Advanced Placement (AP) courses require passing an AP exam at the end of the class to gain college credit. AP exams are standardized tests that are cumulative. Typically, they have two sections which are multiple-choice and free-response questions. They test the student’s knowledge of everything taught throughout the AP class. AP exams are scored on a scale from 1 to 5 with 3 and above considered passing. Although there are some schools that only accept grades 4’s and 5’s for credit.
A student’s chances of getting a perfect score of 5 depends on how well they have learned the material and how good of a test taker they are. If you are a student who deals with test anxiety, Test Anxiety: How To Study For A Test will give you some great tips on how to relax and do well.
I’m going to assume that if you are reading this article, you have taken or are currently in AP classes and know how they are structured. If you are not familiar with AP classes, this article will get you started, You Can Earn College Credits From High School AP Classes.
As mentioned above, the highest score a student can get is a 5. A student doesn’t actually need to get a perfect score to get a score of 5. You can answer questions incorrectly and still be able to get a 5. Colleges and universities will only see your number score, they will not see the questions you got wrong. Therefore, when I say getting a perfect score, I mean getting a 5 on your AP exam NOT getting every question right.
Below are some tips which can maximize your chances of getting a perfect score and minimize stress.
Let’s jump right in.
1. Do Not Cram – Study The Material
If you are aiming for a perfect score on your AP exam then you must learn the material. You cannot learn all the material the night before the test. Cramming will only create stress and make you feel unprepared. Mental health issues have steadily increased year over year for students. The statistics are staggering and are cause for concern. In 2021, more than a third (37%) of high school students experienced poor mental health during the prior year (CDC). All students should learn how to take care of their mental health.
When taking an AP class, there will be information that you learn in September or October that you will need to remember when you take the exam in May. A more successful approach to studying is to study frequently over long periods of time. In addition, cramming doesn’t create good study habits. I get you may need to cram from time to time but studies show that it doesn’t work over long periods.
2. Prepare For Test Day
Exercise. Eat well. Get plenty of sleep. These are known as the 3 pillars of health for a reason. It is through them you will have the energy and focus to get through your exam.
Eating a balanced and healthful diet and having a good fitness routine is vital for any student. They increase energy, help with focus and concentration, and improve your immune system. Conversely, an unbalanced diet can lead to fatigue, lack of concentration, moodiness, and even depression—not good characteristics for test taking.
Eat well and drink plenty of water leading up to the test day and on the test day. Feed your brain and your body. Studies have shown high anxiety can increase the impact of caffeine. It may be best to reduce the amount of caffeine you consume on test day as it can make you jittery and cause more anxiety.
Get a good night’s sleep the night before the test. Sleep is essential to being alert and it is directly correlated with academic performance. You want to wake up feeling refreshed and ready for the day.
3. Complete Easy Questions First
There is no required order to complete your exam. However, I recommend that you complete the easiest questions first. Begin reading through the questions and answer the questions which have answers that stand out to you. The questions that seem difficult or time-consuming should be skipped in your first pass. You can come back to them later. Many times the answer may come to you or will be triggered by other parts of the test. If you skip multiple-choice and free-response sections make sure you accurately fill out your Scantron or test booklet correctly.
4. Plan Your Essays
Not every AP exam has essays, but for those that do, you should plan your essays before you begin writing them. Spending a couple of minutes to create an outline will help you to have a strong thesis. Additionally, planning will help you identify your main ideas or points which will ensure your essay is well organized. Use your time management to identify how long you can spend creating your outline to help you write a strong and coherent essay.
5. Time Management
Managing your time is crucial when taking a timed test. You are allowed to bring a watch to the exam as long as it is not a smartwatch and as long as it doesn’t make any noise. This will ensure that you do not cheat and that you do not distract anyone else who is taking the exam. I recommend that you get a watch that is allowed for the exam so that you can manage your time.
Having a watch will enable you to pace yourself on the exam. If you notice you are taking a long time to answer a question, it is crucial that you skip the question. You can skip questions as necessary throughout the test and come back to them at the end. The important part is to not allow a few questions to prevent you from answering other questions.
Time management is also important in the free-response section, depending on the subject there will be essays or tasks you’re required to complete. This is where you need to keep track of your time and ensure you are on track to completing the test. Before taking the test plan how long you should spend on each essay or task you’re required to complete. This will ensure when you take the exam, you have a target time in mind to manage your time.
6. Answer Every Question
Personally, my approach to test-taking combines underlining, circling, or crossing out information on my tests. Information that is important gets underlined or circled. While the information that is not important gets crossed out. This is how I identify the important parts of the question or essay and then use my process of elimination to identify the answer. Writing on your exam can help you work through your thoughts. Try to implement this as you take your exam.
If you skip a question and come back to it and still don’t know the answer, then you must guess. There will not be a penalty for guessing. Therefore, you must answer every question. On a multiple-choice question, use your process of elimination. Cross out any answers that you know are incorrect to increase your chances of choosing the correct answer.
On a free-response or short-answer question, think about what you remember about the topic of the question. Circle or underline the topic of the free-response question. Anything you can think of writing gives you an opportunity to receive partial credit. While a blank response will only ensure you get zero points. Therefore, if you can come up with something based on what you remember, you’re giving yourself an opportunity. The person reviewing your test might believe that what you wrote is relevant and give you partial points. And partial points are better than none.
7. Positive Talk
On the day of your AP exam, I want you to start the day with positive self-talk. Remind yourself that you have studied, you’re prepared, and you’re going to ace this exam. Positive self-talk and affirmations can increase mood and boost confidence which is important before taking a stressful test.
Once you’ve started the exam, it’s important to maintain positive self-talk. If there’s a question you weren’t prepared for or something that is throwing you off, do not panic. Instead, tell yourself that you got this. You don’t need to stress yourself out, you need to manage your time. So, skip the question and come back later.
If you come back to a question later and are still stumped, that’s okay. Tell yourself that you are doing amazingly on the rest of the exam. The most important thing is that you do your best. Remember you do not need to answer every question correctly to get a 5 and a 5 is the highest score you can get.
I want you to believe in yourself and be proud of all you are accomplishing. Remind yourself that you are prepared, you’ve studied hard, and you know the material. Here’s a great article on creating motivation, How Students Can Create The Motivation For Success.