AP classes are not easy. They are college-level courses that move at a quicker pace than other high school-level courses, and you are expected to keep up with them without the constant reminders from teachers.
If you’re reading this post, you probably want to succeed in AP classes. Congratulations, you’re already a step ahead, because having the right attitude (a motivated one) is an important step towards success in AP classes.
In this post, I’ll teach you the tried and true strategies I used in high school to succeed in AP classes. Be sure to save this post so you can reference it later! Let’s get started.
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Why AP Classes?
First, why would you take AP classes? As I already mentioned, they’re more difficult and take more self-control and dedication. But there are various benefits to these courses:
If your school considers both unweighted and weighted GPAs, AP classes will boost your weighted GPA. While normal, unweighted classes are scored out of 4, weighted classes (like APs) are scored out of 5.
AP exams are administered by the College Board, and if you do well on a certain number of them, you get recognitions such as “AP Scholar” and “AP Scholar with Distinction.” You can put these awards on your college applications!
As AP courses are college-level courses, many American colleges count them as college credit, which means that if you took a certain course in high school, you don’t need to take a similar (required) class in college.
Taking challenging courses and doing well in them shows colleges and potential employers that you are willing to go to the next level and pursue higher-level learning.
Choose The Right Classes
Before talking about how to succeed during the class, let’s discuss how to choose the right classes to ensure that you won’t be overwhelmed or bored out of your mind during the school year.
It’s generally not a good idea to fill your schedule entirely with AP classes. If you want to have a certain number of AP classes by the time you graduate, plan beforehand so that you spread them across multiple school years.
In addition, make sure not to take AP classes just because they’re weighted and “advanced.” If you’re not interested in the class or the general concepts it practices (i.e. math in AP physics, critical reading in AP English…), you’ll likely struggle.
Therefore, follow these steps when choosing your schedule for next year:
- Determine how many APs you want to take. I don’t suggest filling your entire schedule with them!
- Examine the classes offered and find out which you are allowed to take (some only allow upperclassmen, some have prerequisites, etc).
- Research a little about each class and figure out what you do in the class.
- Choose your classes based on your research and personal preferences!
Study With Other Students
You are never alone in an AP class. Your classmates are normal students just like you, and if you’re struggling with something, they might be as well! At the same time, they might know something you don’t (and vice versa), and you can help each other out.
Holding study sessions with other students is a habit you must build. Having an open space for discussion can help you fill the holes in your knowledge, as well as help others do the same.
During a study session, make sure to:
- Bring your notes and laptop so you can update your notes and research more when you need it.
- Ask questions, try to answer others’ questions, make connections, revise your notes…
- Bring snacks and take short breaks every once in a while!
I’ve found that study sessions are great places to practice answering AP FRQs. Most AP exams have free-response questions that resemble short essays. In a group, you can go through released prompts and brainstorm them together, and you’ll hear great ideas you may have never thought of yourself!
YOU’LL LOVE THIS POST: The Easiest Way To Maximize Your Next Study Session
Talk To Your Teacher
Don’t be scared to talk to your teacher! In general, your teacher wants you to succeed (not just for you, but for their own “reputation” in the field).
Your teacher has probably been teaching the subject for a while, and they may be able to give you specific pieces of advice and additional resources.
Most teachers allow students to ask questions after class and during breaks (such as lunch), so make sure to use that time wisely! Especially when reviewing past exams or studying for upcoming ones, ask questions! Here are some things to keep in mind:
- If you can Google the answer, do it. Don’t ask your teacher questions like “in what year did World War II start?”, because you can find the answer online.
- Ask your friends before asking the teacher. If you’re not sure why you got an answer wrong on a test, discuss with other students first.
- Be watchful of your teacher’s time and be aware of other students who may need help.
- Be polite and respectful, but don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions if you don’t understand something.
Because AP classes are college-level courses, you will be expected to be much more independent. Your teacher will not be there to guide you through every step of the learning process, and you are expected to be accountable for yourself.
You may also find yourself falling behind in class, and that’s okay (it’s normal!). AP classes move very fast, and you may find it difficult to get used to the pace at first.
You won’t be learning all the material in class, and instead, you must do your own research after class to truly dig deep into the concept and understand it. But don’t worry, you can use resources for this:
Make it a habit to review every week, or even every day. Even if you’ve been attentive and active in class, you need to take 1 more step to ensure that the information stays in your brain: review.
After school, look over the presentation from class or the notes you took. Make sure you still understand everything (especially confusing concepts you may have highlighted during class) and add anything you feel may be necessary or helpful.
In addition, periodically review these materials after class (with friends if you wish!). By regularly reinforcing the information, your brain will find it easier and easier to recall it later. This means that you actually remember them when the test comes around!
Take Practice Tests
If there’s one thing I learned from my experience of AP classes, it’s that practice makes a difference– especially for multiple-choice questions.
In the usual College Board style, the AP exams’ multiple-choice questions are more nuanced than the ones you may be used to. They are not simple knowledge questions (such as “What are proteins made of?”) but rather application questions (such as “Which piece of evidence best describes how this mutation caused the tumor?”).
In my experience, the only effective way to fully grasp the “tricks” of these questions is to do more practice. As you get exposed to more similar questions, you’ll gradually find it easier to immediately identify the idea in question and find the best answer.
Similarly, FRQs (free-response questions) take time to master. These are usually more essay-like, and it’s important to practice under time constraints and fully memorize the structure the College Board is looking for.
You can find reliable practice tests on AP Classroom (a branch of College Board, directed towards AP students). Note that your teacher must be verified and assign you the tests before you can actually access them.
You can also find released FRQs for each AP subject on the College Board website.
Like I’ve mentioned a few times, AP classes are college-level classes in which you are expected to be independent; you must be organized and accountable, because no one else is going to give you constant reminders.
This means that you must build productive habits, such as:
- Writing down homework assignments as soon as you get them
- Not waiting until the last minute to do homework (not procrastinating)
- Plan ahead and track important due dates
- Set schedules and routines
- Learn to prioritize and organize your to-do list
Last but not least, remember to take care of yourself! Academics are important, but your health is more so. Like I always mention in my blog posts, a healthy body and mind is essential for a productive body and mind.
So make sure you’re practicing healthy habits! Remember to:
- Get enough sleep per night (aim for more than 8 hours!)
- Always eat timely meals (don’t skip breakfast!)
- Eat balanced meals
- Drink enough water
- Get enough sun (take daily walks!)
And that’s it! There’s no secret to success when it comes to AP classes, but there are various effective things you can do to make it easier to succeed. All the strategies I covered in this post are tried and true, and I hope they were helpful for you!
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