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Your Guide to AP Exams

Every year, we get questions about AP Exams. These enigmatic, four-hour academic marathons decide the fate of a student’s college credit, which is, after all, the main reason for taking AP exams. However, it’s not the only purpose. Yes, AP classes allow high school students to earn college credit, but they also help students acclimate to the rigor and pressure of a college-level exam. Therefore, encourage students to take exams seriously; it will make their first year of college much more comfortable. Careful planning and preparation can make the process manageable and enjoyable. While the following tips are relevant to any exam, they are crucial for Advanced Placement (AP) exams, which have a unique format and scoring system that can be tricky to navigate.

Know the Format & the Rubric

The AP exam format has changed in recent years, and even more so in the time of remote learning. Students must familiarize themselves with the exam structure they will be taking. The College Board website has detailed information on each exam, including the types of questions and the number of percentage points each question is worth. Students should review this information carefully and plan their study time accordingly. Understanding the scoring rubric for AP exam questions and how the graders evaluate and score responses is also essential. This may differ from how your AP teacher evaluated your work over the school year, so it’s vital to tailor your responses accordingly. Additionally, reviewing examples of full-credit answers from past exams is helpful to see what a good answer looks like and learn how to answer the specific question.

Organize Your Time

Executive function skills such as organization, time management, and study skills are crucial for exam success. Students should create a study schedule allowing ample time to review material, practice sample questions, and get a good night’s sleep. It is also important to allocate plenty of time for setup and readiness on test day. The College Board asks students to log on to the testing system 30 minutes before the start of their exams to verify their identity and ensure that they are ready to begin when the exam timer starts. It is always safer to assume that there will be some bumps along the way, so planning for contingencies is crucial.

Studying for AP exams requires a strategic and efficient approach. It’s not just putting in hours of study time but prioritizing tasks and using time wisely. Take practice tests and use other resources to familiarize yourself with the format and scoring of the exam.

Make Use of Online Resources

The College Board has prepared various resources available for free on YouTube and the College Board’s website. These include exam summaries, practice questions, and online lectures given by College Board professionals. Encourage your student to sign up for a College Board account and review the materials that are provided. Additionally, students can use online AP courses and review sessions to supplement their learning.

Focus on Analytical Skills & Macro Concepts

The AP Exam rubric requires students to demonstrate analytical skills, argumentative analysis, and quantitative analysis. Students must understand the requirements of each test to earn all possible points from each type of question. Encourage your student to practice DBQ-style essay questions and connect evidence to arguments to prove a point. Conducting a balanced review of old and new material is important. Filling in any gaps in your knowledge and reviewing earlier material is critical, but you must also integrate the final lessons of the year. This can be challenging, wildly, if your teacher rushes through certain units at the end of the semester. Balancing these tasks requires careful planning and time management, but it’s essential for success on the AP exams.

With careful planning and preparation, AP exams can be a manageable and enjoyable experience. By doing so, your student will be well on their way to success. For more ideas on how to succeed in school, visit our blog page. To learn more about our one-on-one academic coaching service, reach out today!

Evan Weinberger


Staying Ahead of the Game offers unique academic coaching & tutoring services to help good students achieve greatness.

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