How to Succeed in AP Courses & Exams
Last updated August 17, 2023
Gearing up to take an AP course for the first time? Advanced Placement (AP) courses, created and administered by The College Board, are college-level courses offered in most high schools. They are designed to be challenging and to give students a feel for what to expect academically when they begin college.
Taking an AP course also prepares students to take the optional AP exam each May, which tests their knowledge of the course material they learned that year. Depending on their score, students can earn credit for college, potentially saving them time and money in college down the road! In addition to this, there are other great benefits of succeeding in AP courses, so taking the time and steps to do so is key.
AP courses can be challenging or even a bit intimidating, but you can set yourself up for success! Here’s how to succeed in AP courses and exams.
Throughout your course
Review the course syllabus and stay organized
At the beginning of the term, your teacher will most likely review their academic plan for the year and distribute a syllabus outlining course topics, assignments, exams, and other important information. This is one of your most important resources to stay organized and on track, so keep it to refer to as needed. Read your syllabus carefully and be sure to note all important assignment due dates, test dates, and the AP exam schedule from the syllabus in your calendar or planner.
Throughout the year, be sure to keep all of your class notes and graded assignments somewhere handy. These will definitely come in handy before a course test, and potentially to even help you study for the AP exam!
Use free AP study materials
There are many great, free study resources that can help you succeed in your AP course and exam. Here’s a few:
- CrashCourse on YouTube has lots of videos covering multiple different AP subjects, including US History and European History, Psychology, Biology, and more.
- Kaplan has free articles, study plans, and exam practice questions for 9 different AP courses.
- Khan Academy provides free study guides for many AP courses; they're thorough and start from the basics. Click “Courses” at the top left of the home page to find your AP subject and start studying!
- Quizlet offers a variety of AP study methods, like flashcards, randomized tests, and study games. They have pre-made resources available for most AP subjects, or you can make your own and share them with classmates to study together!
- Your school or community library may carry AP study books that you can check out for free. These are especially helpful when preparing to take the AP exam.
Prep for the AP exam
Get familiar with the exam early in the course
At the beginning of your course, familiarize yourself with the end-of-year AP exam: how it’s formatted, what the scoring is, what fees are associated with it, how to register, and more. Understanding the time, financial, and study commitments to take the AP exam up-front can help you make a decision about whether or not to take it. You don’t need to make this choice immediately, but having a good idea of the route you plan to take can help you better prepare.
To learn more about your course’s exam, find it on this list. Under the “About the Course” tab, you can learn more about what percentage of each unit will be on the exam. Under “About the Exam,” you can find a specific breakdown of your course’s exam - how long it takes to complete it, how many multiple choice questions and free-response prompts there are, and what percentage of your score each of those make up.
The registration deadline for AP exams is typically each November. Learn more about registering here. The current standard fee to register for an AP exam is $97; however, $35 fee reductions are available to eligible students. Learn more here. Don’t let the AP exam fee be the reason you don’t take the course (or exam)! Talk to an educator at your school for more information on fee reductions and waiver - they may be able to help you find other funding to take the exam.
The study resources listed above are great tools to help you prepare to take the AP exam. We recommend giving yourself plenty of time - at least a few months - to prepare. This is not the kind of exam you can cram for, so be sure to take your time and review your material slowly and thoroughly.
The day of the exam
Here’s some things you can do the night before/day of your exam to prepare:
- Sleep and eat well. Be sure to get plenty of sleep the night before the exam. The morning of, be sure to eat a big breakfast and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Making sure your body is prepared for the exam is just as important as making sure your brain is.
- Answer every question during the exam. There’s no penalty for guessing! Go through the questions that you feel confident about first, and then go back over the exam and answer any remaining questions in the time you have left.
After the exam
Your scores will most likely be emailed to you in addition to being available on the AP website. Don’t stress if you don’t get the score you expected! Most universities will grant college credit based on an AP score of a 3 or 4, and only a small few will require a 5. Even if you don't pass or aren't totally happy with the score you got, remember that you've already done so much great preparation for college! The process of taking the course and studying has only set you up for further success as you start taking college classes - and that's something to be proud of!
AP classes can be intimidating, but we’re here to help! Text #Hello to 33-55-77 to speak with one of our college advisors!