How to prepare for AP exams

As we near the end of the 2020-2021 school year, it is safe to say that this past month has been jam-packed and stressful— especially for upperclassmen. With the ACT, SAT, extracurriculars, and college searching, we have one last obstacle to tackle before we jump into the summer we have all been so excited for: AP exams. They used to be a concern of the distant future, but that future is fast approaching, and it is important that we prepare ourselves the best we can. Here’s how you can prepare for this years AP exams:

Create an outline

Studying an entire year’s worth of material is a daunting task, which is why organization is key. For each class, create an outline of each unit. Using old tests, quizzes, teacher presentations, and worksheets, you can draw up a plan of all the material you need to review. With this, timing is also important— particularly if you are taking multiple exams. Be sure to organize your studying time for each course to maximize efficiency and productivity. For those taking multiple exams, consider alternating between classes when you study to give yourself a fresh mindset for each course. Review the previously studied material a few days later and then add more. Creating a plan for yourself is the first step in effective studying.

Make use of your teachers as resources (They want you to succeed!)

Materials posted by your teachers are valuable resources in AP exam prep. Most teachers have review guides posted on Schoology. It is to your benefit to complete these, keeping track of the questions you have as you review. Do not hesitate to use office hours or set up an individual Zoom meeting with your teacher to get these questions answered. Your teachers want to help you in any way they can. 

Know how you learn best (your preferred way of studying- Quizlet, study guides, notes, etc.)

We have all studied for plenty of tests as high school students. As an AP student you probably have your studying techniques down. Whether you prefer to use Quizlet, make study guides, go to study groups, or review notes from class, you know what works best for you. If you’re a Quizlet user, make folders for each class and flash card sets for material from each unit. If you work best with Notability, make an AP exam divider and a folder for each class within that divider. Each folder can house review guides, notes, and resources provided by your teacher. Having friends in your classes will come in handy if you learn well in study groups. Put your heads together, ask each other questions, and share materials. 

Use College Board resources 

The College Board website is home to a plethora of excellent resources. The first are AP course and exam descriptions. These descriptions include overviews of each unit and what you should know, as well as sample AP exam questions and review. The second resource is AP Daily Live Review sessions. These live sessions are held by AP teachers to help students prepare for any and all of their AP exams. These review sessions are recorded, so don’t worry if you can’t make it! The videos are available on YouTube.


General tips

Get enough sleep

Stating the obvious, sleep is the most important thing you can do for your mental and physical health. Teenagers are recommended by the CDC to sleep 8-10 hours a night. A study done by Michael Scullin, director of Baylor’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory and assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience, found that students who slept at least 8 hours the night before their final exam performed better than those who slept less than 8, regardless of their pre-final grades. Moral of the story, get lots of sleep! Not only does it improve focus, memory, mood, and physical health, but if you can feel well rested and ace your AP exams, why would you not get a full 8 hours?

Eat breakfast

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day— we’ve all heard this one before, but it’s true! Research shows that students who eat breakfast perform better in exams. As well as fueling your body with nutritious food on your exam days, make sure you drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated improves focus and energy levels. You may not be allowed to drink water during the test, but during the 10 minute break between sections 1 and 2 you are allowed to leave the room and eat or drink. 

Limit phone time while studying 

We all get distracted by our phones. In fact, the average American checks their phone 96 times a day. Most teens know how difficult it can be to resist the urge of checking phones every time you see a notification pop up on the screen. The most effective studying is done with no cell phone distractions— our problem solving skills decline as proximity to our phones increase. The best thing you can do to optimize your study sessions is put your phone in another room and forget about it.

Work hard, play hard 

While these exams are very important and require much of our time and energy to prepare for, it is essential that we set aside time for ourselves. Spend time with family, spend time with friends, and go outside. Do things that make you happy and less stressed. Put your mental health and well-being first.