Article Highlights

  • The AP exams are administered in May, and college credit is generally awarded for a score of 3 or better.
  • Start early, create a study schedule, and focus on the material you don’t already know.
  • Taking practice tests is the best way to gauge your knowledge of the material and prepare for test day.

If you’ve enrolled in Advanced Placement® (AP) courses, you know why the “A” stands for “advanced”—AP courses require college-level work and dedication

But the extra time and effort can be worthwhile as the courses can earn you college credit, which will help you start college ahead of the game and save you money on tuition.

AP exams are offered every May, and your score is how you demonstrate curriculum mastery and become eligible for college credit. There are 38 AP subject exams offered, and some, such as Art and Design or Computer Science, also require a portfolio component. Scores range from a low of 1 to a high of 5. Generally, colleges give credit for scores of 3 and higher, however some schools only offer credit to students who score 4 and higher. Most exams are two- or three-hour multi-part tests, which may sound arduous, but with proper preparation, you can more than meet the challenge. Here, experts share their top study tips for how to study for your AP exam to help develop the confidence and skills you need to pass your AP exam.

1. Make Studying for the AP Exam a Year-Long Goal

Give yourself a head start with studying so you won’t be cramming right before the test. Not only is last-minute studying stressful, but it’s also ineffective according to longtime AP tutor Blake Jensen. Jensen says that consistency is key, and planning small, regular review sessions, ideally as soon as you begin your AP class, is the best strategy. Nikki Bruno, an academic performance coach, agrees. “[Studying is] very similar to practicing any skill, just like playing an instrument or a sport. You need to practice it on a regular basis for your memory to fully stick to it.”

Jensen recommends this specific technique: “At the end of every class or homework session, spend three minutes recalling to yourself the things you worked on, the topics you covered, and how to do certain questions. This will improve your long-term retention dramatically. At the end of every week, do the same review but spend around six minutes.”

“Only study what you don’t know. Don’t waste time reviewing ideas you can already explain well.”

– Nikki Bruno

2. Study Smart

How to pass your AP exam depends on preparation. Make a study schedule and be sure that when you’re studying, you’re exclusively studying. That means you should avoid distractions like music, TV, or your cell phone. In addition, Bruno instructs her students to prioritize the material. “Only study what you don’t know. Don’t waste time reviewing ideas you can already explain well. Focus all your attention on filling in your gaps in knowledge, as good as it might feel to get those practice questions correct.”

Another smart AP test study tip from Jensen is to find a study partner. “Take turns being teacher and student. Explain how to answer certain difficult questions to them, then they will do the same for you. You will improve your understanding of the material tremendously by being both the student and the teacher.”

3. Build in Healthy Breaks

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as studying too much, even when studying for AP exams. According to Bruno, “Our brain can only focus for so long, and it needs some time to work out problems in the background.” She also encourages students to stay healthy as a key AP exam tip: “Eat foods rich in fat leading up to the exam, like avocados and nuts. Stay hydrated. Sleep. Exercise regularly.” Studying won’t be helpful if your brain can’t keep up, Bruno warns. So, take breaks to take care of yourself.

“Knowing the material is crucial, but being able to get it on paper during the exam is what matters.”

– Nikki Bruno

4. Take Practice Exams

Taking AP practice tests is more than reviewing the course material. It’s also a chance to simulate an actual exam and familiarize yourself with the format and can be a valuable component in passing an AP exam. So, clear your desk, remove any distractions and, most importantly, says Jensen, time yourself. “Knowing the material is crucial, but being able to get it on paper during the exam is what matters. Use practice tests as a way to gauge how well you know something, how well you can communicate it and how well you understand the types of questions the AP exam will ask.”

Bruno recommends finding practice problems online through the College Board® or in books such as Barron’s and Princeton Review.

5. Gamify It

Tutor Joey Radu’s philosophy about taking AP tests is to stop studying and start playing. “The gamification of learning has been underway for a while now, yielding excellent, readily accessible resources for students. When these games work—when they marry good game design with strong educational content—they provide a welcome relief to students who otherwise feel under-engaged.”

Another AP exam tip from Radu is to check out Quizlet, Khan Academy, and Habitica, which all incorporate gaming aspects into their practice tests and questions. He is also a fan of doing some digging yourself by Googling “[your AP exam] + games” to uncover additional fun study content.

Remember to also ask your teacher for help if you need additional support with a certain subject or aspect of the test. After a year of working hard to master advanced coursework, you owe it to yourself to do your best on your AP exams—and following these tips will help you do just that.

AP® and Advanced Placement® are trademarks registered by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.

College Board® is a trademark registered by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.