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The Best AP Psychology Study Guide

Posted by Samantha Lindsay | Sep 19, 2017, 5:00:00 PM

Advanced Placement (AP)



AP courses cover a lot of complex information, and it's not always easy to find great study materials and strategies. I've written this AP Psychology study guide as a way to make the process of studying for the AP test and other in-class assessments a little less overwhelming. It will help you figure out how to structure your studying, give you strategies to better understand the material, and provide links to notes and practice resources. If you follow the advice in this guide, you'll be on your way to a high score!


What’s in This Study Guide?

This guide will help you study for the AP Psychology exam and other assessments in your class by providing study strategies and other resources that pertain to the material covered in the course.

In the first section, you'll learn how to create a study plan for the exam that supports your needs as a student. This section applies exclusively to the final AP exam, so it's less relevant if you’re just studying for an in-class test.

The next section provides study tips that are specific to AP Psychology and will serve you well as you prepare for both in-class tests and the final exam. The last part of the guide is devoted to notes, outlines, videos, and other online resources that will be useful in your studying.


AP Psychology Study Plans

Before you start studying, you should know the difference between where you are in your knowledge of the material and where you want to be. Find a practice test in a review book or online, print it out, and take it as though it were the real AP Psychology test (70 minutes for the 100 multiple-choice questions and 50 minutes for the two free-response questions). If it’s from a review book, the book should guide you in calculating your score. If not, you can use this chart to estimate your AP score:

Composite Score

AP Score












To calculate your composite score, first add up all the multiple-choice questions you answered correctly. Then, convert the number of points you earned on the free-response questions to a value out of 50. For example, if you got 8 out of 15 points on the two free-response questions, you would convert that to about 27 out of 50. Add those two numbers together to get your composite score.

Depending on how much you need to improve and the amount of time you have before the test, you might choose to structure your studying in different ways. I’ll go through a 10-hour plan and a 20-hour plan. The shorter plan is for students hoping to improve by one AP point or raise their score within the same AP range so that they feel more comfortable during the test. The longer plan is for students hoping to improve by two or more AP points (and can be extended further if necessary).

I know this doesn't seem like much time, but a few hours of focused studying goes a long way for this particular subject. Psychology is one of the shorter AP tests (just two hours total), so practice testing won't be as long of a process. Additionally, questions tend to be based on memorization of definitions of terms and some logical reasoning. There aren't as many complex thought processes involved. Overall, AP Psychology is considered one of the easier AP tests. Most students will probably be able to earn a high score (4 or 5) by studying for 10 hours or less.


10-Hour Study Plan

  • Take a diagnostic test (2 hours)
  • Score the test and analyze your mistakes (1.5 hours)
  • Study content and revise strategy, keeping in mind your mistakes on the diagnostic test (2 hours)
  • Take another practice test (2 hours)
  • Score the test and analyze your mistakes (1.5 hours)
  • Final study session to clear up any issues you had on the second test (1 hour)


20-Hour Study Plan

  • Take a diagnostic test (2 hours)
  • Score the test and analyze your mistakes (1.5 hours)
  • Study content and revise strategy, keeping in mind your mistakes on the diagnostic test (3 hours)
  • Take another practice test (2 hours)
  • Score the test and analyze your mistakes (1.5 hours)
  • Study areas of content where you’re still missing questions, do practice questions, continue to revise strategy (3 hours)
  • Take a third practice test (2 hours)
  • Score the test and analyze your mistakes (1.5 hours)
  • Final study session to clear up any confusion (1.5 hours)
  • Wrap up your studying with a final practice test (2 hours)


Each of these plans has the same basic components, but the second one allows you to spend more time studying content and has more room for additional practice tests. If you’re trying to improve by 2 or more AP points, it’s likely that there are some major gaps in your content knowledge that warrant additional studying.

It’s extremely important to document and analyze your mistakes on each practice test if you’re hoping to make big improvements. Mistakes come in several different forms, and you should be aware of this so that you can make appropriate changes to your test-taking strategy and study plan after each practice test.

If the majority of your incorrect answers are the results of careless mistakes or poor time management, the solution to your problem isn't necessarily more content review. These types of mistakes respond better to additional practice testing that increases your familiarity with time limits and question formats.

If, on the other hand, you find that all or most of your incorrect answers are due to gaps in content knowledge, you can use this information to focus your studying on the areas that cost you the most points. I’d recommend categorizing your mistakes so that you know where to direct your studying. In this case, you might not need to make many modifications to your actual test-taking strategy. Most students will have a mixture of both types of mistakes, but it's good to be mindful of where your biggest problems lie so that you can tackle them more efficiently.


body_writingdown.jpgWriting down your study plan or scheduling it in a planner will help you stay on task. Yesssss. Become one with the stock photo.


4 AP Psychology Study Tips

Before you start studying content for AP Psychology, I want to give you a few studying and test-taking tips that will help you get the most out of your time. Here are some pointers to keep in mind when preparing for the AP test and any other in-class assessments throughout the year:


Tip #1: Terms Are Super Important

You’ll need to have extensive knowledge of the definitions of psychological terms for both the multiple-choice and free-response sections of the test. Some definitions are relatively intuitive, but others are almost impossible to figure out if you haven't studied them directly. Be meticulous about going over all terms covered by the class so that you don’t second guess yourself on the test. This is especially important for free-response questions, where you’ll be asked to describe how terms relate to certain situations. You need to understand them beyond just the ability to pick their correct definitions out of a multiple choice lineup. Flashcards are a very useful study tool for AP Psychology.


Tip #2: Make the Abstract Concrete

With all the confusing terminology involved in this course, it's easy to get mixed up and think that a term means one thing when it really means another. Since psychology deals with how people act and process information on a day-to-day basis, it’s a great idea to connect terms to specific scenarios in your life.

For example, you might connect a term like “reciprocity norm,” which says that people tend to treat others the same way they have been treated, to a situation where a store employee was rude to you. Maybe they received poor treatment from other customers and were reflecting that back onto you (they also could just be a jerk, but it’s nice to give people the benefit of the doubt). When you make this type of connection, the term becomes stickier in your memory because it’s tied to the heavy weight of a real life experience. You can practice applying psychology terms to your everyday life at any time because the concepts are constantly demonstrated all around us.


body_concrete.jpgI don't mean that you should literally make things concrete. However, even this picture could be relevant because it looks like a scene from some sort of serial killer horror movie. You can use it to remember Antisocial Personality Disorder.


Tip #3: Logic, Logic, Logic

Remember to listen to your common sense when answering questions. In some cases on the AP exam, you can figure out the answer with nothing but a little bit of logic. It’s common for students to forget this and start to worry if they don’t know what every part of the question means. Take a step back, and think about which answer makes the most sense based on what you do know. You may be surprised by how many questions you can answer this way.

Here's an example (which I used in my AP Psychology review article as well) of what I'm talking about:

There are a few complex terms involved, and the question might seem wordy, but it's actually very basic. When they were scared, the monkeys preferred the soft cloth mother over the uncomfortable wire mother with food. Logically, we can conclude that the answer is B. Overthinking is the downfall of many high-achieving students, so don't start to doubt yourself just because the answer seems "too simple" to you!


Tip #4: Complete Sentences, Not Complete Essays

Although this isn’t really a study tip, I think it’s important to know before the exam. It probably also applies to in-class tests. Psychology is about your grasp of science, not English, so don't bother with introductions, conclusions, or any other fluff surrounding your answers on free response questions. All you need to do is give a direct answer in a complete sentence. You’ll save time and make it easier for the graders to give you points. It’s smart to get used to doing this on practice free-response questions so that you'll be a pro by exam time.


body_points.jpgGet to the point(s).


AP Psychology Content: Notes, Outlines, and Videos

Here are some resources that cover all the content you'll see on the exam. I’ve also included the percentage of exam questions that deal with each topic. Depending on your learning style, you might decide to look at written notes or follow along with a video in areas where your understanding is weaker.

You can also use these resources throughout the year to review for in-class assessments. If you had difficulty understanding a concept as it was taught to you in class, you might use the notes and videos in this article to access alternative explanations. You could also use them to supplement your studying if you found that you were consistently coming up with incorrect answers to questions in a certain topic area on quizzes or practice tests.


History and Approaches (2-4% of exam)


Research Methods (8-10% of exam)


Biological Bases of Behavior (8-10% of exam)


Sensation and Perception (6-8% of exam)


States of Consciousness (2-4% of exam)


Learning (7-9% of exam)


Cognition (8-10% of exam)


Motivation and Emotion (6-8% of exam)


Developmental Psychology (7-9% of exam)


Personality (5-7% of exam)


Testing and Individual Differences (5-7% of exam)


Abnormal Psychology (7-9% of exam)


Treatment of Psychological Disorders (5-7% of exam)


Social Psychology (8-10% of exam)


Overall Review


body_puzzle-4.jpgThe way your brain works is a puzzle, but you can solve it with the magic of psychology! ISN'T LEARNING FUN?

Resources to Test Your Knowledge

If you're unsure of where to start with your studying or prefer to learn in a more interactive way, here are some additional online resources for reviewing concepts and taking practice tests:


College Board



  • Take a free full-length AP Psychology practice test on the Barron’s website. It’s automatically graded for you!
  • Disclaimer: If you use this resource, make sure you supplement the practice test with other official practice tests from the College Board.
  • Unofficial practice test questions created by prep companies are not always accurate representations of the format and content of the real test.

  • This site includes practice questions that cover all the topics in AP Psychology.
  • It divides them into easy, medium, and hard difficulty levels and records how many questions within each level you’ve answered correctly.
  • This makes it simple to gauge which areas need the most work.




Varsity Tutors

  • This site has several diagnostic tests to help you get a feel for how much you know already (they’re not complete AP tests, but they’re a nice way to assess your knowledge briefly between full practice test sessions).
  • It also has a bunch of mini quizzes organized by topic area and labeled based on difficulty level.
  • Flashcards for AP Psychology terms and concepts are included here as well.


The AP Psychology Commune (I’m Not Kidding)


High School Test Prep


body_goforth.jpgA whole internet's worth of AP Psychology practice resources are at your poorly-photoshopped fingertips!



Following the advice in this study guide is a promising step towards a high score on the AP Psychology test and other tests throughout the school year. AP Psychology is a completely manageable subject if you prepare for the exam responsibly. Memorizing key terms, applying concepts to your everyday life, using common sense to solve practice questions, and staying focused on the free-response section will all contribute to your success in class and on the AP test.

After reading this article, you should have everything you need to successfully answer even the most challenging questions the College Board throws at you!


What's Next?

For more information on how to prepare for the AP Psychology exam, check out my comprehensive review guide.

Are you looking for some review books to supplement your studying? Read about the best review books for AP Psychology. You can also try our articles on specific psychology topics, like this one about Stockholm Syndrome.

If you're still trying to decide how many AP classes you should take in high school, read this article for some great advice!


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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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