How students study for AP exams

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Erin Choi, Copy Editor

With AP exams being administered in May, it is now the most dreaded month of the school year for a great majority of high school students. To prepare, students have adopted their own studying strategies based on the tests they are taking, and their level of readiness. Some students began studying during winter break, whereas others believe that studying from March is sufficient.

For study materials, a majority of students find textbooks and their teacher’s lesson slides to be the most useful. The AP test is ultimately an accumulation of knowledge and information learned in the coursework of the AP class throughout the year, so referring back to slides organized according to each unit can then ignite easier recall and relearning.

“I personally think that studying one to two months ahead of the AP exam is appropriate,” Melissa Kim (10), AP Biology student, said. “This is mostly because most of the content has already been covered in class. Although textbooks are always helpful, I always make sure to refer back to the slides my teacher used during his lectures in class, since the slides are more organized and easier to follow.”

Other students find quizzes and formative assignments that are skills-based to be the most effective studying method. Throughout the year, AP teachers frequently distribute Kahoots, Albert.io quizzes, and AP classroom questions for students to practice. These quizzes often remain active even after students complete them, allowing students to retake the quiz or re-evaluate their past answers. Along with online quizzes, students have access to their formative assignments, ranging from worksheets to laboratory reports. Reviewing formative assignments can allow students to revisit their learning process and the ways they applied accumulated knowledge to diverse questions.

“Formatives are most useful to me during AP season,” Eric Lee (11), junior taking four APs, said. “Most of my formative work has comments and suggestions attached to them. These are useful because I can directly see which areas I lack and what sections I need to focus on prior to the AP exam.”

Most students remain dissatisfied and anxious even after continuous review. To relieve this feeling of discomfort, students turn to taking practice tests. AP teachers provide one mock exam opportunity prior to the AP exam, in which students can voluntarily take the test without experiencing any effects on their grades. Barron’s and Princeton Review’s AP series are among the most popular sources for review, for these textbooks offer both practice tests and thorough explanations.

“I think that students should take advantage of the mock exam opportunities teachers offer,” said Melissa Kim. “Taking the practice test at school is a simulation of what the real AP exam would feel like, so I find this to be very helpful. I also make sure to solve full practice tests in my own time and focus on the questions I tend to get wrong.” 

With students expected to simultaneously study for their AP exams and school work, time management is an ongoing struggle. Some report that completing formative work the day the work was assigned has helped generate additional time for AP test studying; others find that preparing for AP exams on weekdays is not manageable and would much rather devote their entire weekend solely to preparing for their AP exams. 

“It is always important to find a studying method and schedule that best works for you,” Ashley Seong (12), student taking five AP courses, said. “But I do want to add that, especially for seniors and students who find time management to be challenging, the more you pay attention in class, the less you would have to spend time outside of school studying for your AP exams. I always tell myself and those around me that ‘the earlier the better;’ focus in class, do the work, review materials, and the AP exam will no longer feel so daunting.” 

“Dear students, choose a study strategy that matches your time commitments and learning style,” Rose Tyvand, AP Chemistry teacher, said. “I provide my students with various study strategies and list the pros and cons of each tactic; students can then have options and choose an approach that best suits their preference. By giving students additional resources and help, I help to show that they do not necessarily need to rely on hagwons and that they can explore different strategies.”