Crafty Little Secrets to Conquering AP Exams

While we students like to consider May home stretch, we have yet another hurdle to conquer, and that’s AP exams.

The AP exam is not your friend. It is very different from the SAT or the ACT or state skills exams. The trick to studying and scoring a coveted 4 or a 5 on your AP exam is knowing what you’re getting yourself into.

Multiple Choice

The tricks that help you with other tests rarely apply. If you didn’t know already, there are often two right answers in the multiple choice. The instructions on every AP are very particular in asking you to select the BEST answer.

For example, on an English exam one answer will always be “more right” than the other, the hard part is knowing which one. If there are two answers that are similar, the answer that encompasses the other one is usually the correct option.

Study Tip: Know your literary devices and major vocabulary terms. This way you can recognize similar answers and knock out unrelated choices.

Releases from previous tests are available from AP Central. You can use these releases to determine what sections of the course material are covered the most. After all, there’s no need to become an expert in on something that won’t be on the test.

Study Tip: Spend your time studying what you know will be covered.

In addition, there are two basic types of AP Questions: Regurgitated and Analytical.

Regurgitated questions are questions that are either asked or contain the correct answer exactly as it is stated in the book. These questions are heavily found in the Biology, Chemistry, and World History exams.

Analytical questions are the tricky ones.

These questions ask you to take what you would have read in your book or selection, apply it as well as other concepts, and come to the same conclusion the question writer did.

Watch out for these questions in the Environmental Science, US History, and English exams.

Study Tip: Make sure that you understand more than just what the book says. You’ll need to know how the book’s different concepts interact with each other. You’ll need to know how they form the big picture.

The Open Response

Every exam has an open response portion. There’s no escaping it. It is actually easier to study for these than many people believe.

Your teacher or review book has probably already told you the number of free response questions you’ll have on a given test. Well, the exams have general topic areas for the free response questions that you can know ahead of time.

A common type of essay question you may face could ask you to incorporate examples from various sources. Take for instance the English essay, which could ask you to cite two literary works, one from a novel and one from a poem.

How do you tackle these kinds of questions?

Study Tip: Aim to become an expert on at least two areas/books that you can apply to a wide range of topics. Then write a response that makes the prompt fit into what you understand.

Finally, the graders of the AP free response questions go through dozens of tests an hour. They are taught to look for very specific things.

Let’s say you have a question with multiple parts (as in question #1 with parts a, b, and c) and you label which paragraph answers the given section, that is the only place they will look for the answer. Your entire answer is not used to give you points for all the sections.

BONUS Test Taking Tip: Answer the question in paragraphs but don’t mark them with the section letter on the side.

AP exams are admittedly a doozie, but far from impossible to conquer. Incorporate these tricks into your study strategy to get the most out of your prep work, and when test day comes you’ll be one step ahead of the game.

Did you sign up to take an AP exam? Why or Why not? Tell us in the comments below.

written by
Enoma Osakue
April 28, 2014

6 Responses to “Crafty Little Secrets to Conquering AP Exams”

  1. Ryan
    April 30, 2014 at 6:57 am #

    These tips I will cretainly use!
    I am taking AP Lang, AP Stat, and APUSH, and these practice tests are the worst! The teachers said that the tests will not be part of the grade, so just taking them for the fun of it. Now I am regretting it.
    Any other tips to give, like how to remember the terms in Lang and events in APUSH? Anything is better than nothing.

    • Maris
      April 30, 2014 at 9:32 pm #

      There are whole lists of terms commonly found on the AP Eng Lang+Comp exam that you can probably find free on the internet. my teacher gave me one and I just made flash cards of the ones I don’t know (tricky things like chiasmus, litotes, etc.) It works to study those things you don’t know well. I’m pretty sure this is the one she gave me : This is a direct download link for a .pdf document FYI.

    • Maris
      April 30, 2014 at 9:38 pm #

      Oh also. If you’re a flash card type of person, is a great resource. Try looking up “important apush events.” Some sets are made by students, others by teachers. Look at a few and see what works best for you c:

    • Amanda
      May 1, 2014 at 6:27 am #

      Hey Ryan,

      I haven’t take Lang, but I took APUSH last year with a 4 and I’m taking Stat this year as well. One project my APUSH teacher had us do that was really helpful in my opinion was listing the ten most important events of each decade, 1650 to 2000. It sucked, but if you feel you need help remembering stuff, it’s definitely a great way to analyze because you have to evaluate each event seperately and compare it to others in terms of national importance. For anything else, I definitely reccommend the 5 steps to a five multiple choice books; they have 500 multiple choice questions and explanations for most AP tests. Good last minute review.

      Good luck!

    • James
      May 6, 2014 at 7:25 pm #

      Last year when I took AP Lang I found it useful to get a study group together and make a vocabulary test for yourself. This way you know the words well enough to put them into questions. Try to look up examples of English vocab words because it will be easier to remember them and identify them on the test. For AP Stats I would recommend going over as many of the Free Response questions as possible on the college board website. Not only does this give you more experience with how to answer the questions, but they are more in depth than most of the multiple choice questions making those questions easier too. For memorizing events in APUSH, everyone has their own best way to do it. I find it helpful to make timelines, because this way you know which events happened with each other, but there are multiple ways to study.

  2. Ryan
    May 9, 2014 at 7:35 am #

    Thanks for all the advice! The flash cards and timelines were surpisingly helpful. Again thanks.

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