How to Study for AP Exams

By Julia Califano · December 05, 2023 · 7 minute read

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How to Study for AP Exams

Taking, and doing well on, the Advanced Placement (AP) exam gives you the opportunity to save time and money by earning college credit, advanced placement, or both. It can also help you stand out to colleges and give you an edge in getting accepted to your dream school.

No matter what score you get, the experience of studying for and taking an AP exam can help you build skills you’ll need to succeed in college.

The question is, when should you start studying for AP exams? Generally, students begin studying for AP Exams some time between January and March. This gives you enough time to cover all the material, take AP prep courses (if desired), take practice tests, and develop an AP test strategy. Read on for a closer look at when and how to study for AP Exams.

Creating a Study Timeline

One smart way to prepare for your AP Exam is to create a timeline leading up to the test. Giving yourself a schedule you can (hopefully) stick to might help keep you organized while studying.

Here are some ideas to help you prepare for your upcoming AP Exams — all arranged in a timeline leading up to your AP tests.

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January (16 Weeks Out)

To first figure out how to study for AP Exams, you can evaluate how your current AP classes are going. One place to start is by checking your grades from last semester and, if you are struggling with a certain topic, contacting your teacher to see what help is available.

You might want to schedule some extra one-on-one time or join (or even start) a specific class study group. Of course, your grade isn’t necessarily an indication of the score you will get on your AP Exam. But if your teacher has been using AP practice questions on tests, that could still give you a sense of your early performance — and it may even boost your confidence going into the test if you’re acing those practice answers.

This is also a good time to start thinking about which AP Exams you want to take in May. Just because you are in an AP class doesn’t mean you have to take the AP exam in that subject. Consider which exams might help put you on a path toward college and career success.

The test schedule is always published well in advance of the exam days, so you may want to check when your exams will take place and block those dates out in your calendar now. If you have exams scheduled for the same date and time, this is a good time to ask your AP coordinator or teacher about taking one during an approved late-testing period .

January is when students with disabilities must request any accommodations during the exams. If you will need testing accommodation, you’d want to approach your AP teachers or AP coordinator ahead of the deadline.

February (12 Weeks Out)

A productive next step is to learn the format for each AP exam you plan to take. Paying attention to the structure of class tests might give you some insight into the types of questions you can expect.

There are a total of 38 AP Exams, and each has its own requirements. Most will be two to three hours long with a mix of multiple-choice and free-response questions, according to the College Board.

This can also be a good time to take your first practice exam. Since you’re past the midpoint of the year, you’ll have covered enough material in class that you will be able to answer a decent amount of practice questions and problems without getting frustrated. After reviewing your practice exam, you can come up with a study plan to go over your notes and materials for a few hours every week.

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March (8 Weeks Out)

AP Exams cost $98 each, so this month can be a great time to start budgeting for how many exams you plan to take and how you will pay for them. Even if your parents are paying for your exams, you’re responsible for making sure they understand the cost and when to submit payment to your school.

The College Board, which oversees the AP, offers a $36 fee reduction per AP Exam if you have significant financial need. Some states offer additional funding to reduce your cost even more. Check with your AP coordinator to find out what support may be available to you.

This is also the month when you will want to really delve into your AP study regimen and continue taking practice tests.

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April (Four Weeks Out)

By April, you will probably be completely registered for all of your AP Exams. If you haven’t gotten a link from your school guidance counselor, you may want to check in with a school administrator. This is when you really should start to study in earnest, if you haven’t done so already.

Now’s the time to start taking more practice exams, in addition to your regular study and review. You can look up past free response questions (for exams that have them), real student responses, their scores, as well as scoring guidelines so you can see why a real exam taker got the score they did.

Once you’re four weeks out, it might be more efficient to study just the areas you feel less practiced and confident in, rather than trying to cram in all of the information from the past year. The practice exams and questions can help you sort out which topics just need a simple refresh, and which ones you might need to actually relearn.

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May (It’s Time!)

You can kick May off by taking another practice exam and focusing on the results compared to when you first began reviewing all those weeks ago. The focus is now on prepping for test day, which might include checking to make sure you have your test dates and times marked in your calendar and that you are using the correct, approved calculator for math and science exams.

On test day, you can start your day with a good breakfast. If you are taking multiple tests in one day, you may also want to pack some nutritious snacks. Hopefully all of the studying from the last few months will pay off when you sit down to take the AP Exam and you feel prepared.

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AP Study Hacks and Habits

The habits you start honing as you study for AP Exams can not only help you do well on your exam, but also prepare you for college, when you’ll likely be managing a larger workload and juggling multiple assignments and deadlines. Here are some study hacks that can help now — and later.

•   Build in study breaks. Even if you feel you need to spend several hours studying in one sitting, it’s a good idea to work in a short break every hour, even if it’s just a five-minute walk around the block. This can help keep your mind sharp and your energy from sagging.

•   Incentivize yourself. You might hold off watching your favorite TV show or playing your favorite video game until after you have finished studying for the day. This delayed gratification could help keep you motivated to study efficiently.

•   Consolidate class notes at the end of every week. When you are reviewing your notes from your AP classes, try organizing the information as it relates to the sections on the exam. By grouping your notes into related “chunks,” you might find that it’s easier to remember (or refer back to) key points as you get further away from the lesson. An added bonus: Instead of having a year’s worth of scattered information to review as you start taking practice AP Exams, you’ll have clear, organized information with your note summaries.

Planning for Your Future

The College Board says that nearly all colleges and universities in the U.S. offer credit, advanced placement, or both based on your AP scores, typically with an AP score of 3 or higher.

In some cases, students are able to reduce their time in school by one, or even two, semesters, meaning that your AP Exams could end up saving you a lot of money in college. Of course, you will still need to find a way to pay for college, whether it is three, four, or more years.

Fortunately there are a number of ways to fund your college education, including college savings accounts, financial aid (which includes scholarships, grants, work-study, and federal student loans), as well as private student loans.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.

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