Are you considering taking an AP exam without taking an AP class, or does your school not offer AP classes you want to take? Or maybe you’re in an AP class, but feel unprepared for your AP exam. In this blog, I’ll go over the best approach for taking an AP exam when you don’t have an AP course available or need a serious AP study boost and share tips I’ve used with my students who’ve taken on this epic challenge!
Take a Similar Course (and/or online AP course) If Possible
Self-studying an AP exam is not an easy endeavor. Many students who have tried often do not study enough, but there are many others who have self-studied successfully. I recommend you try to take a similar in-person or real-time course from your high school or local community college if possible. For example, if you’re self-studying the AP Environmental Science exam and your school doesn’t offer the AP course, take normal environmental science at your school. It’s very challenging to cover a complete course worth of material on your own. In a class, your teacher keeps you accountable which makes you more likely to finish. Regardless, finding someone who can keep you accountable – such as a parent, relative, tutor, or online class that you sign up for – will increase your likelihood to succeed.
Additionally, I recommend you sign up for a free AP MOOC (video based) online course in addition to your non-AP course to supplement your learning. Or, if there is no similar course available, you can use these online AP courses as your sole “course” to study– you can find them on several websites. Here are a couple of good choices:
There are also paid options, which often have real time instruction or may include other perks such as essay grading.
Consider a paid option if you think you’ll be more accountable when you want to get your money’s worth. Finding an external way to keep yourself accountable is always good, especially if you’re taking an extended online course.
Get the Books
Get the same books you would get if you were taking the AP class. For instance, if you’re taking regular environmental science but you’re also taking the AP exam, you should buy a version of the textbook on the College Board’s “example” book list. Another way to choose books is to get books from the booklist of your online AP course (i.e. on edx, coursera etc.) OR Google “AP syllabus” and the name of your course and find some examples from high school teachers of books they use in their AP classes.
We’ve listed a whole slew of College Board “example book list” AP textbooks on our Amazon shop page (note purchases from this page support our free content!): amazon.com/shop/supertutortv
You can find individual lists also by looking at the respective course audit page found on the College Board website. For example, here is the course audit page for AP Environmental Science: https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/courses/ap-environmental-science/course-audit.
Money saving tip: If you’re self-studying and you would like to save some money, it’s probably okay to pick a used textbook of an EARLIER edition than the current one that was published within the last ten years.
Get the Teacher Instruction for Your Course
The College Board has a website for teachers that includes an example syllabus. This is a great tool for you to have as a student so you know what content will be covered. You can find this for each AP course by Googling the “course audit” page for the specific AP exam. If you plan to take a similar course, it would be a good idea to choose one that uses a textbook mentioned by the College Board. You can also find an example syllabus from a high school teacher that offers AP courses i.e. by using Google and searching for “syllabus” along with the name of the course/test you plan to take.
Follow along with the syllabus on your own and be sure to cover everything it covers! This is your to-do list!
Take Advantage of AP Resources
The College Board’s YouTube channel includes full AP courses in video form, but they’re in varying quality. (Some College Board content is also on Khan Academy). Here’s a link to their channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/advancedplacement
Use Prep Books/Other Resources to Self-Test
Another component of an AP course is feedback. Even without a class, you want to make sure you’re doing self-assessment (i.e. tests/quizzes). You can find sample tests from Barron’s, Princeton Review, and the College Board’s official prep guides. Unlike textbooks which don’t often have answer keys, these guides are meant for self study and have everything in one place without requiring you to track down an expensive instructor’s copy of your textbook(s). Likewise some textbooks don’t have many AP style multiple choice questions or essay prompts in them because although they meet the teaching standards for AP tests, they aren’t necessarily “geared” toward AP exams specifically. They’re college level textbooks for college level courses on these topics.
For prep book suggestions, check out our Amazon Shop Page (includes affiliate links). I’ve annotated a bunch of AP prep books in our main list of books (the one NOT separated by AP exam name).
Some AP exams also have a writing component. To practice and improve your essays, it’s helpful to ask a private tutor or a teacher you know to review your writing. Need private tutoring? We have tutors!
Lastly, start early. You should be doing two to six hours a week for probably the equivalent of a full semester if you want to be prepared for an AP exam.