Advanced-placement exams begin early May, which means for many students, test-day panic has already sunk in.
Between the length of the exam, the range of material covered, and the fact that doing well can earn students college credit, the pressure is truly on. But instead of worrying, students should be preparing.
We spoke with Stacy Caldwell of the The Princeton Review for some tips to take on the test with confidence
Set the pace
Understanding the structure of the exam, and mapping out a pace to tackle the questions is a great way to do well on the APs, says Caldwell.
Students should begin by looking at the number of questions and calculating the speed at which they should be working, she explains. The AP human-geography exam, for example, gives students one hour to complete 75 multiple-choice questions. That means they need to recognize that they have about 48 seconds per question.
“If there’s a question and you’ve been working on it for a minute and a half, you’re going to have far less time on another question,” says Caldwell. Timing is the No. 1 concern, she stresses. “Students should always make sure they’re working through sections at the speed they need to be.”
One of the best ways to prepare for exam day is by completing practice questions, says Caldwell. “This helps students understand areas where they’re strong, and where they may need to provide some more focus,” she explains.
And while practice questions certainly help, completing a full, timed practice exam is ideal. Not only does it allow students to grasp the exam experience, but it also helps them get their pacing down.
Of course, both methods work because they each give students the most valuable thing they can take into the exam with them: familiarity. At the end of the day, says Caldwell, “understanding the types of questions they’ll see will ultimately give them confidence that they’ll be able to successfully answer them.”
Order is key
Because there’s no specific order that students need to follow when taking an AP exam, “the questions that look easier should be the first ones that students tackle,” says Caldwell. This is particularly important for the free responses. “Students should quickly scan through all of the free response questions and choose the order that they want to answer them, so that way they’re answering the ones that they’re most confident in first,” says Caldwell. “That gives them more time for the difficult ones at the end.”
While working at a fast pace is crucial during the AP exam, students should take the time to read each question carefully. In other words: They should never sacrifice comprehension for the sake of speed. Instead, they should fully understand each question before they answer it.
By speeding through, “you could end up solving an equation and you will have had the wrong answer because the question was actually looking for something slightly different,” she says. “Reading carefully enough to understand what the question is asking tends to save you time in the long run.”