Enter your search terms:

Getting Ahead for AP Exams

by Megan Waardenburg

AP classes are difficult. They’re designed this way to push your limits and see what you can do. In order to succeed in them, students often need to change their study habits and methods. Most students won’t succeed on academic ability alone. Exams seem a long way out, but they will come sooner than they seem, but most first year AP students don’t know where to start.

Try new study methods

If you’re struggling with your current study method, perhaps it’s time to troubleshoot. Taking notes straight out of a textbook without organization works for some people, but it may not always be the most time efficient or effective way to study. One of the most widely used methods, Cornell notes, helps to organize notes in a legible format that makes it easier to review during test time. Reading the textbook as if it were a novel can also help you retain more information. Investing your attention in the content as if it were actually entertaining can help you remember more. Alongside this, try putting comprehension questions at the end of certain sections during your initial read through. Going back and answering them at test time lets you know what you need to study and which areas you know well.

Try new diagrams

Though making diagrams seems rather tedious, but they are the best way to summarize material in a concise way to streamline the study process. Mind maps, or as we called them in elementary school, spider graphs, help to connect concepts for visual learners. Cause and effect diagrams can help aid comprehension of historical events. Though it may be time consuming, putting effort into making notes legible and neat can take you a long way. Reviewing notes before test time is a hundred times easier if you can read your own writing.

Make it easier to focus

If we’re being honest, so many of us set up our study space and get out a textbook only to open snapchat after every paragraph. Though sometimes your phone can help you study by playing music or allowing you to ask other students about assignments, putting your phone away will help you get more done. If you’re really tempted, leave in in another room. If you’re tired of studying in the same place, try changing the scenery. Working at a coffee shop or library can help you focus more than your distraction-filled room. Even though it may be comfortable, avoid working on your bed at all costs. You will either feel tired when doing your homework, or you will not be able to sleep at night since your mind will begin to associate your bed with homework.

Use apps and websites created for students

Help yourself focus by playing ambient noise such as rain sounds or coffee shop sounds if you need noise to focus. Using programs programs such as rainymood.com, or Coffivity can keep the sounds going without disrupting your focus to make it replay. Certain programs can help time you and encourage more focused study time. Forest is an app that blocks websites and times progress by growing a virtual tree in the corner of your screen. Momentum is a chrome extension that tailors your home screen to your tasks. Technology is a huge distractor to productivity, but using it wisely can improve your study.  

Outside resources

Specifically for AP courses, study books can help provide information the teacher didn’t cover, or refresh your memory on key concepts and examples. Companies such as Barrons and Kaplan make study guides specific to each course, providing students with all the curriculum necessary to score well on the exam, as well as instruction on writing and open ended strategies. Online resources, though less credible, can provide a more understandable version of the material. Quizlet, a flash card sharing website, provides definitions for key terms in almost any course. Each set is created by students or teachers, making them more bearable than College Board’s resources. Of course, the widely loved Crash Course videos, filmed by John and Hank Green, are based on AP curriculum, but can help with any related course. These videos make the content more relatable, and certainly more memorable.


Essentially, vew few students can succeed on an exam without putting in the time and effort to learn the material. Yes, being a genius helps, but work ethic can take you from scoring a 1 to a 5. Don’t be afraid to ask your teacher for practice tests or essay prompts, or for feedback for your essays or open ended questions. Making sure you’re on the right track in your writing is especially important around AP exam time when you have only 45 minutes for each essay. The night before your test, practice will have been the most helpful method you’ve used throughout the entire year.


Image by Morgan Hanna