There are two basic ways to study for an AP Exam. The easy approach is a low-intensity approach which will result in high grades and a passing score on the corresponding exam. First, take notes in class. Taking notes while listening is active learning at its best. The student is seamlessly synthesizing key information while the auditory section of the brain is bound to remember details that are not important enough to write down. During the free-response potion of the United States History exam (the most popular as of 2009), these colorful details greatly add to the quality of the essay. Major contentions will likely come from the notes, which of course are studied twice: before the class exam and another review for the AP test in May.
As wonderful as the first method is, many students will opt for the harder route. They will attempt the impossible by cramming key information into high-intensity study sessions within one week (or hours) of the exam. It is possible to successfully cram for certain exams, depending on the student and exam subject. The downside is a higher stress-level that comes with inadequate preparation and a far lower retention of the information. AP Psychology is an exam that can be crammed for. The test is relatively short, many of the concepts can be boiled down simply and certain commercial guides offer strong outlines and practice tests. Multiple choice is the perfect format for crammers because they do not require true memorization, only recall of the correct answer upon sight. Harder will be the longer essays which require analysis that cannot come naturally from ad-hoc study.
As previously mentioned, much depends on the test being taken. AP Calculus and AP Statistics are difficult to cram for because of the complexity of the material. It would take a true genius to learn it all in a day if one did not understand the material well in class. On the other hand, easier tests are fact-based rather than concept-based. Thorough analysis is less important than retention and recall of information key. Ideally, all students would be responsible and go for the best option. As a realist, my advice is when facing limited time go for a strong commercial prep guide (e.g. Princeton Review, Kaplan) and take practice exams. After grading, focus study efforts on the questions missed. Approaching 50 percent or more of the multiple choice section is excellent prior to study. This can definitely be boosted by effective cramming. Of course, those who spent the time learning all year long have a distinct edge—they will be the ones sleeping soundly on the night before the rest. Eight precious hours can make all the difference in the world.