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Advanced Placement® Exam Preparation and Test Taking Tips

student prepares for AP exam

Dee Dee Whitaker
Product Content Manager

March 2018

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Test day!

Students are counting down the days until AP® exams begin. What can you do to help students with the final push to test day? We’d like to share some helpful resources with you…

General test taking tips

Throughout the school year, your students have compiled and organized class notes and investigations by the Big Ideas or a course topic outline, made flash cards, and corrected classroom tests. Here are a few more tips for students that they may have forgotten.

  • Written responses make up a large portion of an AP® exam. Clear, concise, and complete free response question (FRQ) answers are a must. Review technical writing dos and don’ts with students.
  • Students must clearly explain their thinking and reasoning for both text and numerical responses.
  • Students need to be familiar with the College Board® reference table for the appropriate exam.
  • Review math and graphing skills with students. Remind students that they must show their work and carry all units throughout the problem-solving process.
  • Review significant figures with students.
  • Review all course labs and ensure that students can explain the principle(s) behind each lab and connect the principles to the course main ideas.
  • Review the components of good experimental design.
  • Keep track of time during both sections of the exam.
  • Have all the necessary tools—pencil, eraser, black or blue pen, and an approved calculator if applicable. Be sure to leave other items at home or in a secure location.
  • Make sure students know how to use and are well-practiced with the calculators they are taking to the exam.
  • Be physically prepared—rested, well nourished, and hydrated.
  • Dress in layers.

AP® Biology

  • Students need to be familiar with the 4 course themes and the topics that are listed in each big idea:
    • Evolution
    • Energy use and matter exchange in biological systems
    • Transmission of information in biological systems
    • Interaction of biological systems 
  • Students should be well-versed in synthesizing information from all topics to answer questions. Students should be able to relate terms and topics to the Big Ideas.
  • “Carolina’s Recommended Reading for AP® Biology” is a list of staff favorites to accompany content from each of the Big Ideas and helps put course content into context.
  • “Using Bioinformatics Tools and Databases in AP® Biology” is a summary of bioinformatics tools and techniques used in the field of molecular research. (This is a good review of current biotechnology techniques.)
  • Practice applicable statistical concepts.

AP® Chemistry

  • Students need to be familiar with the 6 Big Ideas:
    • Chemical elements are fundamental building materials of matter and all matter can be understood in terms of arrangement of atoms.
    • Chemical and physical properties of materials can be explained by the structure and arrangements of atoms, ions, or molecules and the forces between them.
    • Changes in matter involve the rearrangement and/or reorganization of atoms and/or the transfer of electrons; rates of chemical reactions are determined by details of the molecular collisions.
    • Rates of chemical reactions are determined by details of the molecular collisions.  
    • The laws of thermodynamics describe the essential role of energy and explain and predict the direction of changes in matter.
    • Any bond or intermolecular attraction that can be formed can be broken.

AP® Environmental Science

AP® Environmental Science does not have a set of Big Ideas but does have a set of overarching themes and major topics that students should be familiar with.

  • Students need to be familiar with these course themes:
    • Science is a process.
    • Energy conversions underlie all ecological processes.
    • The Earth itself is one interconnected system.
    • Humans alter natural systems.
    • Environmental problems have a cultural and social context.
    • Human survival depends on developing practices that will achieve sustainable systems.
  • The environmental topics of greatest importance include:
  • Earth systems and resources
  • The living world
  • Population
  • Land and water use
  • Energy resources and consumption
  • Pollution
  • Global change
  • Students should be well-versed in synthesizing information from all topics to answer questions. Students should be able to relate terms and topics to the course themes and topics.
  • Encourage students to look at tips from other AP® Environmental Science instructors:
  • Reinforce math skills like problem setup, conversion factors, significant figures, and appropriate units.

AP® exam preparation can be stressful for both teachers and students. We’ve gathered the “Top 10 Tips from AP® Summer Institute Instructors” as an additional support tool.

For students, an entire course comes down to a 3- or 4-hour test. Their score is not a matter of luck—it’s a matter of consistent preparation. As the saying goes, “I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” Share that with your students as they make the final push to test day.

Shop All AP® Biology Shop All AP® Chemistry Shop All AP® Environmental

5 Steps to a 5: AP® Chemistry Book (840562)
AP® Chemistry for Dummies (450179)
Cliffs AP® Biology Book (451013)

AP® is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board®, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, these products.

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