Take an AP Class Without Crashing

Many high schools offer "advanced placement," or AP, classes so that you may earn college credit alongside your regular high school courses. These classes are a brilliant way to get ahead, but require a lot of time and effort. If you’ve ever taken one, you know how easy it can be to get frustrated. Here are some tips on succeeding without breaking down.


Developing Good Study Habits

  1. Persevere throughout the course. In order to achieve your daily study goals, you have to push through feelings of apathy, failure, irritation, and other negative emotions. You also can’t give up every time you make a bad grade or don’t understand something.
    • Surround yourself with peers who will encourage you through every setback.
    • Don’t get discouraged if you find it difficult to adjust to taking an AP course at the beginning of the school year. It takes time to learn good study skills.
    • Rewarding yourself is very important for persevering. It creates a positive response in your brain, making you to want to repeat your actions.[1]
    • Some keys to persevering in order to reach your goals include staying optimistic and taking breaks.[2]
  2. Be a good note taker. One of the most tried-and-true ways of succeeding in any class is taking good notes. In an AP class, notes are your key to passing the AP exam at the end of the course because your teacher will reveal key concepts along the way.
    • Some things you can do to take good notes are start a new page for each new day, write down important ideas instead of whole sentences, and listen for verbal cues to important information.[3]
    • Learning how to take notes gets easier and easier over time. By the time you finish this AP course, you'll be way better at note taking than those who don't take AP classes.
  3. Transfer note highlights to index cards. For AP students, the highlights, or most important points that a teacher explains in class, are bound to be on the AP exam. Review your notes each week and write down these highlights on index cards. This way you can quickly reference your notes instead of flipping back and forth through a notebook.[4]
    • These highlights are useful not only for the AP exam, but for tests throughout the course.
  4. Join a study group. One of the best ways to stay on track with your studies is to join a group of people doing the same thing. Study groups allow you to verbalize your notes so that you make sure you understand everything the class is teaching.[5]
    • Study groups also allow you to teach others what you’ve learned, further reinforcing the information for both of you.
    • If there isn't a study group yet, start your own. Talk to a few classmates to see if they are interested, agree on a meeting place and time, and get started. You should make a goal for each study group session just like you make a goal for each study session you do by yourself.
  5. Follow a strict study schedule. If you want to make sure you study each week, you need to follow a schedule. If you don’t develop a study routine, you risk losing focus and negatively impacting your performance in the course.[5]
    • Resist the temptation to watch TV or play video games during your study times by promising to reward yourself with these activities after studying is over.
    • The amount of time you should study for each AP course differs from course to course. Some are more demanding than others. You should end up spending anywhere from one hour to 8 hours a week on one AP course.
  6. Eliminate distractions in your schedule. When you take an AP class, it means there are other students in your school who aren’t taking one. These students probably have more time for leisure, and they might invite you to come along. Taking breaks is fine, but if someone invites you to an activity that interferes with a scheduled study session or study group, you should turn it down.
    • The last quarter of an AP class is the most intense because this is right before the AP exam. If you want to pass the exam, consider avoiding field trips in other classes in order to stay focused.[4]
  7. Make a goal for each study time. Just flipping through notes or the textbook, or even the AP book, is not effective. Set a goal for each study time in order to get the most out of your homework.[5]
    • For example, a goal could be to memorize a certain number of vocabulary words, or read a certain number of pages in the textbook.
  8. Begin with the hardest part. If you find yourself dreading a study session, tell yourself that you will get the hardest part out of the way first. This is also helpful because these tasks take the most brain power and focus, and your energy is highest at the beginning of a study session.[5]
    • This will positively impact your performance in the class overall.
  9. Look over notes on Sundays. Look over your notes on weekends. Doing this on Sunday evening refreshes your memory right before returning to class so that your brain is in the game right away. You’re not having to recall last week's information while the teacher is starting a new lecture.[5]

Practicing for the Exam

  1. Buy an AP study book. These books usually contain practice tests and lessons on the subject of each type of AP course.[6] These books can be assigned by your teacher or you can pick them up on your own, but they will help you know exactly what to expect on the AP exam, giving you peace of mind.
    • There are many different publishers of AP books, so do some research to find the most reputable publishers. (for example, Kaplan, The Princeton Review, etc.)
  2. Take practice tests online and in the book. Taking practice exams in the book is essential for getting you ready to take the AP exam, but you can also take practice exams online.[7] This online access is useful if you aren’t able to obtain a book, and offers you more exams and more exam versions than a book contains.
  3. Do free response sections. Multiple choice is a big part of the AP exam, but practicing the free response sections is very important for learning how to write in such a way that it shows mastery of the material.
    • Some teachers suggest you answer at least 3 practice free response questions in the last quarter the course to help you get ready for the AP exam.[4]
  4. Go to study sessions regularly. Make sure that you keep up with attendance at study groups. Studying on your own is of course essential, but being able to share the experience of intense study with others in the same boat helps you feel less alone and less nervous about taking the AP exam.
    • You can practice things like flashcards for terms and get others to grade your free response questions at a study group.
  5. Read the full material. In order to fully comprehend the subject in an AP class—and pass the class as well as the AP exam—it means you must read the full material, not Cliffs Notes or other summaries found in books and online.
    • The only way for your to produce free response answers that sound like you know what you are talking about is to actually know every part of the material. You can’t do this unless you read it.
    • You should keep in mind that AP courses require a lot of reading before you sign up for one. This prevents you from wanting to quit or being tempted to cut corners by reading summaries instead.
  6. Eliminate test anxiety. You may be tempted to get worked up about the AP exam, but practicing good study habits throughout the year will ensure that you do well on it.
    • Do things to get rid of text anxiety like relaxation techniques, ignoring negative self speech, not cramming the night before the exam, and practicing for the exam.[8]
    • Staying ahead of test anxiety will ensure that you don't crash the AP course.
  7. Use competition to your advantage. You will encounter other students in your AP courses who make higher scores and rub it in your face. Instead of getting angry and irritated at these competitive students, use your irritation to make you a better student.
    • You might be tempted to give up on the class when you see how much better other students do, but instead let that push you to study harder and take better practice tests.

Finding Help

  1. Talk to your teacher about tutoring. Sometimes teachers know of people in your school who can tutor you, whether fellow students, other teachers, or even the teacher himself. If they don’t know anyone who has the ability and time to tutor you, they can recommend paid tutoring off campus at tutoring centers.
    • AP tutoring isn’t just available in live settings. You can now find a lot of AP tutors on the internet through tutoring websites like Tutor.com.[4]
  2. Understand that tutoring is for everyone. In the world of AP classes, tutoring is more than just for students who are struggling. Tutoring, like study groups, is a key for succeeding in AP classes and is a good general study practice.
  3. Talk to classmates about tutoring. Often other classmates will have their own tutors and can give you a reference to a good tutor. In some cases, fellow students may even be able to tutor you themselves. Just ask around in your class to find out where the best tutoring is happening.
  4. Find a study buddy. Even if you find a tutor and you’re a part of a study group, having a study buddy is a good way to stay strong through an AP course. Study buddies can help each other stay focused and exchange notes.[9]
    • Choosing a good high school study buddy for an AP course will help you find one in college.
  5. Talk to previous test takers. A great way to get an idea of what the AP exam will be like, and to get tips for not failing the AP course itself, is to talk to students who have taken both before. Someone who has recently had the same teacher as you can give you pointers for understanding their teaching style.
    • A previous test taker can tell you about their test-taking experience so that you aren’t as nervous about what the experience will be like.
  6. Ask your family for help focusing. At home, you can get your family to help you study by being quiet during your designated study times. But you can also ask them to do any number of study tasks that don’t require knowledge of the subject matter to help you study.
    • You can use your family members to help you memorize flashcards.
    • You can ask family members to time your practice tests.
  7. Manage your stress. If your AP classes are becoming overwhelming, seek help for dealing with stress. There are many ways to reduce academic stress, so employ one of these tactics before you get too far behind or the stress becomes too much for you to handle.
    • Managing stress will keep you from crashing the course.
    • Look for signs of stress like a lack of appetite, always feeling tired, and increased irritability.[10]
    • If you recognize signs of stress in yourself (or someone who knows you comments on it), take some action to prevent the stress from getting out of hand. Try taking breaks to treat yourself, not comparing yourself to your classmates, and exercising.[10]


  • Don't just take 5-6 AP courses in a year just because it looks good on your college application records. Choose your courses wisely and efficiently. In senior year, take up to no more than 4 courses.
  • Register at www.collegeboard.com as a student and look at past AP tests. Use these as study guides, because an old AP test is the closest thing you can get to the AP test you will end up taking.

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