Planning ahead for AP success: How to map out a study timeline for AP exams

It’s AP season again. As you look ahead at a busy spring semester—filled with that usual glut of exams, papers, extracurriculars, and standardized tests—start planning now for how you’ll survive and come out the other side with 5s.

Know your test dates.

The College Board lumps every AP test into a ten-day gauntlet in May. Dates and times are listed on the College Board website, and you can double check with your AP teacher, your counselor, and your school itself to confirm when your test will be and how it will be administered. Mark your calendar.

Start prepping and planning early.

APs can be a useful way to distinguish yourself on college applications. They’re important, so don’t let preparing for them be an afterthought. In the months before your AP tests, you should…

  • keep current with your coursework, so you don’t have to scramble to catch up just a few weeks before the tests
  • try not to load up on future commitments like extended vacations or optional projects that might pull you away from your studies or conflict with key deadlines and exams
  • and create a timeline for studying so you can make sure you're reviewing on a regular basis, giving attention to areas where you need improvement, and mastering the material at a pace that works for your learning style.


Map out a timeline for studying.

Putting in a little planning time up front will streamline your study process, saving you a lot of time and energy in the long run.

Your syllabus is a great starting point. Reflect on your current knowledge, identifying your strengths as well as key areas that need more focus. Make a list of your top 3 priorities so that you can organize your initial study sessions as effectively as possible.

Next, determine how much time you (realistically!) can devote to AP studying each week. Work backwards from your test dates to figure out roughly how much study time you're looking at in total, and based on your priorities and your comfort level in each area, decide how much time to allot to each topic or skill. Make sure to build regular review sessions into your study plan to strengthen your retention, and allow yourself some flexibility. Check in with yourself every other week to evaluate your progress, and adjust your plan if you're spending more time than expected on certain topics or if you identify new areas to prioritize.

Planning to supplement AP classwork with private tutoring? Start meeting with your tutor at least 2-3 months ahead of your test date. Everyone’s needs are different, but students often see benefit from starting with an hour of tutoring each week, then gradually increasing the frequency and duration of sessions as they get closer to the actual tests. A tutor can help reinforce the material your teacher is covering, providing detailed feedback on your school assignments. They’ll supplement that with additional readings as well as multiple-choice questions and FRQs from previous years’ tests. That way, even if your classmates won’t be completely prepared, you will be.

To start working with an expert AP tutor, reach out to us here.

Be S.M.A.R.T.! Set achievable study goals.

An effective study timeline hinges on effective goal setting. Instead of studying “harder,” make your studying more focused and productive by setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. SMART goals are…

  • The more clear and particular your goal, the easier you’ll find it to focus on.
  • While, “I will do better in my class,” is a good sentiment, aim instead for something more concrete—a smaller, more immediate goal, such as, “I will update my notecards with key terms from the new chapter” or “I will attend study group.”
  • Whether it’s a higher letter grade on a test, or a taller stack of flashcards, you should have quantifiable signs of progress.
  • Not only do clear measures of progress tell you that you’re on the right track, they can also keep your morale up between now and the end of the school year.
  • In other words, goals should be realistic and attainable. Be honest about the challenges you’re up against, without being too hard on yourself.
  • For instance, you might want to go from a C+ on your last paper to an A+ on your next, but that’s such an ambitious goal. Avoid getting discouraged; shoot for a B before you go for the A.
  • Of course, the short-term goals you set should align with your long-term ones. So, what you accomplish each day for class should be relevant to that 5 you covet on the AP test.
  • But your goals, short or long, should also matter to you. Keep in sight why you want to study. Is there a college you hope to attend, a career you hope that might lead to, or even just something you hope to create? Remind yourself how success in your classes and on the APs will lead to what you want.
  • Every project needs a deadline.
  • Ask and answer these questions: “What can I do next month?” “Next week?” “Today?”

But don't overdo it!

Yes, it’s a cliché—it’s a marathon, not a sprint. While it’s good to have ambitious goals, avoid making a study schedule that’s so ambitious it will either burn you out or be so daunting that you give up before you start. Do aspire, but (to turn another cliché) keep your appetite no bigger than your stomach.

And treat yourself.

Every day, at least once a day, do something you love. For once, read something with zero literary merit. Or go to the park, watch an hour of trashy TV, build a model of an anime robot, lie down on the roof and stare up at the night sky. The more pointless, the better.

If you're reading this early in the semester, AP tests probably seem like they’re a long way off, and the months ahead may look grueling. It’s true, there’s hard work ahead of you. But following the steps above will help you enjoy life along the way and maintain a healthy school-life balance in the days and weeks ahead.

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.


About ArborBridge

ArborBridge is the global leader in innovative, digital, one-on-one tutoring. With nearly a decade of experience teaching students online, ArborBridge supports students of all kinds: home schoolers, AP students, test preppers, and more. Our tutors specialize in creating personalized plans and in providing compassionate support for students and families.

Jordan Browne

About Jordan Browne

In addition to graduating summa cum laude from Emerson College and holding an M.F.A. from Columbia University, Jordan was a Fulbright scholar to Montenegro, where he taught seven courses for the University of Montenegro. Along with teaching writing, rhetoric, and literature at the college level, Jordan has taught test prep for several years in New York public schools and across three continents. Ever since he was young, he’s been the weird one who actually enjoys standardized tests, and, for several years now, he’s taught students of every skill level and background how to like them too—or, at least, how to get the scores they need.

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