Tips for Preparing for the AP Exams

AP exams are not just great, inexpensive ways to get early college credit (that can save you thousands of dollars depending on where you go to college). They are also great for convincing colleges that you have the mettle and drive to succeed in the rigorous college environment.

With that said, there are several ways to boost AP scores.
Preparation:
1. Practice, practice practice! There are tons of published AP exams out there. Practice both the multiple choice and free response parts. Do them in the time allotted to you in the real thing or faster. Don’t look up what you don’t know until the end. Grade by the rubric.
2. Study what you don’t know. It’s a bad habit of students to study everything needed instead of what they don’t know how to do. Taking the Calculus BC exam and don’t know anything about polar coordinates? Pull out a book and do all of those questions until you understand it.
3. Don’t panic. AP exams are never as important as they seem. Colleges look more highly on someone who took an AP exam and did not get a 4 or 5 far better than someone who played it safe and took an easier class instead.

During the exam, there are also several ways to boost your AP scores unrelated to preparation.
Multiple Choice:
1. When in doubt, guess! That’s right, as long as you can eliminate at least ONE choice, it’s a statistical wash in terms benefits vs. penalties. If you eliminate TWO, you’re looking good.
2. Don’t spend all of your time on the hardest questions. If you don’t know it immediately, skip and go to the next ones. Once you’re finished with all of the easier problems, go back and work through the harder ones. Don’t guess until this stage as well.
3. Do not mis-key! This is the biggest killer of AP scores, and is completely avoidable!
Essays/Free Response
1. Answer the question. For many exams where the free response is not an essay, writing an essay can hurt you, because you don’t directly answer the question. Even on essay questions, be sure you answer every part of the question. Add embellishments later if it is an essay question.
2. Show what you know. This applies to math especially. Even if you do not know the answer, or somehow get the wrong answer through miscalculation, the graders are instructed to give points for what you get right. So even if you don’t know the answer, DON’T LEAVE ANYTHING BLANK!
3. Once again, do not spend all your time on the hardest questions. If you don’t know it immediately, go to the next question and see if it’s easier. Time spent on what you don’t know when there are things you do know is wasted time.

Keeping these things in mind during and before the test will significantly raise your AP grades. The great thing about AP exams is they are well documented and can be prepared for ad nauseum. The biggest piece of advice to remember, though, is DO NOT PANIC. If you panic during the test, your mind will blank. Just remember that no matter how poorly you do on the test, being willing to take the exam puts you in an exclusive, top percentile of the country’s students. It is never, ever a bad thing to take an AP exam.