Cramming isn't an effective strategy for any test, but for the annual AP exam, it can be particularly stressful. While many AP resources suggest spending nine weeks preparing, you might be facing only days or weeks to review a year's worth of material. Nonetheless, making a study schedule, assessing your strengths and weaknesses and taking practice tests can still help you shoot for a passing score, even if time isn't on your side.
Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan
Before you start studying, take time to assess what you need to study and how much time you have to prepare. Then, figure out a study schedule that includes what material you'll cover each day. Study guides from Peterson's, Kaplan and other publishers can also help you break course content into manageable chunks for easier studying. Plan to study in a comfortable, quiet place at the same time every day in order to maintain consistency and focus in your routine.
Being familiar with the exam can also cure some of your last-minute jitters. The educational company Apex Learning recommends doing a "dry run" by taking several practice tests, available online or in study books, prior to the actual test. These tests should replicate the actual test conditions as much as possible, using the entire three-hour time period, complete with breaks. Practice tests give you intensive exposure to the types of questions you'll see on the actual exam and prepare you for the physical and mental challenge of the lengthy testing period.
Zero in on Weaknesses
Identifying your strengths as well as things you need to work on can help you narrow the focus of your studying. After you complete a test, score your essay responses as honestly as possible, or ask a friend or family member to evaluate them. Then, spend some time identifying what areas you are already strong in and what will require more practice. You can then amend your study schedule to give greater weight to concepts and strategies that still need work.
When you're down to the wire with time, memorization and repetition techniques can be crucial tools. Flashcards are a classic method of testing yourself on key concepts and terms, but the University of Arkansas Enhanced Learning Center believes it doesn't hurt to get a little inventive. Try rewriting ideas you're struggling with, repeating concepts out loud to yourself or making up hand motions, songs and rhymes to help you remember information. You can also record yourself reading notes out loud and play them back between classes or at lunch.
Don't Forget Your Zzz's
You might think extra hours of studying can make up for weeks of procrastination, but late-night cramming sessions can actually hurt your score. A study performed at the University of California Los Angeles in 2012 revealed that sacrificing sleep can lead to poor mental functioning and lower grades. As you schedule your work each day, be realistic about what you can accomplish and don't neglect your basic needs. The night before the exam, limit your review to a few basic concepts, then relax, watch a favorite TV show and get plenty of sleep.
- Peterson's: Peterson's AP English Literature and Composition
- University of South Carolina Upstate Center for Student Success: How to Cram...(Even Though You Shouldn't)
- Apex Learning High School: AP Exam Tips
- University of Arkansas Advanced Learning Center: The Effective Cram Session
- U.S. News and World Report: Late-Night Cramming May Hurt School Test Results
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