Last-Minute AP Exam Tips

With AP exams rapidly approaching, here are some short bits of advice about the last days of studying and the test-day experience itself from our tutors for some of the most popular tests our students take. Above all else, remember to keep calm — you’ve got this!

AP Biology

The AP Bio exam requires you to know quite a bit of detailed information. Successful students, however, don’t just focus on the details – they go beyond memorization. It’s easy to get lost in all the seemingly unrelated facts, so make sure to tie them back to a framework or concept (say, evolution or homeostasis). You’re being asked how all those details are related both to each other and to the underlying themes of biology. So focus not only on content but on connections as well! Additionally, you can get partial credit on FRQs, so if you can only answer part of a question, go for it. If you’re not making headway with a multiple-choice problem, eliminate clearly wrong answer choices (there’s often at least one), make your best guess, and move on.

AB/BC Calculus

The AP Calculus tests are among the most consistent of all the APs. There really shouldn’t be any surprises for well-prepared students. The best way to study is to simply do lots of problems. If you do that, it’s likely that you won’t really see any question types on test day you haven’t already seen and solved before. The answers, however, might be presented in somewhat surprising ways. You might need to do some rearranging or simplifying to get your answer to look like the right one. Try that before you rethink how you’ve done the problem.

AP Chemistry

The AP Chemistry test is a mile wide but only an inch deep (well, maybe six inches…) Questions can initially seem intimidating but almost all of them can be answered using basic chemistry concepts you likely already know. So change your default reaction from “Oh, no! I never learned that!” to “Ok, what basic principles do I know that can help me here.”

AP English Literature & AP English Language

Skip the multiple-choice questions you don’t LOVE and come back to think hard about them later (maybe in the meantime, you’ll remember what ‘onomatopoeia’ means). On essays, trust your training as a close reader and thoughtful writer. Use any confusion as a catalyst to curiosity about the text – that is, describe to yourself (and maybe to your reader) specifically what is confusing, surprising, abrupt, vague, dense, unexpected, etc. Your writing will be livelier if, instead of simply stating what you know, you bring your reader with you as you discover something new. (And in the meantime, hopefully onomatopoeia will click into your brain)

AP French & AP Spanish

On the oral exam, keep talking! Make sure to elaborate all your responses until you hear the beep. For the written section, don’t worry about being perfect – the graders expect that you’ll make some errors, and just focus on doing the best you reasonably can.

AP History (United States, European, or World)

All three AP history exams have recently been redesigned to emphasize critical thinking and thematic analysis over rote memorization. So on the multiple-choice questions, do what you do with DBQ documents: closely read the primary sources – the quotation, the historical document, political cartoon, chart, map, photograph, political cartoon, or other text – for not only content but for the author’s point of view and audience, along with the historical context which the source is engaging. On the DBQ and LEQ, remember the grading rubric’s priorities (thesis, evidence, context, analysis, and historical thinking) and the themes that organize all the material you’ve studied this year. Finally, make sure to read the questions carefully – while there aren’t “trick” questions per se, there will be the occasional phrasing where an easy-to-miss word changes the whole question, so just keep your cool and pay attention.

AP Macroeconomics & AP Microeconomics

Before the Macro test, review the Philips Curve and the inputs for Short Term Aggregate Supply and Demand. Pay particular attention to the shifts causes by contractionary and expansionary policy by a government or Central Bank. For Micro, review the Marginal Cost, Marginal Revenue, and Price graphs for each of the four market types. Pay particular attention to the inefficiencies caused by simple forms of regulation or by a lack of perfect competition.

During either AP Econ exam, it is often helpful to sketch a graph of the situation being described. Let your eyes help your brain: a quick drawing of a ‘shift in demand’ or ‘decrease in unemployment’ will go a long way toward helping your brain place a question in the right context.

AP Physics

The AP Physics test starts and ends with knowing the equation. Yes, you do get an equation sheet, but well-prepared students shouldn’t need to consult it very much. Always write down the relevant equations for each question so you can see how the variables relate to each other. Many quite conceptual, non-mathematical questions can still be understood by looking at the governing equation and asking yourself, “What would happen if…”

AP Statistics

The AP Statistics test is unique among math exams in that the math you need to do is actually really easy. The harder part is figuring out what math to do! You’ve got to read each question slowly and calmly, underlining the relevant information as you go. Think about what method of solution you’ll need only after you’ve processed all the information.

AP US Government and Politics

AP NSL requires mastery of tons of terms and concepts, but the good news is that there’s very little ambiguity and very few trick questions on this test. So keep your cool logic under pressure and read critically: eliminate the implausible answers. Keep an eye out for those “ALL EXCEPT” questions. Check, on questions with charts, that the answer choices are in fact related to what the data specifically measures. Be specific, with examples, on the free response questions. And when all else fails, there’s a good chance you’re being asked about either federalism or the separation of powers.

Thanks to the following PrepMatters Professional Tutors for their contributions to these tips: Christopher Bullwinkle, Aaron Golumbfskie, Ian Lekus, Natalie Lempert, Laura Moore, and Ryan Warren.