Updated: May 12, 2021
A word of warning: If you don't have the basic building blocks of studying down pat, then check out this article instead. We're not saying we don't want you here, but you have to learn how to crawl before you can walk.
This blog post is going to cover some overall basics as well as specific strategies for each subject (at least the major ones) from our tutors.
General AP Exam Tips
You can't skip around with digital. The digital exam doesn't allow you to skip around and K'O those easy questions like you would in a regular pen and paper test - you won't be able to come back to questions you skipped. So if you don't know an answer, just guess and move on because you won't have a chance to return to the question later.
Be doing things (like practice tests). Take the AP practice test on your AP Classroom portal. After that, find older versions of the AP exams on Google and get some AP test prep books with more practice tests and take those too! If you run through those, go to Collegeboard subject tests, or SAT passages, Khan Academy, AP YouTube videos, heck even have a session with one of our tutors!
Be wrong! I hate it when I'm wrong (especially on tests), but what I've learned is that I am infinitely better at remembering the right answers to questions that I previously got wrong than I am at remembering the right answer to questions that I got right. Weird huh? Research shows that students who take really challenging practice tests and get answers wrong end up actually learning the content better than students who feel super prepared and didn't challenge their understanding. So, when you do those practice problems, always make sure to review the answer explanation under a microscope - until you get it enough to be able to explain it to a friend.
Be lazy! Study smarter, not harder. My biggest regret with my last midterm was that I spent way too long thinking I was studying, while my brain was actually on a big fat dump of a vacation. So if you feel too tired or you're just not into it, go take a break! Run around, start a riot, whatever! Oh and take lots of breaks! Because you are more likely to remember things that happen in the beginning and the end, rather than the things that happen in the middle.
AP English Literature & Composition
"Since the AP English Literature & Composition exam requires you to connect broad literary techniques in language and structure to specific texts (some provided by the exam, others which will require your memory), it's important to be very comfortable with how to identify figurative language and other literary devices.
You will also need to draw on your skills in interpreting and explaining how those techniques serve the author's purpose in a given passage or an entire text. With that in mind, I strongly recommend brushing up on your active reading and analytical writing skills to be very well prepared for this exam. Revisit the texts you've read during the past year that you've found most challenging and annotate them with a fresh mind; seek out additional works from the authors mentioned in the College Board's course guide for further close reading practice. To hone your analytical writing skills, use the sample free-response questions provided by the College Board and write timed practice essays."
- William Giacchi
William tutors (AP) English, Literature, World History, European History, US History, in addition to being our Academic Coordinator, test prep tutor, and college counselor.
"The exam has a lot of questions on intermolecular forces, acids, and bases, so make sure to know that unit well, and don't forget to include units and sig figs in all of your calculations.
Personally, I always would get confused between intermolecular and intramolecular forces until I started to think of it as a relationship.
Intermolecular forces are between molecules, so I always compare it to international relations between the US and Germany (two entities).
Intramolecular forces refer to things that bond inside molecules, so I think of intranational relations between Texas and California."
Ramzi tutors AP Chemistry, Calculus (AB and BC), Physics, English, History, as well as SAT/ACT test prep both online and in-person. He graduated from UC Berkley and has a degree in Cognitive Linguistics.
AP Calculus AB & BC
"So I always tell students to study twice as much as they think they should. I know it sucks, but with math, there really is no way around it. One of the ways you can know you're ready is to:
1) Read a problem and try to first identify the problem type
2) Think about the steps to the problem 3) Try to solve it in your head
If you can do this with every problem for every section of the test, then I’d say you’re pretty well prepared for a test. And I think in order to do this, you just need a lot of practice."
Luc tutors AP Calculus AB and BC, AP Physics, AP Economics, AP Chemistry, CBEST, and SAT/ACT test prep online. Luc graduated from UCI with a BS in Pure Mathematics.
"Watch all the videos the College Board has released about Mechanics on their YouTube channel! They have an hour-ish-long video for every unit on the test!
I like to re-write all of the main topics that they went over in the notes. This might take a few days, but it always really helps me. It also makes it easier to find out what you personally struggle with within the curriculum, so you can practice those topics!
Also, remember that your calculator is your best friend! Knowing where the various functions are and what they do will really help your speed on this test."
Graeme tutors AP Calculus AB, AP Physics (Mechanics), and SAT/ACT test prep online and in-person. He will be studying Astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz.
"The AP History exams require a great deal of writing, in addition to the multiple-choice questions, so you can really help yourself out by writing practice essays in addition to your assigned coursework. The College Board shares the Free-Response Question prompts from previous years, so you can work out your writing skills using questions in the same mold as what you will see during this year's exam.
For questions from last year, visit the AP Classroom question bank, which does require login credentials, or check out questions from 2019 and before without login here. When writing practice essays, you should time yourself so that you can acclimate to the pacing of the exam.
As an added tip for writing strong essay responses, make sure to be specific when analyzing the text excerpts provided. The best way to show your mastery of the course content is to thoroughly explain specific connections between the historical details provided in those excerpts and the larger themes across historical events that are covered in your course."
William is our Academic Coordinator, a college counselor, and tutors AP English, Literature, World History, European History, US History, as well as SAT/ACT test prep.
"Do a whole bunch of different problems. The more problems you do, the better physicist you become because you see a wide variety of scenarios where you'll have to think slightly differently.
Do questions that both focus only on a centralized topic (mechanics, E&M, whatever) and some that are more comprehensive (multiple topics playing together).
Try to solve questions in multiple ways/try to solve old questions in a new way.
Treat a known quantity as a hypothetical once in a while. If you're doing like inelastic collisions and you get an answer, pretend you vary the masses of the objects after the fact and look at how different mass values would get you different outcomes."
Josh tutors AP Physics, AP Calculus AB/BC, and SAT/ACT test prep both online and in-person. He is currently working on obtaining his Master's in Physics at CSU Long Beach.
"Many of the questions are on dry topics such as the history of psychology, sensation, and perception. This means that you'll need a lot of flashcards for rote memorization.
So when you are studying, be able to verbalize your flashcards to yourself in a mirror or a friend. Bonus points if you can teach the concept to a friend because the more that you can truly teach it to others the better you will do on the exam."
Melinda is one of our college counselors, tutors select AP Psychology students, and teaches at CSU Fullerton. Melinda graduated from Stanford and has a Ph.D. in Industrial & Organizational Psychology.
"The AP Biology exam is going to have a lot of questions on natural selection, so make sure that you focus on that subject area. You'll have about 90 seconds to answer each multiple-choice question, which means that you need to get that knowledge deeply engrained so you are easily recalling answers quickly.
The free-response tends to use experimental data for you to actually apply what you've learned. However, especially with COVID, most students will not have done a lot of lab work. This means that when you are practicing, make sure to incorporate questions that use experimental data sets."
Ashley tutors AP Biology and AP Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Algebra 2/Trigonometry, both online and in-person. Ashley graduated from UCLA with a BS in Biochemistry.
"In general, know the curves. Just cross two pencils and know how any change in the economy is going to shift supply or demand left or right. I don’t think it gets much deeper at that level, with IS or LM curves right."
Tristan is a former tutor with Strive to Learn and an occasional guest blogger on our website. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Computational & Data Science.
"Statistics is all about word problems. The key is not to get overwhelmed by all the words, and instead hone in on what is truly important. Every statistics problem will always provide you with everything you need, you just need to find it.
I recommend making your own little “library of terms” on your piece of paper as you carefully read through each question. What did they give you? A sample mean? A population proportion?
Then, once you have pulled out all the facts that are relevant, figure out what they are asking you. Should you do a confidence interval? A hypothesis test? After you have bullet-pointed all the relevant information, your notes should be so thorough that you don’t even have to look back at the problem to tackle the math.
Once you’ve calculated the answer, look back at the test and match it up with the correct answer choice. Always, always focus on answering the question first - using your own brain - then, only once you’ve jotted down your own answer, look at the answer choices. This will keep you from falling into the traps of a well-written multiple-choice test. Avoid second-guessing yourself by focusing on what is given, what is asked for, and doing the work first, looking at the answer choices last."
Josefine is the founder of Strive to Learn and she tutors AP Statistics, SAT/ACT test prep, and is a college counselor. Josefine graduated from the Free University of Berlin with a Master's in Visual & Media Anthropology.