Are you taking AP classes this year and wondering how long AP tests are? Or maybe you are thinking about taking AP classes in the future, and are curious about how long AP exams are and what they’re like.
In this post, we break down the typical length and structure of AP tests, and also give you tips on dealing with fatigue during the test. We'll use some of the most popular tests as examples, including the AP English tests, Biology, AB Calculus, and US History. But we'll also give tips and advice that will help you for any AP test.
Typical Length and Structure of AP Exams
AP tests are generally between two and three hours long, though most are closer to three hours. There is one break that separates the test into two sections.
What are the two sections? In the vast majority of cases, an AP exam starts with a multiple choice section (MC) and then has a free response section. The length of each section, as well as which one is harder, varies from test to test.
The free response section tends to be longer than the MC for humanities subjects. For example, both the AP English Language and AP English Literature tests have one hour of multiple choice followed by two hours of essay writing. US and World History both have 55 minutes of MC followed by about two hours for free response and essay questions.
For science, the MC can be longer than free response. For example, Psychology has 70 minutes of multiple choice but just 50 minutes of free response. Biology and Chemistry both have 90 minutes of MC. Biology’s free response is 90 minutes (including a reading period) but Chemistry’s is 105 minutes – slightly longer.
For math, the sections tend to be equally weighted. On AP Statistics, you get 90 minutes for both the MC and free response sections. However, on AB Calculus, the MC is a bit longer – 1 hour and 45 minutes versus 1 hour and 30 minutes for free response.
To look up the exact length of each test, make sure to check College Board’s AP Central page.
The two sections of an AP test – multiple choice and free response – are quite different. Be prepared for two very distinct challenges!
How Much Time Pressure Are You Under?
Even though AP Exams can be long, you are under a good amount of time pressure for each section, multiple choice and free response. While both sections are challenging, they are hard for different reasons. We'll look at some of the most popular exams to see just how intense AP timing can be.
How long are AP Exams in English? For both English Literature and Language, you get one hour to answer 55 multiple-choice questions, and then two hours to write three essays. The MC section is tough because you have to read and break down difficult passages to answer the questions – at a rate of about one question per minute. The essay section is challenging because you have to craft three high-quality essays in two hours.
Considering that for each prompt you have to break down the question, create an outline, draft an essay, and then proofread it, you can see why cramming three essays into that two hour block is hard. Not to mention the fatigue of spending two straight hours writing. (This includes physical fatigue – your hand can cramp up from all that writing!)
For the MC section of most social studies AP tests, you’ll have to work quickly. AP World History asks 70 questions in 55 minutes, US Government asks 60 questions in 45 minutes, and US History asks 55 questions in 55 minutes. You are responsible for more than one question a minute (or exactly one per minute for US History).
While the questions are often more straightforward than on the English exams – you will have fewer blocks of text to break down – you will have to strike a balance between moving fast enough to answer as many questions as possible but not going so fast you make silly mistakes.
For the free response, World History gives you 40 minutes an essay for three essays, US Government gives 25 minutes per response, and US History has four short response answers in 50 minutes followed by a 55-minute DBQ (Document-Based Question) and a 35-minute long essay.
While these times are variable, note that the longest you get for a response is 55 minutes – and that’s for the ultra-complicated DBQ, which requires you to read and process multiple documents before weaving them together in a comprehensive essay. In all cases, you have to be able to move quickly through the organizing stage to have enough time to draft and edit your responses. Feeling the pressure yet?
How long are AP tests for math subjects? For AP Calculus AB, the most popular AP math test, you have to answer 28 MC questions in 55 minutes with no calculator, and then 17 questions in 50 minutes with a calculator. While this may seem like a more laid-back pace than the humanities tests above, most of the Calculus AB questions are very tough and require much more time per question.
In terms of free response, both Calc AB and AP Statistics give you 90 minutes to answer 6 questions, or about 15 minutes per question. Especially for Statistics, your answers will include written explanations in addition to working out the problems, which can make it hard to finish in the allotted time.
There are 60 MC questions in 90 minutes on AP Chemistry, 100 MC questions in 70 minutes for AP Psychology, and 63 MC questions plus six write-in questions in 90 minutes for AP Biology. For Psychology, you will have to move at a quick pace through the questions, while for Chemistry and Biology, you have more time per question but they are hard questions, so the pressure will be no less intense.
For the free response, you have 105 minutes for seven questions in Chemistry and 90 minutes for eight responses in Biology – or about 15 minutes per response for Chemistry and just over 10 minutes per response in Biology.
These are tough because not only do you have very limited time per response, the free response sections last close to two hours so you can start to feel fatigued after the first hour. In Psychology, you have 50 minutes for two responses, or about 25 minutes per response – which is a bit more relaxed, plus the free response section doesn’t drag on for too long.
Don't crash during an AP exam - learn to deal with fatigue.
How To Deal With Fatigue on Individual Exams
So just from looking at some of the most popular AP Tests, you can see that there is a ton of time pressure. How do you deal with fatigue, especially during those two-hour free response sections?
1. Way before the test: practice, practice, practice! Do tons of practice MC sections and free response questions. This will help you get used to AP question format and build up stamina on the MC sections. Also, take at least one – but ideally more – full-length practice exam starting in March or April. By then you should have learned most of the material, so you can focus on getting your test-taking skills in shape.
2. Be prepared for multiple choice. MC is the most demanding section in some ways, since you have to move very quickly to answer a ton of questions. Plus, it’s the first section, meaning you’ll likely be taking it just past 8 a.m. on test day (unless the exam is in an afternoon slot). This is why taking practice MC sections in the months leading up to the exam is so important, so you’re not blindsided by how hard AP multiple choice can be. It’s also smart to do a few warm-up questions at home before the AP Test. You don’t want to be groggy when you start reading that first question.
3. Develop a free response strategy. This will vary a lot by both the test subject AND your personal strengths and weaknesses. As an example, one AP Literature student might find that outlining all three responses first and then writing the drafts is the most efficient for him, while another might prefer to outline and write her drafts in one go. The only way to develop your strategy is to get lots of practice using real exam questions from previous years. You can try out different strategies and find out what works for you.
4. Prepare the day of the test. It sounds basic, but getting a good night’s sleep before the test and eating a solid breakfast is really important. Especially because many of the most popular tests – including both English exams, Biology, Chemistry, US and World History, and AB Calculus – are given during the 8 a.m. slot, you will need to be energetic and ready to roll despite the early time and the long exam. This is not the morning to skip breakfast.
5. Stay alert during the test. Bring snacks and water for the break. Even if you don’t feel hungry after the first section of multiple choice, eat something anyway, because you’ll need to keep your energy up during the free response section. You don’t to crash halfway through your first essay!
Another tip – stay focused during the break. Don’t get too distracted talking to friends out in the hallway or the bathroom – or worse, talking about certain questions and second-guessing yourself. Get up, walk around, do some stretches – but keep your head in the game.
It’s definitely not the day to skip coffee if you’re a coffee drinker.
Dealing With Fatigue Over the Two Weeks of AP Tests
Dealing with the fatigue of just one AP test can be tough. But what if you are taking more than one exam over the two weeks of AP testing?
Trust me, I know what that feels like. I took three AP exams in a week during my sophomore year, two tests in two days during junior year, and four tests during senior year – including a test on the first day and the last day of AP testing.
While each year was tough, for me, sophomore year was the hardest. I was taking 3 undisputedly difficult exams – Biology, English Language, and World History – in just one week. Plus, these were my first-ever AP tests. While I had done tons of studying and prep over the year, it was hard to prepare for the nerves I felt sitting down for my first-ever high-pressure exam – let alone doing that three times in a week!
Luckily, I spent lots of time preparing over the school year so, while I was nervous for those first three exams, I wasn’t overwhelmed. So how do you prepare enough to feel confident, even if this is your first year of AP tests?
The schedule for tests comes out early in the school year, so look it up as soon as it’s available so you know what’s coming for you in May. For example, sophomore year, I realized early on I would have three tests during the first week of testing, so I treated April as my last month to study. I also had plenty of time to mentally brace myself for an exhausting week.
On that note, it’s key to feel confident and prepared for every exam you’re taking going into May, since those two weeks are so busy. Don't plan on doing major studying – like learning a World History unit, reading a book for AP Literature, or doing multiple full-length practice exams – during May. Instead, focus on staying well-rested, getting exercise to let off steam, and doing consistent but not overly-intense studying to keep you feeling confident and prepared.
You shouldn’t be spending too much time with these in May.
While AP tests are on your mind right now, you're probably also interested in raising your SAT/ACT scores, which are a lot more important for college admissions.
SAT and ACT essays can be more challenging than AP free response. Learn about 15 ways to improve your SAT essay, and get examples for the 6 types of SAT essay prompts. Also get tips for improving your ACT essay, and check out our guide for a perfect 12 if you're aiming high.
I also recommend checking out our guide to a perfect SAT/ACT score by our resident full scorer. Not only will this help you study for the SAT, many of the principals in the article can be applied to your AP studying as well, particularly the multiple choice sections.
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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Halle Edwards graduated from Stanford University with honors. In high school, she earned 99th percentile ACT scores as well as 99th percentile scores on SAT subject tests. She also took nine AP classes, earning a perfect score of 5 on seven AP tests. As a graduate of a large public high school who tackled the college admission process largely on her own, she is passionate about helping high school students from different backgrounds get the knowledge they need to be successful in the college admissions process.