests), can work very well in helping you organize your material. If you are more digitally savvy and prefer studying on your computer and have e-copies of all study material, then it is often very easy to organize all your digital material in a folder on your computer.

After you’ve organized your materials, it’s important to assess where you are in your AP course and your test prep timeline. Ideally, students will continually review the AP course’s materials throughout the length of the class.

First Half of Course
For the first half of any AP course, it is imperative to buckle down and focus on content. During this time, don’t run out and buy study guides but rather focus on truly learning the detailed content. Most AP courses will generally use AP-style questions on in-class exams.

Halfway Point
Midway through the course is the time to use a study guide but the key objective at this junction should be to memorize the format of all your AP exams rather than being able to answer all the questions correctly.

Beginning of Second Half
At the beginning of the second half of the course, start taking practice free-response questions that cover the material you have already learned in class. As you look through your test booklets for appropriate questions, try answering based on the material you know. This way you will be able to simulate free responses in order to gain familiarity and practice.

Three-Fourths of The Way
Three-fourths of the way is a good time to take your first full-length practice exam. Yes, there will still be some gaps in your knowledge as the tail end material may not have been covered in the course yet, but that’s okay.

As you grade your exam, separate the questions you missed into two groups: things I have learned but don’t understand and things I haven’t learned yet. Only focus on the first set of questions as you start reviewing material. Even if you have not covered all the content, this is a good time to begin a review process. Start with the oldest material first, and work towards the present. You’ll be surprised by the amount of material you really need to review because you have forgotten it or only remember it vaguely.

Home Stretch
Whether your course was a year long, or only a semester, AP exams are all given at the same time, so now’s the time to get serious about your test prep. In the month preceding the exam you have to focus on full-length practice exams, especially in the latter half. Take at least two full-length practice tests under timed conditions after having reviewed all the material, but the important thing is to focus on the areas of greatest weakness.

If you can, take one last practice exam a week before the test. This will generally give you the best predictor of your exam day performance.  Taking lots of practice AP Exams is great, but if you are taking multiple AP exams it may not be the best use of your time. So instead, analyzing the results of the exams you did take and carefully understanding each missed question and the topic/concept the question represents will be a key way to address the weakness.

Preparing for AP exams, whether it’s part of your normal course review, or you’re self-studying, is critical in order to perform well on test day. Students need to continually review the material, take practice tests, and assess areas of weakness. This is not only important for AP Exam performance, but also for prep for any final exams that might be given at the end of the semester in those AP courses.

At IvyWise, our team of expert tutors works with students to not only help them achieve their desired AP exam results but to also perform well in the course itself. Whether you need prep for one exam or tutoring for the semester, IvyWise tutors can help students in any subject. Contact us today for more information on our tutoring and test prep services.