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.
2020-2021 AP Test Changes Due to COVID-19
Due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, AP tests were held remotely in 2020, and information about how things will work for 2021 still evolving. Stay up to date with the latest information on test dates, AP online review, and what this means for you with our AP COVID-19 FAQ article.
How Is the AP Psychology Exam Structured?
The AP Psych test consists of two sections: a multiple-choice section and a free-response section.
Overall, AP Psychology is one of the shorter AP exams, clocking in at just two hours in total. The exam will take place on Tuesday, May 11, 2021, at noon.
Before we get into the details of each section, here's an overview of what AP Psych looks like:
|AP Psychology||Question Type||Time||# of Questions||% of Score|
|Section 1||Multiple Choice||70 mins||100||66.7%|
|Section 2||Free Response||50 mins||2||33.3%|
Section 1: Multiple Choice
Here is a quick rundown of the multiple-choice section format:
- Number of Questions: 100
- Time: 70 minutes
- Scoring: Worth 2/3 of your final AP Psych score
All multiple-choice questions come with five possible answer choices (labeled A-E). These questions will typically ask you to do the following, per the College Board:
- Define and explain content from a range of course topics
- Apply skills of concept application, data analysis, and scientific investigation
Section 2: Free Response
Here is an overview of the free-response section on the AP Psychology test:
- Number of Questions: 2
- Time: 50 minutes
- Scoring: Worth 1/3 of your final AP Psych score
The first free-response question is a Concept Application question, while the second question is a Research Design question.
Both questions will ask you to do the following, per the College Board:
- Explain behavior and apply theories using concepts from different theoretical frameworks or subdomains in the field
- Analyze psychological research studies, including analyzing and interpreting quantitative data
Ah, May. The flowers are blooming, the birds are chirping—and the rustle of freshly opened AP test booklets fills the air.
How Is the AP Psychology Exam Scored?
Now that you understand the structure of the AP Psychology exam, it's time to learn how your final AP score is calculated. As mentioned, the multiple-choice section is worth 66.7% of your final Psych score, while the free-response section is worth 33.3% of your score.
For multiple choice, scoring is relatively simple: you earn a point for every question you answer correctly. No points are deducted for incorrect answers or questions left blank; therefore, 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 for each of the two questions. Each of these scores is then multiplied by 3.57 so that, together, they make up 1/3 of your total raw AP Psychology score.
Your raw score is then compared with the curve calculated by the College Board to see what score you'll get on the final 1-5 AP scale.
The following table offers estimated raw-to-AP-score conversions for the AP Psychology test. Keep in mind that each year the curve is slightly different, so this will give you a rough estimate of your score and not an exact prediction.
|Raw Composite Score||AP Score||% of Students Earning Each Score (2020)|
Source: The College Board
For example, let's say you got 55 questions right on the multiple-choice section and scored a 4 on one free-response question and a 5 on the other. This would add up to a raw score of around 87 because 55 + (4 * 3.57) + (5 * 3.57) = 87.13. Based on the chart above, this score would translate to 3 for your final AP score.
Topics and Example Questions on the AP Psychology Test
In this section, I'll give you some real-life examples of test questions so you can get a better idea of what the AP Psychology test is actually like.
As a preface to the questions, here are the nine overarching topics you'll see on AP Psych. You should consult this list to make sure that you've fully reviewed the content for the test and are not missing anything important (especially in the most common topic areas).
|AP Psychology Unit||% of Multiple-Choice Questions|
|Unit 1: Scientific Foundations of Psychology||10-14%|
|Unit 2: Biological Bases of Behavior||8-10%|
|Unit 3: Sensation and Perception||6-8%|
|Unit 4: Learning||7-9%|
|Unit 5: Cognitive Psychology||13-17%|
|Unit 6: Developmental Psychology||7-9%|
|Unit 7: Motivation, Emotion, and Personality||11-15%|
|Unit 8: Clinical Psychology||12-16%|
|Unit 9: Social Psychology||8-10%|
Multiple-Choice Question Example
Here is a sample question from the 2019-20 AP Psychology Course and Exam Description:
To answer this question, you'll need to be familiar with Ivan Pavlov and his research, specifically his research associated with training dogs to associate the sound of a bell with food. But even if you're not, you can still figure out which answers are wrong and raise your chances of getting it correct.
You should be able to tell right away that this behavior has been conditioned in the dogs, so the answer will be either B or C. In psych, "conditioning" refers to a kind of behavioral process in which a particular response becomes more frequent and/or predictable. So already you've eliminated the other three possible answer choices.
Now, to select the correct answer, you need to know the difference between classical conditioning and operant conditioning. Classical conditioning refers to involuntary responses that occur due to past experiences, while operant conditioning refers to voluntary responses that occur as a result of past experiences.
Because the dogs are salivating without consciously meaning to—in other words, it's a completely involuntary bodily response—the correct answer must be B (classical conditioning).
"I ga ga, therefore I goo goo." Tom, please stop.
Free-Response Question Example
The following free-response question also comes from the 2020 AP Psych Exam Description:
This is an example of question 2 on the free-response section (that is, a Research Design question). You can earn up to 7 raw points—3 in Part A and 4 in Part B—by correctly answering each part.
Here are the answers for each part as described in the official scoring guidelines.
Part A—3 Points
- Control Group: One point for a response that identifies the control group as the group that sat quietly
- Confounding Variable: One point for a response that identifies the confounding variable as the time of day
- Independent Variable: One point for a response that identifies the independent variable as whether the students punched the punching bag
Part B—4 Points
- Catharsis: One point for a response that explains that students were supposed to experience the release of strong negative feelings by punching the punching bag
- Hypothesis: One point for a response that explains that the researcher's hypothesis was not supported, as those students who punched the bag actually ended up honking the horn at Steve for longer periods of time
- Ethical Flaws: One point for a response that describes the need for debriefing the students, because the researcher used deception
- Mean: One point for calculating the mean to be 35
"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 to Prep for the AP Psychology Exam: 6 Critical Tips
If you're aware of the AP Psych exam's structure and content, you can use specific prep methods to help you succeed on the test. Here are six tips guaranteed to give you a higher chance of earning a great AP Psych score.
#1: Take Practice Tests
The best way to prepare for standardized tests like AP Psychology 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 of the test and the types of questions it asks.
The College Board offers practice free-response questions from previous years (up to 2019). You can also access three full-length official AP Psychology practice tests as free PDFs:
To simulate the real testing experience, I recommend printing out the test and writing/bubbling in your answers to the questions rather than doing them on the computer. You should also time yourself accurately so you can be sure you don't run out of time on the actual exam.
After you take a practice test or two, review your answers to see which content areas gave you the most trouble. Focus on going over the topics for which you had the highest concentration of incorrect answers.
#2: Make Use of AP Classroom
In 2019, the College Board released an online portal called AP Classroom, which connects students with their AP teachers. You can turn in homework on the portal, get feedback on your assignments, and receive access to official AP Psych study materials, including a question bank with real test questions. Your teacher will run the AP Classroom course page.
#3: 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 you can use to your advantage when studying.
Specifically, 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 super well than to have only a rudimentary knowledge of two low-frequency topics. Prioritize wisely!
A topic breakdown sounds almost like a topic breakdance! Am I relating to the youth yet?
#4: Learn to Budget Your Time Appropriately
This is something you can do in conjunction with taking practice tests. On the AP Psychology test, you only have about 40 seconds for each multiple-choice question. This means you have to be smart about skipping questions that are taking up too much of your time (and either going back to them later or picking a random letter—remember that there's no penalty for incorrect answers, so you should definitely fill in every single one!).
If you take a practice test and find that you're often running out of time, you might 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 and not on your mastery of the essay format. Basically, you don't have to write an introduction and a conclusion, which will save you a lot of time.
#5: Go Over Important Terms
On the AP Psych exam, it's crucial for you to know the meanings of key terms related to the course. Questions often ask you to explain how a scenario relates to a certain psychological concept. But 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 so important that you take the time to compile them and go through them methodically when you study. This is especially true of terms you learned at the beginning of the school year, as they'll be less fresh in your mind when the time comes to take the test.
#6: 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 school year and avoid completely forgetting what you learned at the beginning of class, the exam will feel 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 by how little you have to study for the AP Psych test at the end of the school year when everyone else is freaking out!
And remember, ladies, you're never too busy to throw on a little eye glitter between study sessions.
Recap: What to Know About the AP Psychology Test
The AP Psychology exam is a relatively short AP test. However, because it encompasses a variety of content areas, it's important to know all the key terms and psychological theories that are covered in the course.
In order to succeed on this test, you must be able to connect specific psychological terminology to a wide range of different scenarios.
Overall, AP Psychology is probably one of the easier AP exams, but that doesn't mean you should skip studying. Make sure you take official practice tests and are fully aware of the exam's format and content so you won't be caught off guard on test day!
Still not sure if AP Psychology is the right choice for you? Learn more about AP classes and tests to see whether it's worth it to take them. You can also dip your toe in the AP Psych pool with this article about Stockholm Syndrome (something you'll likely learn about in AP Psych).
What do AP scores mean for your future? Find out more about how AP credit works at colleges.
Trying to plan out your schedule? Read this article to get a better idea of how many AP classes you should take based on your college goals.
One of the single most important parts of your college application is what classes you choose to take in high school (in conjunction with how well you do in those classes). Our team of PrepScholar admissions experts have compiled their knowledge into this single guide to planning out your high school course schedule. We'll advise you on how to balance your schedule between regular and honors/AP/IB courses, how to choose your extracurriculars, and what classes you can't afford not to take.
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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.