AP Exam Preparation: The First Steps


AP Exams may be months away, but in my experience, they have a way of creeping up on you. I’m not kidding when I say that you should start preparing as soon as possible. Here are a few of the ways I have prepared for AP exams in the last two years that I have taken them. I wouldn’t say they are sure-fire ways, but I would say that they made me much more confident in my own abilities when test day arrived.

  1. Review books are basically AP Bibles.

AP review books are essentially the Sparknotes of everything you learned in a year of your AP class. They provide helpful practice and diagnostic tests, thorough summaries of tested topics, true-and-tested advice for studying and test taking, and even occasional humor in some brands. Typically, students will purchase their AP books one to two months before their exams for ample preparation time, but I recommend getting them as soon as possible. Some students purchase them at the beginning of the year, so they can use them as a supplement for their actual in-class lectures and work throughout the year. New books online usually cost between $10-15. However, if you ask around, upperclassmen who have taken the class before you are usually more than willing to let you take their review books off their hands. Their versions would most likely be those of previous years, but unless your specific exam is facing major changes, the topics of different versions are essentially the same. Upperclassmen are usually willing to sell the books for a smaller price or even for free. Plus, they usually annotated in the book before, so you would get bonus notes.

  1. The Internet is an amazing place.

With a single Google search, you can find PDFs of AP notes from different teachers and classes around the country. These notes not only provide typically vital information about the topics on the exam but also provide different approaches to the same materials in your class. Plus, these notes can easily be saved onto your computer and be taken around on your phone if you prefer to study on the go.

  1. Sometimes, the movie is better than the book. (Only sometimes though)

Sometimes, I will find myself stuck on a single topic in one of my AP classes and struggle to understand its significance, implication, or application. Either I simply cannot grasp the concept or my eyes refuse to understand the words on the pages of my textbook or review book. At this point, I usually turn to video lectures. No, not CrashCourse. Although I do enjoy CrashCourse videos, the rapidity of the short topics covered give me the breadth but not the depth I need to truly understand the material. Usually, I look for video lectures that are based on the textbook I am using. Although these videos are more rare, they cover material that is more relevant to what I’m learning in class and help me better connect concepts in lectures.

  1. Ask for advice.

Sometimes, the best preparation for an AP exam won’t come from a nonliving review book or a YouTube video posted about a year ago. The best thing you can do to prepare for the exam is to ask for advice from the students who took the exam the previous year. They provide the most relevant knowledge of the test that you can possibly find. Not only have these students taken the same class you are currently taking but these students are also the last people to have seen what the most recent AP exam looks like. They would be your best bet to give advice on what to study, how to prepare, and what to expect on test day. Thus, get some cookies, bring some money for the used AP review books, and meet up with some upperclassmen for an advice session.

That concludes my general list of advice on how to prepare for an AP exam. Remember that each exam is specific in topics and what it’s looking for so the best way to truly prepare for a specific exam is to do deeper research. I hope that this article simply provides a good starting point for your journey. I’m not joking when I say that you should get started on this journey as soon as possible. Like…now.

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