Hey there to all my high school readers! This post is dedicated to all of you who have AP exams coming up. But even if you aren’t taking any AP exams or if you’re not in high school, this post still has some useful tips for you too. This post is going to cover all of my greatest tips and strategies for studying for any AP exam.
1// Take a Breath, Take a Moment
It’s a stressful time, trust me, I know. But you’ve gotten this far and you can make it across the finish line. So take a deep breath and take an hour to do something that destresses you. I highly recommend a bit of moderate to intense exercise or some light yoga. Get your mind ready for the next couple of weeks.
2// Know the Instructions of the Exam
One of the easiest ways to waste time on the AP Exam is by reading the instructions. By the time you get to your exam, you should know – almost word-for-word – what the instructions are. The reality is, they haven’t changed in years and it’s highly doubtful that they’re going to change in the next couple of weeks.
I know this sounds really simple but you wouldn’t believe the number of people who have told me to read the instructions for the exam. Truth be told, I didn’t read the instructions for over half of the exams I took – the most glaring exception being the AP Lit Exam. Spend that time going over the questions on that page in your head and mentally prep a plan of attack if you can.
3// Know the Exam
Being familiar with the instructions on exam day is undoubtedly going to save you a lot of time. But, knowing what the graders expect from you is what’s going to make sure you ace the exam. I don’t have experience with every exam that the college board has to offer but your teacher is definitely going to be a good resource. And if that’s still not enough, Albert Blog has a list of ultimate tips to almost every AP exam:
Biology | Calculus AB & BC | Chemistry | Computer Science | English Language | English Literature | Environmental Science | European History | French | Human Geography | Macroeconomics | Microeconomics | Physics 1 & 2 | Psychology | Spanish Language | Spanish Literature |
Statistics | US History | US Government | World History
4// Plan Smart
Usually people say study smart but they often forget the precursor to that: planning smart. Planning smart is going to make your studying times more effective and less frustrating.
The first, and – arguably – the most important, step of this process is figuring out what questions you’re most likely to see on the AP exam. Typically, your teacher’s going to give you this information. But if you’re not sure, look through past exams and see if there’s a trend. Usually you’ll see a period where a certain topic will be really popular and then there’ll be a sudden switch.
Step two is figuring out which topics you need to brush up on. This might mean that there’s one exam you don’t need to study for at all. In my case, that was Calculus AB. Or it might mean that you have a lot of material to review over a broad range of classes. Create a list of all of the topics for each of your exams.
The last step to planning smart is to figure out what stuff you need to study first based on when that exam takes place. That means you should focus more on the exams that are happening closest to you while spending maybe an hour or so reviewing exams that are further in your schedule. Write out your schedule put it in a planner. Then, break up the information you need to review into smaller chunks over the course of several days.
5// Study Smart
Studying smart is all about knowing how you should study. While flashcards might be enough to get you through the tests in class, AP exams are more than likely going to include a lot more written information. The Albert Blog links above will definitely give you some direction. However, you should also be using the methods you’ve been using to study – if they’ve been working for you. If they haven’t, sit down with your teacher and talk about some study strategies that may work better than your current plans.
Make sure that you’re studying during your optimal learning hours. For me, that meant I would wake up about half an hour earlier than usual to knock out some studying. But I work best early in the morning, when my mind isn’t cluttered with the stuff I need to do during the day. If you’re someone who gets their best work done during the day, make use of your lunch time to get some good studying in. Or immediately after school while you’re still in the learning mindset. If you’re a night owl, make use of your late nights and study instead of watching TV.
And the last thing about studying smart is figuring out whether you study better on your own or with other people. Some people argue that studying with others provides the good kind of peer pressure to get you to do your work. Others argue that it can be a distraction because conversations have a tendency to quickly derail. If you think study groups are a distraction, get comfortable by yourself and get to studying. If they’re not, grab some of your friends or classmates and get to studying in a comfortable environment. Preferably in a place where
6// Prepping the Day Before
The day before exam day is usually the day that I devote entirely to that one exam. I recommend glancing over any problems that you were unsure about. However, do not try to learn any new material. This is going to be a largely pointless task because you’re likely to forget it by the time of the exam or you’re going to be so focused on remembering the new information, you’ll forget the old information.
Don’t try to learn new information the night before the exam. Simply review over your material. Go through some of the old exam and answer those questions. For more writing intensive exams, create outlines for past questions rather than writing out entire essays. For calculation based exams, work out old problems that you haven’t yet done. Review any rules that you’re a little rusty on. And for exams that are more memorization, quiz yourself using the old exams and work on being able to provide proof of why something might be the way it is.
I’ll say it again: Don’t try to learn new material. You know everything you’re likely to know for the exam. Stressing out about it isn’t going to change anything.
7// Sleep and Eat
The night before the exam you want to make sure you’re eating foods that are healthy and nutritious for you. But you don’t want to completely overhaul your diet. The same goes for breakfast the morning of the exam. As one of my teachers said, don’t eat a protein bar the morning of the exam if you’ve never had a protein bar before. Your body’s going to hate you and you’re going to be uncomfortable during the exam.
Basically, eat what you normally eat and maybe add a few fruits here and there. Also, bring fruits or some other energizing yet light food to eat during the break in the exam. And make sure to bring two peppermint candies: one for before the exam starts and one during the break to reawaken and sharpen your mind to get you read for part two.
You also want to make sure you’re getting enough sleep the night before the exam. While most people recommend 7 to 8 hours on average, I disagree. Everyone has a “sleep sweet spot” as I call it. It’s the number of hours you need to be truly awake and functional without the side effects of being sleepy.
It’s usually a pretty small window and will often change as you progress through high school. And it’s rarely between 7 and 8 hours for people. Sometimes it’s more, like 9 hours, but more often I’ve seen it being less, like 5 or 6 hours. My sleep sweet spot is a solid 5 and a half to 6 and a half. Anything more than 6 and a half, I wake up feeling tired and anything less than 5 leaves me exhausted and in pain about 3 or 4 hours after waking up.
You’re probably very aware of this window. Use it to your advantage and make sure to get those necessary hours of sleep.
8// Take a Breath, Take a Moment
I know, I technically cheated. But, this is so incredibly important. Before the exam starts, take a moment to breathe. Take a few deep breaths, waking your brain and your body. Maybe run through a few yoga breaths or motions in your seat. Maybe you choose to take a moment in quite meditation. Or maybe you say a few mantras, out loud or in your head.
Reassure yourself that you’ve done everything you can up to this point and that you’re going to do your very best during this exam. Know that that is all you can do. Be assured in the fact that you know your information. Trust that you’re going to ace this exam.
Take one more deep breath and then get started on the exam.
Well those are my 8 tried and true tips to ace your AP exams. You all are incredibly smart so I’m absolutely sure that you’re going to pass every single one of your exams. Know that I’ll be rooting for you during the AP Exam weeks and that you’re going to do great.
What’s your best study tip for AP Exams? Do you know your “sleep sweet spot”? What’s your favorite mantra to get you through a difficult exam?