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Test Prep 101: Preparing for AP Exams

By Priyam, IvyWise Master Tutor

With spring comes long-awaited admission decisions, but it also brings along AP exam season – and students should be preparing now for these long and intensive exams.

AP exams are a major event for college bound students, as performance can impact their grades and how colleges evaluate their transcript when considering students for admission during their senior year. Some colleges can also award some class credit based on students’ scores, so it’s possible to get a head start on your college education if you do well.

Since exams start in May, April is the perfect time for students to really start preparing for AP exams.

Here are some tips on what students should be doing before, during, and after AP exams in order to prepare and secure the best score possible.

Before the Exam

Taking a 3-hour AP exam is like running a marathon – building stamina for the exam is just as important as knowing the core content. Doing sample questions and taking sample tests during the course throughout the year will not only expose you to question patterns and allow you to predict topics, but also build the endurance necessary for success on the AP exam. There is no single format when it comes to AP exams and each test is different. Knowing the specific format will allow you to properly manage your time once you are sitting for the exam.

Study Strategies
AP courses cover a great deal of material so the best strategy is to selectively study and fill knowledge gaps over the course of 6-8 weeks prior to the AP exam. Selectively choosing topics to study based on your own weaknesses helps target those sections where you know you will do poorly, while avoiding those portions where you will do well even without review. If there are certain concepts that are difficult to remember, solve for or discuss on the exam – you may want to be creative in using acronyms, flash cards, or other memory tools to help remember terms, dates, operations or any other items that are difficult to remember.

It is very unwise to cram for AP exams. You are being tested on knowledge that you have accumulated over the course of the year and studying at the last minute will only stress you out. Don’t let your AP exam test prep consume your life. When creating your test prep schedule, build in time between studying sessions where you can decompress with activities you enjoy. That way, when you get back to studying and preparation, you’ll be refreshed, recharged, and more relaxed.

During the Exam

Take a few moments to look through the content when you start the test. Scan for terms you recognize and take note of the reading passages. See how long the test is, what questions you can easily answer, how long the reading passages are, and how many questions go with different reading passages, etc.

Remember that you will not be penalized for wrong multiple-choice answers so it is better to guess rather than skip questions. Even eliminating a single answer choice will pay off if you can even marginally increase odds of guessing the right answer over the course of an entire AP exam. On the free-response or short answer questions on the other hand, just do the best you can to guess and show work around what you remember because if you leave a question blank, you’ll get zero points, but if you write something even a little bit relevant, you might get partial points.

For multiple-choice questions, complete those you know first and then go back to questions that require more time. Multiple choice questions usually are ordered from easier to more difficult, so once you make a first pass and answer all the questions you know how to answer, then you can buckle down on the harder questions. Just remember to not let yourself get held up too much on any one question. On the free-response section, time management is even more critical because you’ll need to complete a series of tasks in an allotted amount of time, but you won’t be prompted to move on to the next essay or question. Keeping track of time will let you know if you’re on target to finish everything. Have a time target for each essay.

Essay/Free Response Strategies
A key thing to remember about the essay is that there is no required length for the essays or short-answer questions so only write what you need to write. The readers who score your exam are looking at whether you’ve developed a well-reasoned argument and whether you’ve presented it in an organized and coherent manner. Outlining the free responses or essays will help you write the essay faster, make your argument stronger, and ensure your essay is better-organized and more coherent.

Your calculator will be incredibly important for the computational AP exams (Statistics, Calculus, Physics, Chemistry, etc.). Ensure you do not forget your calculator and bring backup batteries as well. A watch can be incredibly useful to keep track of time as you will not be able to check the time or use the stopwatch on your phone and the clock on the wall may not be clearly visible if the exam is in a giant testing center.

Given that the AP exams are long you may experience some serious test fatigue during your AP exams. Bringing some snacks (ideally something with protein and complex carbs i.e. granola bar) will help you stay energized through the exam.

Be Positive
On exam day you may see questions you are not prepared for or may forget some things you studied. The important thing if this happens is to not panic, remain positive, and move on to another question.

After the Exam

AP exams can be physically and mentally exhausting, so after the exam take some time to relax, unwind, and put the test behind you. Don’t spend time worrying about your score, or stress yourself out about a question you think you may have gotten wrong.

Focus on Your Coursework
AP exams may be over at this point, but the school year is not. Continue to perform well in class as any grade dips can hurt your college admission chances, no matter how high your AP exam score ends up being.

Preparing for AP exams can be stressful, but by starting early, developing a test prep plan, and knowing what to expect the day of the test, you can set yourself up for success on test day.

If you need help preparing for your upcoming AP exams, IvyWise’s team of expert tutors can help you develop a test prep strategy, evaluate area in which you need to improve, and work around your schedule to ensure you’re getting the best test prep support possible. For more information on IvyWise’s tutoring services, contact us today.