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The Advanced Placement High School Circus; A Guide to Cracking your AP Exams this Spring



With the winter coming to a close, the birds start chirping, the trees and flowers bloom, and the weather begins to warm up in preparation for the summer. The lovely nature of spring is interrupted out of nowhere with one of the biggest stress factors for High School students. AP exams. Advanced Placement exams are known to be classes offered in High Schools that are at the difficulty level of a college class. Doing well in AP courses are not only great boosters for students' grade point averages, but they also teach students various topics in depth, allowing students to experience the rigor and knowledge at an advanced level. The chances are that if you’re reading this, you have your AP exams coming up in the next few weeks or months, and you’re overwhelmed with the feeling of covering mass amounts of college-level content in a short amount of time. If that’s you, buckle up and pay attention to the step by step guide on how to crack your AP exams. 


Step 1: Sorting


AP courses are often different in ranges of difficulty, and it is important to know that it is not easy to get a 5 (highest score possible) on these exams. However, there are a few things that we can do to help us work towards that grade that we all want. The first step to take is to simply organize your material. Gather all of your notes, homework, classwork, and put it into categories as to which is the most difficult for you, and which is the easiest for you. 


Step 2: Scheduling


Once you have sorted which material is the most challenging for you and which topics come easiest to you, the second step is to create a schedule for yourself. You should generally start studying 1-2 months prior, so span out all of the material across a few weeks with time to be re-learned, and then cohesively reviewed in whole. Suppose you have more than one AP exam to study for, in that case, set up specific days for you to study each course (i.e. AP computer science principles on Monday through Wednesday; AP Calc ab on Thursday - Friday). Make sure you keep in mind how available you are and accordingly split the work. The most important part of this entire process is being able to effectively attack the information, and the best way to do this is to start with the most mentally challenging content. You will likely need more time for these topics, so finishing them first will allow you to look ahead and even motivate yourself to continue. Once you finish your difficult content, go ahead and dive into the easier topics, while still incrementally reviewing your notes or resources on your harder topics. By constantly reminding yourself of the information you just practiced, it will stop you from forgetting key points. Remember that schedules often change, and it might have to be adjusted as you go along on your studying journey. Here’s a quick bonus tip: Create your own study guide for each course you are taking an exam on, and keep track of them as they will help you a lot in the final review process during crunch time. 


Step 3: Execute through Re-learning and Active Recall


Once you have your schedule, the next step is to simply put it in action. This is 100% the most difficult part of the whole process, but just getting started with a little bit everyday will help you improve significantly. Things will for sure come to you quicker than if you were learning it from scratch, because you are essentially reviewing the information you already once learned and studied. Review your notes, and even make new notes (preferably by hand) to really sink the information in. When it comes to memorization, active recall is a very useful tool which involves learning something and then forcing yourself to remember it by asking yourself questions and answering them from pure memory. This trick will for sure help you manage the memorizing, but what if it's not just memorizing you have to do? Sometimes you have to learn application of material, and actually be able to answer questions based on structured process rather than prior memorization. Examples of these can be any math equation and stimulus multiple choice in history classes. For these, you will have to take a look at the next step, which is the most important for grasping these concepts fully.


Step 4: Practice, practice, practice!


To understand how to go about application and deeper understanding questions, the simplest way to master skills is by doing mass practice. For example, if you are doing AP United States history stimulus multiple choice, do lots of practice relating to reading passages and answering questions following, which can familiarize you with the questions you will be exposed to on the exam. Many practice questions and exposure can be found on the College Board website, or simply just online by a simple Google search. 


Step 5: Recap Everything


You are now only a few weeks from your exam, and it is crunch time for you to maximize your efficiency. You want to leave generally 1-2 weeks for reviewing all content, after re-learning most of it. By this point, you want to do lots of practice, review notes, cover up any doubts with your teachers and build your test-taking skills by improving time and efficiency through practice tests. 


Step 6: Take your test!


The time has come for your exam, and you have done everything you can to study efficiently. Many students suffer from anxiety during AP exams and it causes them to do worse, which is exactly what you want to avoid. Don’t let your fear take control of you and take the test confidently knowing that you studied adequately, and put in loads of effort to earn this 5. Before you enter testing, take a deep breath, fix your mindset, and go in and take that test like you have nothing to lose, because you don’t. 


At the end of the day, AP exams are not the decision between war and peace, and you should come out of the test knowing that you worked hard and did the best you could. The time is now test-takers, so grab a pencil and get ready to chase that 5 on your AP exam! 

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