With AP exams on the horizon, many high school students find themselves navigating a sea of notes, textbooks, and study guides. Performing well on an AP exam requires more than simply attending class; it requires strategic preparation.
Read on for tips to help you organize, prioritize, and memorize key content so that you're fully prepared for exam day.
The first step is to gather all of your notes, textbooks, study guides, and other resources—if you're planning to take multiple AP exams, sort your materials by subject. If possible, plan to keep everything in a designated area until test day, since having all your materials in one place will save you time and minimize distractions during your study sessions.
Briefly review your resources, marking useful chapters or pages with sticky notes. Make sure to label your tags for easier and more efficient studying in the future. But don't get bogged down here; the goal at this stage is to broadly take stock of what you have and what you need to do next, not to reread every note and textbook word for word.
As you go, organize your materials in a way that makes sense to you: chronologically or by topic. Creating a clear and organized system will make it easier for you to locate and review specific information when needed.Prioritize.
Once you've organized your notes and materials, it's time to prioritize what you want to spend the most time reviewing.
Start with the big picture: If you're taking multiple AP exams, rate your confidence level for each course. Ideally, you're beginning your AP exam prep months in advance, leaving yourself time to reinforce your weakest areas without neglecting your stronger ones. Early on, you can focus the bulk of your study time on shoring up those shakier subjects until you're in a place to distribute your efforts more evenly across all of your courses. (Note: If you've put off studying until just a few weeks before exams, you might need to make tougher decisions based on factors like upcoming exam dates, your prospective college major, and other considerations. Consult with your college counselor—and our experts are always here to help, too.)
Next, prioritize within each subject area.
- Prepare a cheat sheet of high-priority information (formulas, definitions, dates, key concepts, etc.) you'll need to know for the exam. For example, if you anticipate that you'll need to know or use an important formula multiple times, it should go on your cheat sheet.
- To make the most of your study time, map out a plan that outlines your goals and the order in which you'll review specific topics. You'll want to focus on topics that make up a high percentage of the exam and dedicate extra time to topics you find challenging. Consider dedicating specific days or time slots to each subject area or topic, so you can stay on track and ensure you cover key material before exam day.
Memorize key information.
While AP exams assess a range of skills and knowledge, some degree of memorization is essential for success on many of the exams. It's important to have a solid grasp of the facts and formulas needed for engaging in the higher-level reasoning and problem-solving the exams demand.
Actively engaging with content in various ways can improve your ability to remember it. Try these techniques to figure out which methods work best for you:
- Create flashcards. Flashcards are a convenient and highly effective study tool. (This technique has been popular for so long because it really works!) The act of creating flashcards—breaking down complex information into smaller, more manageable chunks—makes it easier for your brain to process and retain the information. Flashcards also allow for repetitive review and self-testing, which can be especially useful for memorizing definitions, formulas, and key dates.
- Summarize concepts in your own words. Rewriting and condensing information helps clarify your understanding of concepts. By rephrasing complex ideas using simpler language, you internalize the most essential elements and improve your long-term memory retention.
- Use mnemonic devices. Mnemonic devices—shortcuts like acronyms, songs, rhymes, and images—can help you quickly memorize lists and processes. By linking new information to familiar patterns, you can more easily recall it later.
- Teach the material to someone else. Explaining concepts to another person forces you to organize your thoughts more clearly and deepens your understanding of key information. This method not only reinforces your knowledge but also highlights areas that need further review.
By taking steps to organize, prioritize, and memorize key content for your upcoming AP exams, you'll be on your way to maximizing your study time and feeling more prepared for exam day.
Need more individualized advice?
The recommendations above are general suggestions. If you have specific questions, reach out to our experts here. We’re happy to help in any way we can.
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