How to Study (or Cram) for Your AP Exams

Student Life

You stare at your calendar in shock. How is it already May? All those hours of sleeping in class and blowing off your homework are finally catching up to you: you only have a week until your AP exams. While it may seem daunting, we’ve all been there, and it’s totally possible to still pass. Here are some tips and tricks for getting all that information into your brain to get that college credit.

Don't Skip The Diagnostic Test

Stop! Before you do anything else, take a practice test, even if you feel like you know nothing. Chances are, you’ll at least get some stuff right, so there’s no point wasting your precious time studying material you already know. Just like that, you’ve probably cut down the amount of stuff you need to study in half.

Make The Most Of Your Resources

Now that you know what to work on, it’s time to jump right in. There are tons of ways to go about this, but I’d suggest buying a review book. Usually your teacher would recommend one, and I’d definitely trust their judgment. As a general rule of thumb, go for the Crash Course book for history classes and Barron for everything else. The cool thing about these books is that they condense everything you’ve learned over the year into a couple hundred pages, making it easy to pick and choose what to work on. As a bonus, there’s a bunch of practice tests (which, trust me, you’ll need later).

Another great review resource is Khan Academy. Although this doesn’t directly follow the AP curriculum, it’s a great resource for lecture videos and practice. If you’re struggling with something specific, do the Khan Academy chapter on it! For more AP-specific but more complicated review, go directly into AP classroom in College Board. Your teachers have to release them, but there’s AP style practice MCQs and FRQs. There are also review videos, but I find the Khan Academy ones more straightforward.

Take Notes On the Hard Stuff

When it comes to reviewing, the best way to make sure the information sticks is to take notes on everything you think you won’t be able to remember. You can do this with a review book, videos, or even practice problems you got wrong. Sure, these notes can get pretty hefty, but there’s something nice about having a complete list of everything you need to know right in front of you. It makes the task of learning all this information so fast seem less intimidating. Another good idea would be to put a special star near things you’re having particular trouble with. That way, if you’re really short on time, you know what to focus on in your notes.

Practice Makes Perfect

As you review concepts, make sure to always be doing practice problems, especially for math-based classes. The best way to learn is by doing, so once you feel like you have a relatively good grasp on a concept, just practice, practice, practice! Even with subjects like history and English, practice writing essays and short answer questions, and then grade them using an official rubric to see how you could improve.

Once you feel like you’ve reviewed everything you can with the time you have, it’s time to start taking full-length practice tests. You can find these on AP classroom, in your review books, from your teachers, and sometimes even with a quick internet search. Make sure to take practice tests from different sources, because some can be way easier or harder than the real test. It can be especially helpful to do real past AP exams because they’ll give you the best idea of the kinds of problems you’ll see on your test.

You can start off not timing the first one, just to see how much you know. Make sure to carefully go over all your mistakes until you understand them: never make the same mistake twice! When you're done, take another test, but time it. Even if you don’t finish, answer the questions you didn’t get to anyway. Just make a mental note that your score would be lower if it were a real test. Spend every last minute before your AP exam taking more practice tests, because if you keep taking tests and going through them, your scores are bound to go up!

And Finally, Just Do Your Best

AP exams are all about getting familiar with the types of problems you're going to see, so if you’ve done enough practice, you’ll do great! The most important thing to remember is that it’s just a test, a test that colleges won’t even see if you choose not to send it. If you have the time to do everything on my list, that’s great, but if not, don’t beat yourself up about it. What matters most is your physical and mental health. On the day of the test, make sure to get plenty of sleep, eat a balanced breakfast, and just do your best!

Priya Ravi

Priya Ravi is a high schooler in California with a passion for social justice. She likes to spend her free time writing short scripts, playing guitar, and cooking.