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6 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Taking my First AP Course

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AP classes can be a lot of things: confusing, intriguing, dull, enlightening–the list of contrasting opinions and experiences goes on and on. But, one commonly shared trait between all APs?

They’re stressful, even more so if it’s your first AP. It can be difficult to set up study routines, keep up with the rigorous and fast-paced course-load, and maintain adequate mental health at the same time.

While everybody’s experience is different when approaching their first AP class and test, there are six tips and lessons in particular that I would have benefited from knowing before I stepped foot into my first AP classroom.

Go to office hours

If your AP teacher(s) offer office hours, utilize them! Office hours are a fantastic place to get one-on-one and small group reviews, ask questions you didn’t have time to ask in class, and get help on practice problems, homework, and tricky content.

They’re also an ideal place to see how other students are preparing for an exam, find new resources and study partners, and get motivation to study more. Even when I don’t have questions or a test isn’t on the imminent horizon, I’ve found office hours to be a quiet space where I can put my head down and get thorough, quality studying in.

And, if a question should arise as I work, I can turn to my teacher for help instead of helplessly looking for old explanation videos and walkthroughs.

Ask questions as they come up, not a month later

In every class, but especially in APs where content is flown through at a much quicker pace, make a point to ask questions in the moment you have them, not the day before the test. For one, you’ll likely forget the question and walk around with the unshakeable feeling you’ve forgotten something you needed.

Not clarifying the content you’re lost with when you’re taught it will make the rest of the material down the line much more confusing. So, to give yourself maximum time to practice and improve on the topic, set yourself up for success for the rest of the unit and even to simply make sure you remember the question.

Don’t save all your hesitations till the last moment. Be it through email, class, or office hours, ask your questions when they first pop into your mind.

Have allies in your class, not just friends

In sixth grade, my English teacher stressed the importance of finding an ally in each of your classes. I didn’t understand what she meant until I was a semester into AP Biology and realized belatedly that very few of my close friends and I had similar approaches to the class. 

Whereas friends make class fun and engaging, an ally (who is sometimes already a great friend) operates on the same academic wave as you and can help keep you accountable and caught up when you need help. They may not be the person you hang out with on the weekend, but they are someone who you can talk to when you’re confused about a lesson.

If you miss class, you can depend on one of your class allies to be able to explain the content you missed in a way that makes sense to both of you. If you’re looking for someone to peer-edit your lab report or DBQ, an ally is often more likely to give you straight-to-the-point feedback than someone you’ve been friends with for years. 

Finding allies in my classes, some of whom I was already close with and others who I hadn’t known for long, helped me considerably, expanded my support system, and even led to the start of valuable friendships. 

Tips To Help You Ace Your AP Exams

You don’t have to use all of your resources

It seems that there are endless resources, free and not, to use when studying for tests and the exam in May. It quickly becomes overwhelming to scroll through page after page of study guides, quizzes, and review videos that promise to increase your understanding of content and mastery of assessment.

At the end of the day, your time is limited, and there will always be more resources sent around and searched up than you could ever use.

The first few units of any class, especially an AP, are the ideal time to try out various resources and figure out what works for you, whether it be reading the textbook or creating flashcards to quiz yourself on. While it’s never a bad thing to have a running list of resources you can fall back on if you need extra support or practice, it’s also important to find a system that’s ideal for you and that doesn’t burn you out or stress you out even more.

By finding and sticking with the handful of resources that mesh well with your learning and studying style, class becomes much more manageable and reliable.

Use your favorite resources

If you’re less concerned about overusing resources rather than finding any resources to begin with, there is luckily a surplus of resources available for free online. For STEM APs, as well as some selective humanities classes, Khan Academy has AP-aligned courses separated by subtopic with videos, articles, and quizzes for each section.

The quizzes and tests are fantastic MCQ practice and are often similar in style to the questions used on unit tests. I’ve found that Khan Academy is an excellent supplement for a prep book and is much more engaging and helpful when it comes to providing feedback.

AP Classroom similarly has excellent resources, though some courses have better and more options than others. Each unit on AP Classroom features a short video(s) per subtopic, which are excellent review videos, though in my experience, science courses have better videos than others.

Even more valuable are the dozens of FRQ and MCQ progress checks and quizzes available. Teachers can make such assignments available to you for practice and can even allow students to self-score FRQ questions, lessening the workload of the teachers and allowing you to interact with an AP style rubric simultaneously. Each question is AP level and has a detailed explanation for each answer chance.

For video review, my favorite STEM videos come from Carrara’s unit-by-unit review, and Heimler’s History makes history classes much more manageable.

Brace yourself for the “AP slip”

Perhaps the hardest part of taking an AP for the first time is altering your mindset to understand that even if you study as much as you can, exhaust every resource you find, and go to office hours religiously, your grade still may not be where you want it to be.

It’s hard, especially if you’re taking an AP in a subject you’re usually strong in, to get some of the lowest test grades you’ve ever gotten. It’s something I and my classmates struggled and continue to struggle with. 

That isn’t to say you won’t be able to end the class with your desired grade: it’s fully achievable and it’s important to not let a temporary setback discourage you from going after the grade you feel you can get.

Rather, go into an AP knowing that the course is likely more fast paced and the tests harder than what you’ve experienced thus far, and it’s okay if you don’t do stellar on every essay or lab report. It’s not the end of your A or your chance at a 5 if you struggle with a topic, whether it be at the beginning or end of the school year.

APs can be brutal, and not doing as well as you normally do in school isn’t uncommon nor a permanent detriment to your eventual success.  

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Author: Maya Henry

Maya Henry (she/her) is a happy crier and cherry tomato enthusiast attending high school in California. She aims to be a political journalist or policy analyst when she's done with school, and when not taking pictures of her dog, you'll find her reading a historical fiction novel, baking pumpkin bread, or debating the merits of communism with her brother.