If you’re reading this it’s because you’re considering taking Advanced Placement (AP) high school classes or you’re already enrolled in AP classes. That’s great! AP courses are a great way to prepare for college, raise your GPA, and even earn college credit.
But in order for you to get the full benefit out of your AP classes, you’ll need to make sure you know how to prepare for AP classes. That can be tricky: AP classes are designed to be harder, so you’ll need to be proactive about learning class material if you want to earn As.
We’re here to help. This article will help you develop the skills and tools you need to excel in every AP class you take. We’ll discuss:
- What an AP class is, and why they’re beneficial
- A quiz to help you identify your biggest pain points when it comes to succeeding in AP classes
- Specialized study tips customized to show you how to do well in an AP class
- A hypothetical weekly schedule designed to show you how to manage AP classes
There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started!
Feature Image: David Mulder/Flickr
2021 AP Test Changes Due to COVID-19
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, AP tests will now be held over three different sessions between May and June. Your test dates, and whether or not your tests will be online or on paper, will depend on your school. To learn more about how all of this is going to work and get the latest information on test dates, AP online review, and what these changes means for you, be sure to check out our 2021 AP COVID-19 FAQ article.
What Is an AP Class?
Basically, AP allows you to take college-level courses in high school as a way of preparing you for college. These courses are more in-depth than regular high school courses, but they will give you an excellent introduction to college-style classes, and taking AP courses will make your transition from high school to college easier.
While AP classes are harder and more work, they also come with some pretty big perks, too. Read on to learn about the many benefits of taking AP classes and how to manage AP classes.
What Are the Benefits of Taking AP Classes?
The number one benefit of taking AP classes is that if you do well in them, you increase your chances of college admission! Having AP courses on your transcript illustrates to college admissions committees that you have a commitment to pushing yourself to excel. Additionally, you show admissions committees that you already have experience with college-level coursework. This shows that you’re ready to succeed academically in college, too.
Additionally, AP classes can raise your GPA even though they’re tougher than regular classes. That’s because AP classes contribute to your weighted GPA. A weighted GPA takes into account that you’re taking tougher classes by “adding points” to your final AP course grade. That’s how some students can graduate high school with more than a 4.0! Weighted grades can be confusing, so be sure to check out our complete guide to weighted GPAs for more information.
Another benefit to AP classes is that they give you the opportunity to earn college credit. Each May, you can then take the AP exams for each of the AP courses you took that year. If you pass the exam with a certain grade, you can potentially earn college credit. (For more information about how this process works, check out this article.) Earning college credit from your AP courses saves you valuable time and money...and it looks great on your college applications, too.
Ultimately, AP classes benefit students by providing them with a rigorous education in subjects that you might otherwise have just glanced over in a regular high school class. This could even have the effect of exposing you to new ideas that shape your potential career goals!
The Top 3 Study Tips for Doing Well in AP Classes
Not sure how to do well in an AP class since they’re designed to be difficult. Guess what? It begins with developing good study habits.
In order to do well in an AP class, you’ll need to make sure you’re learning the course content on a daily basis. Trying to cram information into your head the night before an exam just isn’t going to work. So if you’re wondering how to prepare for an AP class, it all starts with studying!
Here are our top tips for studying regularly, efficiently, and effectively. That way you’re making the most out of your daily study time.
Tip 1: Get Ready to Study
First of all, if you’re going to succeed in an AP class, you need to believe that you will succeed in an AP class. You can do it! After all, you wouldn’t even be reading this article if you didn’t have what it takes to succeed in AP classes.
It’s important that you spend some time making sure you’re confident and prepared to tackle your AP work. One way to do this is through visualization. Visualize yourself succeeding, then work toward that goal. Studies show that visualizing success is almost as effective as actual practice, and doing both yields even better results than practice alone.
Once you’re in a success mindset, it’s time to prepare to study. (Yes...you have to get ready to study.) Create a study habit by picking a study spot in your house or your school’s library. That way you’ll associate that place with studying, which will help you get in the right mindset quickly. Minimize distractions by putting your phone away, turning off your computer’s WiFi, and/or disabling notifications on your smart devices.
And finally, only get out the study materials you’ll be working on that day. Don’t overwhelm yourself with stacks of books and notes! If you’re focusing on AP Biology, for example, there’s no need for you to flip through your AP Literature or AP Physics notes. Focusing on one thing not only makes the study process manageable, it also helps minimize your stress levels.
Tip 2: Take Great Notes in Class
For many students, the problem with study time is knowing what to study. Do you look over your homework assignments? Reread the textbook? It can be kind of overwhelming when you’re faced with learning information on your own!
The key to studying efficiently is making sure you have great material to study with. That begins with class notes. Your homework and your class exams will cover the material your teacher talks about in class—they aren’t going to spring new ideas on you! Taking great notes in class means you’ll have an idea about what information your teacher thinks is important, which means you’ll know what you need to understand before test day.
Once you have great notes, you can start using other class materials as part of your study session. That can include using handouts, textbooks, and even old homework assignments to help you review.
For example, here’s how an AP Chemistry study session might go. You take out your class notes from Monday and review them. They’re over balancing equations, so once you finish going over your notes, you flip open your textbook to find the chapter that covers the same material. There, you realize the book has some practice questions that you haven’t gone over in class. To study, you decide to work through those and check your answers in the back of the book.
In about 45 minutes, not only have you reviewed a core course concept, you’ve also practiced putting that concept to work. Now you’re better prepared to balance equations on your next exam!
Tip 3: Enough Is Enough!
Speaking of balance...even though studying is important, you need to make time for the activities, hobbies, and people that sustain you. Burnout is a real thing, and you won’t be doing yourself any favors if you pursue your studies so vigorously that you harm your mental and physical health.
What often happens in burnout situations is that the student feels so ashamed of not being able to concentrate that they don’t tell anyone. As a result, they fall behind in their coursework, then have difficulty catching back up again. Before you know it, your grades are falling, your GPA goes down, and then you’re even more stressed out than you were when you started studying 24/7 in the first place.
Burnout can be a vicious cycle. The consequences of burnout can be severe, so watch for signs of it. If you’re having trouble concentrating or find yourself resenting the time you spend on your studies, or if you find yourself isolated because you’re so worried about falling behind, it’s time to take a break. Go do something relaxing for a few hours or a couple of nights. Maybe this is the instance in which going to the movies with your friends on a weeknight is a good idea.
Also, make sure you’re being open and honest about your struggles with people you trust. Whether that’s your parents, siblings, friends, or a trusted teacher, it’s important that you speak up if you’re having a hard time. School is important, sure, but so is your health! When you reach out, people can help connect you with resources that can not only alleviate your burnout, but can teach you skills to help you avoid it in the future, too.
3 Time Management Tips for How to Do Well in an AP Class
Now that you know how important it is to study for your AP classes, it’s time to get that study time on your calendar and learn how to prepare for AP classes. But there’s a good chance that your calendar is already full with extracurriculars and other responsibilities.
Don’t panic: we guarantee you can squeeze in study time if you’re smart about how you manage your time. Here are our top tips for time management (and if you’d like some more, be sure to check out our expert guide to managing your time).
Tip 1: Triage Your Work
Have you ever spent three hours studying for a reading quiz the next day because you felt like you didn’t understand the material completely, only to skip out on studying for your chemistry exam because you ran out of time? The chances are that your reading quiz counted for a much smaller grade percentage than your chemistry exam did.
Every student has found themselves in a situation where they wish they’d made a different decision about how to use their time. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes. One of the best things you can do to maximize your time is to prioritize your goals. That way you’re tackling the most important material first.
Think about the emergency room. In the ER, they have a process called triage, in which they assign degrees of severity to a patient's various injuries, so they know which to focus on first. Whenever you get home from school and are about to get started on your homework, triage it first so that you can tackle the most difficult and important work while you’re still fresh and alert, saving the less challenging (or perhaps more enjoyable) work for last.
In order to triage your studying effectively, you need to consider three things: the grade point value of upcoming assignments, your understanding of the material, and your overall performance in the course.
Let’s take a look at an example: Joe is taking AP Biology, AP Statistics, and AP U.S. History. This week, he has a short essay due in U.S. History that’s worth 15% of his grade, one quiz in AP Biology worth 2% of his overall grade, and nothing due in Statistics. But he also has an A in both Biology and U.S. History, but he only has a B- in Statistics. He only has a few hours to study this week. How should Joe spend his time?
Here’s how we would recommend Joe triages his work. First, he should tackle his U.S. History essay. It’s worth a large portion of his final grade, so making a B or C on the assignment could keep him from making an A in the class.
From there, Joe should spend some time studying Statistics. Even though he has a Biology quiz, it’s clear that he has a pretty good handle on the material already since he has an A in the class. But he’s having a tougher time in Statistics, so spending a little extra time studying the course material will probably help him get higher scores on his upcoming work. Then, if he has a little extra time, Joe can quickly review his Biology notes to get ready for his quiz.
The big takeaway is this: make sure you’re doing the most important work first. That way you’re using your time as efficiently as possible!
Tip 2: Make a List
As you’re triaging all your tasks for the week, you’ll also be compiling a list of everything, with notes about the importance of each one. It’s very helpful to keep this list with you, perhaps in a planner or notebook, so that you can keep track in class of all the information that you might forget later. Just because you’re paying attention in class doesn’t mean you’ll remember assignments, due dates, or other important information later!
So what sort of information do you need to keep track of? Along with assignment due dates, you’ll also want to make note of any key ideas your teachers call out in class. You’ll also want to make sure you’re noting any extra credit assignments, special events, or even useful volunteer opportunities that are mentioned in class. Writing these down is a great way to making sure you don’t forget them!
Also, reviewing your planner or notebook every day is key to making this system work. If you’re writing things down and then never looking at them again, it’s not very useful. Pick a time every day when you review your calendar and update your to do list. Doing this at the same time every day helps ensure that you’re staying on top of your responsibilities.
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Tip 3: Get a Good Night’s Sleep
This one is a little less obvious when you’re thinking about spending your time. After all, if you’re getting 8 hours of sleep a night, you’re wasting precious time you could use to study (or play video games), right?
Not so fast. Sleep is actually a key component to making sure your brain and your body stay healthy. After all, your brain is a physical muscle in your body, and there is a direct correlation between the well-being of your body and the capacity of your brain. Consequently, sleep is one of the most important factors in maintaining your mental and physical health.
A recent study shows that people have some very incorrect notions about how much sleep they need, and our culture prides itself on sacrificing our sleep in order to work more. Science shows that your body needs between seven and ten hours of sleep every night, yet over thirty percent of Americans sleep less than that. And when you’re not sleeping, you have a harder time paying attention and retaining formation, which isn’t great for your GPA, either.
When you’re staying organized by prioritizing your work, creating to do lists, and studying regularly, it becomes easier for you to get enough sleep to stay healthy. And the better your sleep is, the better you’ll do in school! So while all-nighters might seem like a good idea, it’s better for your health and your GPA to study ahead of time. That way you can get some much-deserved (and much needed!) rest.
We've put together an AP student's hypothetical week so we can show you how to plan for success.
How to Do Well in an AP Class: Plan Your Ideal Week
We’ve covered our top tips for how to manage AP classes, but it can be hard to see how those tips work in practice. We want to get beyond understanding just how to pass an AP class and show you how to excel in one.
To help, we’ve created a sample weekly schedule to help you figure out how to be successful in AP classes. (Keep in mind that this is just an example—depending on your course load, your ideal schedule will differ.)
Read on to see how to prepare for AP classes in order to be as successful as possible!
First thing’s first: you need to determine what’s on your schedule for the week. When you open your planner, you realize that this week is going to be heavy on reading. You have textbook chapters to read in your U.S. History and Macroeconomics courses, and you’re supposed to finish reading The Great Gatsby for your English class.
Since that’s a lot of reading, you’ll want to keep up with this nightly. You prioritize textbook chapters based on when you have reading quizzes and responses due in class. Right now, you have a reading quiz scheduled in your U.S. History class on Thursday and another reading quiz in your English class on Friday. You also realize that you have a quiz over the last 28 pages of The Great Gatsby, so you decide to split that into chunks so you can space the reading out over the entire week.
You’re also taking two science courses: AP Biology and AP Chemistry. You realize you have a lab report due in Biology on Thursday and an AP Chemistry exam on Friday. That means you’ll need to plan ahead to make sure you’re able to study for your test and finish your lab report.
So you open your planner and add the following due dates to your weekly schedule:
Reading & Studying
Now that you’re organized, you can tell that the end of the week is going to be hectic. You decide to get a jump on things by reading your Macroeconomics chapter tonight. That way you’ve freed up extra time to study for your quizzes and exams.
Teachers love to assign pop-up homework during the week, so there’s a chance that you’ve been given a handout or two that you’ll have to finish that night to turn in the next day. That’s not unusual: the typical workload for an AP class is about one hour per night per class.
You’ve gotten a quick handout to complete in Macroeconomics, so you tackle that first during your study time since it’s due the next day. Then you spend some time finishing the majority of your Biology lab report since it’s worth 10% of your overall grade. You want to make sure you have enough time to check it over before you turn it in!
Once that’s done, you split your remaining study time between reading for U.S. History, reading for English class, and going over your Chemistry notes. Since you don’t have a reading quiz over The Great Gatsby until Friday, you decide to tackle that reading last to ensure you’ve gotten a head start on studying for your Chemistry exam.
On this hypothetical Wednesday, your U.S. history class is doing an in-class discussion. You’re prepared since you’ve already done the reading, and your teacher gives you props for your excellent ideas in class.
When you get to English class, you realize you’re a little behind on your reading when your teacher splits you into small groups to talk about the characters in the book. You’re only a few pages behind, but you make a note to catch up on your reading that night.
When you sit down to study, you’re tempted to grab The Great Gatsby and start reading. But you know that you have a lab report due tomorrow and a Chemistry exam on Friday that are worth a lot more points than your reading quiz.
So instead of reading right away, you finish your Biology lab report first. Then you spend 30 minutes going over a tricky concept you talked about in Chemistry class before cracking open your copy of The Great Gatsby. By prioritizing your work, you’ve made sure you’re on the right track to do well on your assignments without having to pull an all-nighter.
You turn in your Biology lab report, confident that you’ve done a great job since you started it ahead of time. With that out of the way, you can now spend more time focusing on studying for your Chemistry exam on Friday.
That night, you pull out your quizzes and homework assignments, your class review sheet, and your notes. You spend an hour reviewing your handouts, studying key terms, and working a few extra sample problems. But since you’ve been studying a little every night, you find that you’re feeling pretty confident about the test.
Finally, you settle in to finish your Great Gatsby reading. You’ve got ten pages to read since you didn’t quite hit your reading goal yesterday, but it’s still a manageable amount. Actually, you find it’s a nice break from studying for chemistry!
Today’s a busy day, but because you’ve planned ahead, you’re ready to tackle it. You have your English class first, so you get up a little extra early to review your reading notes in order to ace your quiz. Your chemistry exam is after lunch, so you decide to spend a few minutes studying with your friends before the big test.
There’s a good chance that your teachers will assign your homework for the next week on Friday, so it’s important you take good notes and jot down important assignments and due dates in your planner as they’re announced. Don’t rely on your memory! This list will help you plan your next week so it will be as successful as this one.
But for now, it’s the weekend! Doing well in school matters a lot, but it’s also important to take some time to relax and recharge with your family and friends. Think of your time off as rewarding yourself for a job well done!
If you’d like even more tips for managing your time, don’t miss our article on the top 12 time management tips that everyone needs to know.
In our hypothetical student schedule, we mentioned AP classes. AP classes are advanced placement classes that can help you raise your GPA and potentially earn college credit while still in high school. Get the scoop on AP classes, and learn more about how their difficulty compares to a normal high school curriculum.
Setting aside study time only works well if you know how to study. But don’t worry: anyone can learn how to study well! Our expert guide to studying better in high school, can set you on the path to success.
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Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.