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Everything You Need to Know about AP Test Taking

Adam Piersa, Staff Writer

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It’s no secret that students at Stamford High take an inordinate number of advanced placement (AP) classes, in order to earn college credit, in hopes that it will translate to “skipping” a class in college. This sounds great on paper, but the catch is that the grade in the class does not hold weight in determining class credit. Colleges are focused on the end of the year AP exams that you take. These tests are graded on a scale of one to five (five being the best). This test covers your entire curriculum and is designed to be an extensive test of your complete knowledge of the subject.

On a test such as the AP exam, it is important to know the ins and outs of the class. For instance, know everything from the maize fields of the Incas to the current troop crisis of Iran and Iraq for AP World History. The best advice anyone can give is to trust in yourself. When taking a class like AP World or AP Psychology, there is an inordinate amount of material needed to plow through. Most of the time you are cramming for tests or defining 8,000 words in preparation. It is nearly impossible to shoot off exact definitions of every single word you learned, although it’s the ideal thing to do. It is simply not practical. The point is, you will succeed on the AP exam as long as you’re familiar with the topic.

All of your teachers will tell you that this test requires months of preparation. They will say endless hours of study time and informational videos are the only way to score within grasp of college credit (between a 3 and 5 is the normal range for colleges).The truth of the matter is each student has to make time for each class’s homework, study time, and still scrape up time to have a social life. This is no small challenge. In order to avoid getting the dead mind achieved from hours of staring at the same topic, there are a couple of things you can do.

The first thing is to overview in your head the jist of the course. If you can recall major points, aspects, events, and formulas with relative ease, then you know those are points you can breeze through with a small refresher. It is vital to know the concept behind what you learned. The test will test you on not only content questions and problems, but abstract and analytical questions that make you think about what you learned and apply that to a situation (especially in the writing portion of the test). Know your strengths and know your weaknesses. Once you have those down you can use them as foolproof tools for studying effectively. It is nearly impossible to take this test fresh with no studying whatsoever and achieve a perfect score; there is just too much information needed to cover over the entire course.

It is a fact that everyone hates studying. There is nobody out there saying “Yes! Let’s go! It’s study time!” without it being sarcastic. Sadly, it is an essential part of doing well on any AP. The good news is there are much easier ways to make studying less of a headache. First is to only study what you need; don’t waste time on terms or concepts you already know, because you already know them. Also, take breaks! Breaks are vitally important. If you stare at a textbook for four hours straight, how much of it do you think you will remember the next morning? The answer is, only the first two words you read. Your brain is not built to take in loads of information in one sitting. Utilize the weeks before your test(s) wisely. Dusting off the cobwebs of an old topic long forgotten can only help (even if it is just for ten minutes a day). In fact, you’ll probably remember those ten minutes more than those ten hours you’ll spend the night before the test.

The next word of advice is to know what works for you. If you’re not a person who likes flash cards, you should just throw them out! If you’re a person who doesn’t like movies, you shouldn’t watch videos! Use the techniques that work for you and not the techniques anyone tells you to do; the goal is comfort. It is highly recommended to read from the textbook, but if that simply doesn’t suit you, then don’t feel bad straying towards another method. Your teacher may even commend you for it. Studying revolves around you retaining information. If you aren’t going to remember what you want to, then why present it in the same way? It all comes down to if you are an auditory, hands-on, or visual learner. It isn’t a bad idea to make a game out of terms and definitions. If it helps you then don’t be afraid to go the extra mile.  Again, there is no such thing as a stupid way to study; studying is supposed to be helpful and not a headache, so make it just that by evaluating yourself first.

After reading all this you are probably thinking, “Oh my God, how hard is this test if I need all this study work to do well? Screw it. I don’t know anything. I’m just going to take the L.” This is a common pitfall amongst all of us AP test takers. The issue with taking this particular L is that it defeats another one of the main purposes of actually taking the course. The first, more immediate, benefit of the course is the weighted GPA given to you once the test is taken. This looks great when applying to colleges. In order to take any AP test, one must pay upward of 90 dollars. That is a huge bargain when considering getting a college class out of the way in high school rather than paying hundreds or thousands of dollars to take it in college. Taking APs is a very smart move, and gives you a leg up later in life. The catch is, in order to get that leg up you need to ace the test.

The essence of AP test taking relies on confidence. In order to feel confident trust in yourself and your knowledge of the material. This comes from comfortable studying and a good mindset. As long as you have those, it is impossible to do poorly on any AP. Just remember, you got this!

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Everything You Need to Know about AP Test Taking