6 Tips for Tackling AP Exams

Erin Pettus / Colleges of Distinction »

While AP exams are still several months away, it’s wise to start thinking about them now. The more time you take to prepare for your exams, the better off you’ll be. Even if all you do right now is read this article, you’ll still have taken an important step in tackling your exams. AP exams are important on several fronts. Not only do they represent the culmination of your year-long learning, but they also provide you an opportunity to earn valuable college credit at an affordable rate.

AP exams can come in different formats from multiple-choice and short-answer questions to essays and portfolios. The type of exam you can expect will be in line with the content and subject matter of your AP class. If you’ve made it through your AP courses and are planning on going to college, it’s a great idea to complete the exam. Acing the cumulative exam can earn you college credit, which cuts down on your tuition costs. You may have been studying through this course for a full year, but how else can you set yourself up for a stellar final score? Aside from setting your SMART goals, here are some tips.


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1. Study Early, Start Smart.

Taking a look at a year-long curriculum can be daunting, so it’s best to cover everything by cutting your study sessions into smaller pieces that focus on specific topics. Eat your cake one slice at a time! A great way to work through each piece is with tried-and-true study tools like flashcards, highlighters, and post-it notes.

2. Determine What You Do and Do Not Know

Once the curriculum has been sliced up and you’re ready to start planning your flashcards, take an inventory of your topics. Don’t worry about giving every unit an equal amount of study time; instead, pare down subject matter you don’t feel confident in and skim through what you already know. There is no point in regurgitating information that you already have a decent grasp on, so give yourself more time to digest subjects with which you aren’t as familiar.

3. Commit to a Study Schedule.

With so much happening during your senior year of high school, planning out your study time is a great way to ensure you have the time to prepare for the exam. Maybe you have a free period during the school day. Maybe your sports team has Wednesday afternoons off. Or maybe the morning is when you feel the most focused—it’s up to you! Once you have outlined what you need to study, you can plan the days and times you’ll cover certain subject matter, making sure to cover the most important topics before the test. 

4. Practice With Previous AP Test Questions

Take the time to not only familiarize yourself with the content and material, but also with the test type. CollegeBoard offers resources for practice exams, sample questions, and answers from students who took the test previously. The best way to predict the future is often to look at the past. That way, you can familiarize yourself with how the test questions are structured, potentially calming your nerves on test day and better prepare you to work through the exam questions.

5. Take Several Mock Exams.

If you haven’t been given access yet, ask your teacher about practice exams and resources. Taking shortened versions, or even seeing sample questions, can help you with time management. The AP exams have time limits. Make sure you not only know the material, but also that you can read through and understand questions in the allotted time. Again, having a good idea of what you’ll be walking into on test day can help your confidence in successfully completing the test. 

6. Ask for Help

So your flashcards are made, you’ve narrowed down your topics to focus on. You have your sample questions and practice exams in hand. Your study schedule is officially on your calendar. This is a lot to cover and handle on your own, so don’t forget to continue to reach out to your teacher. Keep a list of questions that pop up while you’re studying on your own. Set aside a time to meet with your teacher and get all of your questions answered. 


While studying, planning, and practicing are all a great way to prepare for your exams, don’t forget that it’s equally important to take study breaks. Don’t overdo it! Make sure that during your study times you’re still taking time to walk, meditate, hydrate, or have a snack. This all helps to relieve stress and refocus on your studies.

Now go ace that test!