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How to Prepare for AP Courses

Updated: Aug 2, 2020

By Anne C. Sacks

AP courses are college-level courses that test both content knowledge and critical thinking skills. Every year, the College Board administers AP exams during May. Students who earn a 3,4, or 5 have the opportunity to earn college credit. While AP courses can be challenging for students, it is possible to earn a 5, the highest score, on the exams with proper preparation.

Before registering for an AP course in high school, students should make sure that they are interested in the subject and have the time to devote to studying the material. If a student will be busy with extracurricular activities and has a challenging course load planned for the following year, the student should consider whether to commit to the AP course.

The summer before starting the AP course, it is recommended that students review the basic skills necessary for the course. For instance, students taking AP Calculus BC should review their knowledge of Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geometry, and Precalculus. Students enrolled in AP English Language and Composition should review their grammar and practice their writing skills over the summer. If students have extra time, they can purchase a prep book, textbook, or find online material to learn the course ahead of time. Learning the course material before the class starts will allow students to feel more confident and understand the lessons in class better.

When the AP course starts during the school year, students should preview the syllabus and determine how many hours per week they need to spend on the AP course. They should then set aside time during the week to study for the course. Additionally, students should spend the first week of their AP course learning what note-taking methods work for them. Some students prefer to hand-write notes, while others prefer to type them. Some students may like writing down an abundance of information to reference when studying for tests. Other students may want to paraphrase the information to remember it easily. In short, students need to find their preferred note-taking method.

It is also imperative that students ask questions when they need help and do not fall behind. If students are too afraid to ask the teacher in class, they can always ask another classmate or meet with the teacher during lunch or after school. Small misconceptions, especially in math and science AP courses, can turn into large misconceptions if they are not dealt with right away.

For each unit, students should take careful notes (both in and out of class), complete all homework assignments, and ask questions when needed. Students should also develop a review system to ensure that they don’t forget the material after they learn it. Students can use flashcards like those on Anki or Quizlet or even make a study group with their peers to review material.

As the AP exam approaches, students should begin practicing. It is recommended that students purchase review books, which contain full-length practice tests. Students should also try the free response questions on the College Board website. When practicing, students should take careful note of their mistakes and also analyze the rubrics to know what graders are looking for.

A day before the AP exam, students must try to relax and not do any heavy studying. It will not help students if they are tired before the exam even starts.

When it is time for the exam, students must stay calm. They have prepared the entire year for the exam. They are ready.

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