Ace Your AP Tests

Advanced Placement (AP) courses can save you thousands of dollars in tuition and help you graduate from college early, but only if you score well on your AP tests.

AP tests cover 22 subject areas reviewed in 37 courses. While you can’t use the same study tactics to ace a French language AP test and a chemistry AP test, there are steps you can take to succeed no matter what subject it covers.

Why You Want to Do Well
More than 90 percent of colleges in the U.S. accept AP scores for college credit, but most schools only award credit for scores of four or five (AP tests are scored on a scale from one to five, with five being the highest score). Even schools that don’t offer credit for high AP scores often ask for your scores as part of the admissions process.

Taking an AP test isn’t cheap. Each test sets you back $83, so taking the test unprepared could cost you money without the benefit of tuition savings later. “Students can actually knock off a semester – sometimes a year – of coursework at a college [if they score well on multiple AP tests], which translates into a year of tuition,” Bev Taylor, an independent college admissions counselor, says.

Don’t Count on Last-Minute Cramming
AP courses are designed to match the intensity of college-level classes. If you slacked off in your AP class all year, don’t expect to cram a year’s worth of coursework into the few days before the exam. Even if you have done well in your AP course, you’re not off the hook for studying for the exam. “If you’re doing well in class, it doesn’t mean that your teacher is covering all the particular material you’re expected to know for the AP exams,” Donald Viscardi, Master Tutor at Inspirica Tutoring and Test Preparation, says. The best approach to succeed on your AP test is to be diligent about understanding what you cover in class throughout the year. You wouldn’t expect to complete the work for a college course in a few days, and you shouldn’t count on learning a year’s worth of AP coursework in the days just before the exam.

Make Flash Cards (And Use Them)
No matter which AP test you’re preparing for, flash cards can help you remember key details for the test. Put everything from vocabulary words to important equations on flash cards. Make them throughout the school year and test yourself. The beauty of flashcards is that you can bring them with you just about anywhere and it only takes a few seconds to flip through a couple of cards. Five minutes reviewing your flash cards on the bus or over your breakfast cereal adds up quickly and can boost your score.

Take Practice Tests
Unlike tests you might take in other classes, the AP test always follows a similar format. The more familiar you become with the layout of the subject test, the more relaxed you’ll be on test day. “There’s no better guide to seeing how well you’re going to do than to actually take the test,” Viscardi says. Timing yourself during practice tests also lets you know what pace you’ll need to work at to complete the exam. Talk to your AP teacher about getting copies of practice tests. You can get free practice essay and free-response questions for AP tests on the College Board Web site.

Come Prepared
You can study non-stop for months to get ready for your AP tests, but if you don’t come prepared, it won’t do much good. Make sure you register for the exam. Talk to your AP teacher in January before the exam to let them know you plan on taking the test. On test day, bring two No. 2 pencils, two ballpoint pens, your school code, a watch and your social security number. For some exams, like physics, bring an AP-authorized calculator and a ruler. If you don’t attend the school where you are taking the exam, you’ll also need a photo ID.

When in Doubt, Know When to Guess
No matter how hard you study, chances are there will be at least one question on the exam you’re not sure about. It’s not always in your best interest to guess on the multiple-choice section of AP exams. You are not awarded or deducted points for leaving a question unanswered. One-fourth of a point is deducted for every question you answer incorrectly. “You don’t want to do wild guessing, but if you can eliminate a couple of choices, especially if you can get it down to two choices, I think probability is on your side and you should take a guess,” Viscardi says.


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