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The Expert's Guide to the AP Psychology Exam

Posted by Samantha Lindsay | Dec 19, 2015 3:00:00 PM

Advanced Placement (AP)

 

feature_appsychexam.jpg

Taking AP Exams can be stressful, but if you know what to expect on test day, you can eliminate a lot of that anxiety. The AP Psychology exam is one of the more popular AP tests, and it has a pretty straightforward format and scoring system. In this article, I'll tell you what's on the AP Psychology test, how it's graded, and which prep methods you should use to get a great score. 

 

How Is the AP Psychology Exam Structured?

The AP Psych test consists of a multiple choice section and a free response section. 

 

Section 1: Multiple Choice

  • 100 questions
  • 70 minutes
  • Worth two-thirds of your score

Questions on the multiple choice section will ask you to:

  • Use psychological terms to label specific scenarios.
  • Show that you understand concepts from psychological theories.
  • Understand the scientific and physiological basis of psychological theories and disorders and give appropriate explanations.
  • Show that you understand the scientific method and how to interpret findings from research studies.

 

Section 2: Free Response 

  • Two questions
  • 50 minutes
  • Worth one-third of your score

Questions will ask you to:

  • Relate different content areas within the realm of psychology.
  • Evaluate and analyze theoretical perspectives and psychological concepts.
  • Answer in complete sentences and follow the directions of the prompt. 

 

AP Psychology is one of the shorter AP exams, clocking in at just two hours total. In 2016, the exam will take place on Monday, May 1st at noon.

 


body_may.jpgAh, May. The flowers are blooming, the birds are chirping, and the rustle of freshly opened AP test booklets fills the air.

 

Topics and Example Questions 

I’ll give you some real examples of test questions so you can get a better idea of what the AP Psychology test is like. As a preface to the questions, here are the topics you’ll see on the test, ordered from most to least common. You should consult this list to make sure that you've fully reviewed the content for the test and aren't missing anything (especially in the most common topic areas).

 

Topic

Percent of Questions

Research Methods (how experiments are conducted, statistics, ethics)

8-10%

Biological Bases of Behavior (anatomy, genetics, medical techniques)

8-10%

Cognition (memory, language, problem-solving)

8-10%

Social Psychology (group dynamics, attribution processes, conformity/compliance/obedience, cultural influences, antisocial behavior, attitudes)

8-10%

Abnormal Psychology (disorders, theories of origin, and diagnoses)

7-9%

Developmental Psychology (nature-nurture psychological dynamics, general theories of development, research methods)

7-9%

Learning (types of conditioning, social learning, cognitive processes)

7-9%

Sensation and Perception (perceptual processes, sensory mechanisms, attention, Signal Detection Theory)

6-8%

Motivation and Emotion (theories and biological bases of motivation and emotion, stress, social motives)

6-8%

Personality (personality theories, assessment techniques, growth and adjustment)

5-7%

Testing and Individual Differences (standardization and norms, validity of testing models, measuring intelligence, ethics in testing)

5-7%

Treatment of Psychological Disorders (types of therapy and treatment approaches)

5-7%

States of Consciousness (sleep and dreaming, hypnosis, psychoactive drug effects)

2-4%

History and Approaches (history of psychology, different fields of psychology)

2-4%

 

Multiple Choice Question Example

Here is a sample question from the latest official AP Psychology course description:  

Which of the following behaviors is most clearly associated with Jean Piaget’s concrete operational stage?

A. Sally thinks everyone’s favorite color is blue because it is her favorite color.
B. Tom received the highest grade in his philosophy course.
C. Gracie forgets about her toy because it is under her blanket.
D. Nikos can consider both the height and width of a container.
E. Ava does not like being around unfamiliar people.

 

To answer this question, you would need to be familiar with Piaget’s psychological theory and the behaviors that correspond with each of his proposed stages. Piaget’s theory of development has four stages: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operations. The concrete operational stage typically happens between the ages of 7 and 11. This stage is when a child becomes capable of applying logical and operational thought to physical objects but isn’t quite capable of abstract logic yet.

Let’s go through the possibilities!

Choice A doesn’t have anything to do with the concrete operational stage, so we can eliminate that answer. Choice B seems like it’s beyond the concrete operational stage. Philosophy involves a lot of abstract reasoning! This choice can be eliminated as well. The child in Choice C is too underdeveloped. Kids in the concrete operational stage have spacial awareness, so we can get rid of this one. Choice D seems like it makes sense! This is the stage where kids start to understand logically that a tall skinny glass might hold the same amount of water as a short wide glass. Choice E appears to be unrelated to the concrete operational stage, so we can eliminate it. We can conclude that Choice D is the correct answer.

body_babyoncomputer-1.jpg"I ga ga, therefore I goo goo." Tom, please stop.

 

Free Response Question Example

The following free response question was on the 2012 version of the AP Psychology exam:

1a. Annabelle is planning to apply to college but has not yet decided where she will apply. Describe how the following psychological concepts and terms relate to her choice.

  • Availability heuristic
  • Compliance
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Prospective memory

1b. Explain how the following psychological concepts could relate to how well Annabelle adapts when she begins her college career. 

  • Agoraphobia
  • Crystallized intelligence
  • Ethnocentrism

 

For this free response question, you must understand what each of the terms mean and how they relate to this specific situation. To earn your first point on part A, you would have to explain how the availability heuristic may have affected Annabelle’s college decision. 

The scoring guidelines state: “Students must establish that Annabelle’s decision-making processes or her choices about college, or both, are influenced by information that comes most readily to mind.” For example, you might say that Annabelle decided to apply to UCLA because her parents went there and they talk to her about it very frequently, so it was at the forefront of her mind in the decision-making process. You would then go on to relate the three remaining terms to Annabelle's college search process. You could earn a maximum of four points in part A of this question (one point for each description). 

Part B asks you to explain how certain psychological concepts might relate to Annabelle's adaptation to her new college environment. For agoraphobia, the scoring guidelines say, “students must explain how Annabelle’s fear inhibits her from engaging in college life.” This could be something like describing how Annabelle’s fear of crowds led her to skip orientation activities and miss out on meeting new friends. You would need to do the same for the other two terms to earn the full three points for part B. For a more detailed description of how responses to this question were scored, you can review the scoring guidelines here.

 

body_annabelle.jpg"Does free will exist, or am I just a made-up person who exists solely to provide context for a question on an exam taken by beings in an alternate universe?" Oh Annabelle, save it for college. 

 

How Is the AP Psychology Exam Scored?

Now that you know a little more about the content of the test, you should also be aware of how your final AP score is calculated. As I mentioned above, the multiple-choice section is worth two-thirds of your score, and the free response section is worth one-third of your score. For multiple choice, scoring is relatively simple. You get a point for every question you answer correctly. No points are deducted for incorrect answers or questions that you left blank. You can earn a maximum of 100 points on the multiple choice section.

Free response questions are reviewed by AP graders. You’ll get a score out of 7 or 8 for each of the two questions. Each of these scores is multiplied by 3.125 so that together they make up one-third of your total raw score. 

Your raw score is then compared to the curve calculated by the College Board to see what score you’ll get on the 1-5 scale. The following table has the most recent information I could find for raw to AP score conversions on the AP Psychology test. Keep in mind that each year the curve is slightly different, so this will lead to a rough estimate of your score, not an exact prediction:

 

Raw Composite Score

AP Score

Percentage of Students with This Score (2016)

113-150

5

19.1%

93-112

4

26.1%

77-92

3

19.1%

65-76

2

14.2%

0-64

1

21.6%

 

So, for example, let’s say you got 55 questions right on the multiple choice section and scored a four on one free response question and a five on the other. This would add up to a raw score of 83 because 55 + (4*3.125) + (5*3.125)= 83.125. This would translate to a 3 for a final AP score.

 

 

What’s the Best Way to Prep for the AP Psychology Exam?

If you’re aware of the structure and content of the AP Psychology test, you can employ specific prep methods that will lead to success on the test. Here are a few review methods that will give you a better chance of earning a high score. 

 

Tip #1: Take Practice Tests

The best way to prepare for standardized tests like this one is to take practice tests so that you have a good idea of where your weaknesses lie. Practice tests will also help you get used to the format and the specific types of questions that are on the AP Psych exam. Here are some practice free response questions from previous years (up to 2015), and here is a pdf of a full official practice test.

To simulate the real testing experience, I would recommend that you print out the test and write/bubble in your answers to the questions rather than doing them on the computer. You should also time yourself accurately so you can be sure that you won't run out of time during the actual exam. After you take a practice test or two, you can review your answers and see which content areas gave you the most trouble. Focus on going over topics where you had the highest concentration of incorrect answers.

 

Tip #2: Use the Topic Breakdown Information

For AP Psychology, we know exactly which topics will be covered and how frequently we can expect to see them on the test. This is valuable information, and you can use it to your advantage when studying. Spend more time reviewing unfamiliar topics that are especially common on the exam. It's better to know the ins and outs of a high-frequency topic really well than to have a rudimentary knowledge of two low-frequency topics. Prioritize wisely! 

 

body_breakdance.jpgA topic breakdown sounds almost like a topic breakdance! Am I relating to the youth yet?

 

Tip #3: Learn to Budget Your Time Appropriately

This is something you can do in conjunction with taking practice tests. On AP Psychology, you only have around 40 seconds for each multiple-choice question, so you have to be smart about skipping questions that are taking up too much of your time. If you take a practice test and find that you’re running out of time, you may need to push yourself to work faster or move on from difficult questions more quickly.

You’ll also have just 25 minutes for each free response question on the test. The good news is that free response questions on AP psychology are scored based on the information you provide, not on your mastery of essay format. You don’t have to include an introduction and conclusion, which will save you a lot of time.

 

Tip #4: Terms Are Important: Go Over Them!

On the AP Psych exam, it’s very important that you know the meanings of key terms related to the course. Questions will often ask you to explain how a scenario relates to a particular psychological concept. If you don’t remember what the concept means, you won’t be able to answer the question. There are lots of confusing terms in AP Psychology, which is why it’s important that you take the time to compile them and go through them methodically when you study. This is especially true of terms that you learned at the beginning of the year because they'll be less fresh in your mind when the time comes to take the test. 

 

Tip #5: Avoid Cramming

There’s a lot to remember for AP Psychology, and you aren’t going to be able to stuff it all in your brain in one night. For courses like this that are memorization-heavy, it’s best to get in the habit of studying as you go along and taking the time to review old material periodically. If you can gradually build up your knowledge throughout the year and avoid completely forgetting what you learned at the beginning of the class, the exam will be much less stressful for you.  Every one or two months, do a comprehensive review of everything you’ve learned so far to refresh your memory. You might be surprised at how little you have to study at the end of the year when everyone else is freaking out. 

 

body_cramming-1.jpgAnd remember ladies, you're never too busy to throw on a little eye glitter between study sessions.

 

Conclusion

The AP Psychology exam is a relatively short AP test, but it encompasses a lot of different content areas. It's important to know all of the key terms and psychological theories that are covered in the course. You must be able to connect very specific psychological terminology to a wide range of different scenarios to succeed on the test.

Overall, AP Psychology is probably one of the easier AP exams, but that doesn't mean you should skip studying. Make sure you take practice tests and are fully aware of the exam's format and content so you won't be caught off-guard on test day! 

 

What's Next?

Still not sure if AP Psychology is the right choice for you? Learn more about AP classes and tests and whether it's worth it to take them. 

What do AP scores mean for your future? Find out more about how AP credit works at colleges. 

If you're working on planning out your schedule, read this article to get a better idea of how many AP classes you should take based on your college goals.

 

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

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Samantha Lindsay
About the Author

Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.



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