How to Best Prepare for Online AP Exams


The AP tests are breaking into a new, virtual frontier.

That’s right. Within a few weeks, College Board will finally unveil its experiment in online testing: on May 11, it will administer its first batch of AP exams, all in the comfort of your home.

To help you prepare for this unique testing experience, College Board has provided insight on the format of each exam, going as far as to explain the number of questions, the weighted score of each question, and the type of course content that could be tested.

Additionally, College Board has created a daily schedule of recorded live streams on YouTube to help you brush up on topics relevant to the online AP exams. And if that wasn’t enough, it has also provided some tips on how to take open-note tests, since you’ll be allowed to reference your notes or the internet during the testing window.

There’s no question that College Board wants to make sure that you’re absolutely prepared for the online AP exams, but even with all of these resources, the hard part remains: actually studying and using these materials.

Here are some recommendations on how to prepare:

1. Read the format of the question before preparing or diving into the study materials.

This should come as no surprise, but it's still worth mentioning that any preparation requires that you understand just exactly how you will be tested. As I’ve stated, College Board is leaving little to the imagination (other than the literal question itself), so you should have plenty of format and parameters to work with while prepping for each AP subject’s online exam.

The major consideration is the time limit. You need to be really comfortable with quickly reading a question (which may include a passage or supplemental article), collecting your thoughts, and then producing a quality response.

Fortunately, many of these modified online AP tests are modeled from the Free-Response Questions (FRQs) and Document-Based Questions (DBQs), so you should have had some practice in your AP classes. If not, then reviewing the widely available previous exam questions is a great way to start getting a feel for this type of exam question. Check out the AP pages and select specific subjects to review.

2. Commit to watching the AP recorded live-stream videos that will help you most.

The keyword here is commit. These videos are fairly substantial in content, much like regular 45-minute classes, so they shouldn’t be consumed as you would a standard YouTube video.

The best method to prepare for a video is to identify which units or content areas are your weak points. Then you need to watch the lesson that best addresses these weaknesses. But watching is not enough.

Part of committing to these videos is giving yourself the mental space to absorb the information within. If you’re not quite convinced the video will help you, then skip around to “skim” the material. After, start the video at the beginning (or at its relevant spot) and watch the video as if you were listening to a lecture at school. It is highly advised that you even take physical notes on paper or in a notebook.

One last thing. These videos are meant to teach you skills and methods of thinking. Of course, they will also give you facts and important information, but you need to have the mindset that you are learning the material not to memorize and regurgitate but to apply it, which means you have to understand the underlying premise. In some cases, that may mean you need to stop the video and digest a concept. Check in with yourself as much as possible and make sure you actually understand something. Actively watch.

3. Compile a personal journal of organized notes for each of your AP subjects.

Remember, the online AP exams are open-note tests, which means they will be rather difficult and require responses that go beyond mere facts. Still, culling notes from your high school AP classes as well as the live-stream recordings will help you refresh on the concepts.

Once you have a solid notebook of course notes that you’ve trimmed into concise units and concepts, you can plan out some ways to jumpstart your thinking in the event that you read a question and don’t know where to start. Maybe there’s a part of photosynthesis that never sticks. Maybe you often forget how to start a literary analysis. Whatever notes you create for the actual exam itself need to assist within seconds, since every minute counts. If you’re trying to decode what you wrote or even learn something on test day, you’ll surely be in some trouble.

The great news is that all the over-preparation you do for your upcoming AP tests will not only help you snag some 5s (hopefully), but you’ll be jumpstarting a summer of academic review and helping yourself mitigate any knowledge slide from the extended summer.

Need some extra help preparing for the online AP exams this year? Not sure where to start? Let us help you determine your weaknesses and come up with a study plan! Check out our tutoring options and set up a 1-1 consultation!

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