How to Effectively Self-Study for an AP Exam

Eva Mckinzie
Published on
May 18, 2021

So you’ve decided to take on self-studying for an AP exam. Congrats! Although it certainly won’t be a piece of cake to learn all the material and prepare in time for the exam since you most likely have many other classes and tests to stay on top of, it’ll certainly be worth it!

This Simple Studies article is here to assist you in your preparation to self-study for whatever AP exams you’re planning on pursuing! The following are four tips that I hope will guide you in the proper direction.

1. Choose wisely.

This probably seems like a pretty basic tip, but it is immaculately important in the sense that if you were to decide to take on an AP that is notorious for being overly difficult and stressful to self-study. You could end up spending a lot of time and money on preparing for a test that may not yield that coveted score of a 5 or 4.

Generally speaking, science and math APs are not the best to self-study because these are the courses that typically rely heavily on the presence of a strong teacher, and if you are self-studying, chances are you will not be getting the same guidance and instruction as the students who are taking the actual class are getting.

AP Environmental Science and AP Psychology, on the flip side, are exams that are easier to study for- they rely more on memorization and understanding processes than calculations that occur in math and science.

All this being said, you should certainly assess your own strengths and weaknesses, but it is important to ensure that you aren’t taking on a class that requires a teacher’s presence and that isn’t notorious for having an extremely heavy class workload. On our Simple Studies blog site, you can check out my article on which APs to self-study!

2. Create a detailed studying schedule.

Organization will truly be key in this world of self-studying APs. In a typical classroom setting, you usually are kept on track and organized by your teacher, but this isn’t the case anymore! Not having a teacher there to keep you accountable for learning material in a timely manner can prove to be difficult, and you will find yourself relying on your own time management skills! This will be a good thing as this experience is bound to improve your skills with managing your time wisely and getting things done quickly and efficiently!

Overall, though, it will be key to not leave all of the material untouched until March or April; AP exams are at the beginning of May, and this means that you should be done learning the material of your class hopefully by the beginning or at least middle of April to allow review/practice test time.

The best way to make this happen is to create a schedule for yourself at the beginning of the year and to stick with it! By allotting yourself certain periods of time each week will allow you to learn the material at a good pace and will set you up for success when the time comes to take the exam and showcase all that you’ve learned.

3. Invest in official AP practice books.

There is a LOT of AP review and practice books out there, circulating the internet and sites like Amazon and Ebay. When in a normal classroom setting, you may not decide to buy one of these books because you may feel as though your teacher is doing a great job in preparing you for your upcoming test. This is perfectly fine!

But in the case of self-studying, it can really be helpful to buy one of these books in order to have a good grasp of what exactly to expect come test day.

In the classroom setting, AP teachers incorporate official College Board practices into their instruction, so their students go into the test knowing what to expect. Obviously if you are on your own, you may not have the same opportunities.

This is why buying books can be one of the best ways to get ready: you can make sure that you know the required information and that you are comfortable with the format of the exam you will be taking. Examples of common AP book companies are the Princeton Review and Barron’s. AP books can be found by a quick and easy Amazon search!

4: Receive guidance from a teacher.

Since you are indeed self-studying for an AP, it isn’t unreasonable that the reason for this is that the class isn’t taught by anyone at your school. If this is the case, then this tip may not work well.

However, if the class is taught at your school but you simply are not taking it, perhaps because it doesn’t fit into your schedule or for any other reason, then it is a great idea to form a connection with that teacher and to receive at least some guidance from them.

Don’t be scared to approach them with questions about how to prepare for the exam; they will 9 times out of 10 be more than happy to assist someone that isn’t in their class with the AP class’s coursework. Forming a relationship with the teacher, even though they aren’t your teacher, is a great way to gain guidance that will make you feel more confident and prepared for the test!

Good luck! You got this!

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