6 Critical AP Exam Tips to Ace Your Tests


The most important thing you can do to maximize your chances of getting a 5 on an AP exam is to learn the material. However, it is a standardized test, and there are strategies you can use to maximize your chances of success and make sure your hard work pays off. Keep reading for my top AP exam tips!


#1: Do Easy Questions First

There’s no rule that you have to answer all of the questions in a given section in order. If you come to a question that looks either difficult or time-consuming, it’s fine to skip it and come back later. This applies to both the multiple-choice and free-response sections. Just make sure you are careful when you fill out your Scantron or your test booklet!

Once you make a first pass and answer all the slam-dunk questions, then you can buckle down on the harder or more tedious questions. Don’t let yourself get held up too much on any one question, though. If you feel yourself getting bogged down, skip that question, and come back to it to either work on it more (if you have time) or guess (if you don’t).


#2: Answer Every Question—But Be Smart About It

Since there is no guessing penalty on AP exams, it is to your advantage to answer every question. If you aren’t sure of the right answer on a multiple-choice question, eliminate as many answers as you confidently can before guessing. This will up your chances of guessing the right answer and getting points!

On a free-response or short answer question, just do the best you can to guess based on what you remember. If you leave a question blank, you’ll definitely get zero points, but if you write something even a little bit relevant, you might get partial points! And even one point is better than zero.



#3: Manage Time Carefully

You are allowed to bring a watch to the exam just so long as it doesn’t make noise. I highly advise doing so, so that you’ll be aware of how you are doing on time at any given moment.

It’s critical that you pace yourself on the exam. On the multiple-choice section, if you notice yourself getting stuck on a particular question or series of questions, skip them and come back at the end. Don’t let a few questions completely tank your time. If you’re staring at a question in confusion for longer than a minute, move on and come back to it.

On the free-response section, time management is even more critical because you’ll need to complete a series of tasks in an allotted amount of time, but you won’t be prompted to move on to the next essay or question. Keeping track of time will let you know if you’re on target to finish everything. You should have time targets for each essay or task in mind when you go into the test.



This kind of clock is not allowed!



#4: Plan Your Essays Carefully

This may not apply to every AP exam—it’s hard to plan a math problem in advance—but for APs that do have essay questions, it’s critical that you plan them out before you start writing them. Even five minutes spent quickly jotting down your thesis and the main ideas of your paragraphs will help you write the essay faster, make your argument stronger, and ensure your essay is better-organized and more coherent. A slightly more detailed outline that denotes where you are going to include specific examples and evidence is even better if you have time.


#5: Bring Water and a Snack for the Break

This might seem like a relatively trivial tip, but you may experience some serious test fatigue during your AP exams. Bringing water and a snack—preferably one with a bit of protein and complex carbs, like a peanut butter granola bar—will help you stay energized through the exam and keep you from fading during the free-response section.



An appropriate snack.


#6: Keep Up Positive Self-Talk

You might hit a bump in the road on exam day. Maybe you’ll see a question type you weren’t quite prepared for, forget something you thought you knew inside and out, or be totally stumped by a free-response question. The important thing if this happens is to not panic. Maintain positive self-talk. Tell yourself you are doing great. Move on to another question. Even if you’re still stumped when you come back around to it, keep telling yourself that you’re crushing the rest of the test. And then just do the best you can on the test.


Key Takeaways

If you want to get a 5 on your AP exam, the best thing you can do for yourself is to learn the material. However, there is still a strategic element to taking the AP, just like on other standardized tests. Here are my top six AP exam tips:

  1. Do easy questions first and come back to the harder ones later.
  2. Answer every question, but only guess after eliminating all the answers you know are wrong.
  3. Bring a watch and manage your time carefully!
  4. Carefully plan out your essays before you start writing! (This tip doesn’t apply to those APs without essays).
  5. Bring water and a snack for the break!
  6. Maintain positive self-talk, even if you hit a snag!

With these AP test tips, you’ll maximize your chances of getting the score you’re aiming for!


What's Next?

Need more guidance on AP preparation? See our five-step plan on how to study for AP exams.

Do you need an AP test perfect score? Read this guide to learn if it's something you should be aiming for.

Taking a history AP exam? See our guide on how to write a top-scoring DBQ.



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About the Author
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Ellen McCammon

Ellen has extensive education mentorship experience and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in all areas of life. She received a BA from Harvard in Folklore and Mythology and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.

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