Surviving the AP exams : A Testimony From A 2017 Exam Taker

By Sanho Kim.

It was the first week of May, during which most of Korea enjoyed its monstrous 10-day holiday. The country was celebrating the beginning of spring, as families packed their camping material and business people finally got some sleep. Our school, however, was kept open. It didn’t matter if we were supposed to take some days off and enjoy the sunny breezes — for the rest of the world, it was AP season, and that meant stress, insomnia (my personal archenemy), cramming, and a seemingly endless abyss of work.

My lost holiday aside, AP exams are something many college-preparing students across the world will be troubled with. While the opportunity to learn college-level material and express the ability to do so is surely something to be appreciated, the load and stress of the experience is likely to stump even the brightest student. Hence, as someone who has gone through 2 AP-taking years so far, I believe my experience can be of help to those in need by providing an honest, in-depth look.

A Bad Example

Back in middle school, I only had a vague idea of what AP exams were. I saw my future self in an academically rigorous college, and was told that I better have a few AP scores. I wanted to study English, so I would have to take subjects such as English Literature and Composition. That was all I knew.

As a high school freshman, I began to engage myself some more. I decided to take AP Macroeconomics, English Literature, and Psychology, and bought preparatory books for all three (Kaplan). I fiddled with those over the blank, unstable days during which I wasn’t quite sure how to “study like a high school girl”, making notes and believing that knowing everything in the book would be enough.

I’ll be frank—it was horrible. My school offered only one of those courses to freshmen—Macroeconomics—and I soon found out that I would have to gather a bigger and deeper pool of knowledge. Although in the end, I did get a 5 for all, those stressful months have become a memory that still gives me shivers.

Making the Decision

If you do not want to end up passing some nightmarish months (as in the example above), the first thing you’ll want to do is choose the right subjects—and the earlier, the better. While after two years, I still pick my subjects based on how passionate and willing I am to study them, I have found that acing exams is not the only way of delving into the field. If a subject is desirable, but you are unable to access any helpful study resources or help, you could simply choose to devote your time to a research project, extracurricular activities, or even schoolwork. Remember: AP exams are supposed to be treats, not the main course.

Here are some questions that may guide you in making the right decision:

  • Does the subject interest you?
  • Do you have access to enough reading material and resources?
  • Do you have enough time to prepare for it?
  • Will the workload damage your GPA, activities you are passionate about, or your overall happiness?
  • Last but not least: Do you need it? Or should you invest your time more creatively, doing something that expands your mind and skills?

Preparing For the Exams: a Better Example

For this year’s exams, I started to “actively” prepare around November. Of course, I was taking AP classes for most of those subjects in school anyway, but that was when I switched from following the class curriculum to making prep notes and worrying about the months to come. From then on, throughout my winter vacation, I took winter AP prep classes that my school provided, while working separately on my own, quicker pace with books from the usual publishers (such as Barron’s, Princeton) and online resources (such as Quizlet and encyclopedia articles).

By March, while I still couldn’t confidently answer all questions from last year’s test, I had covered most of the material. By April, I was in the process of turning the information into something readily available in my mind, and in better detail.

Then, my preparation was interrupted for a few weeks, due to our untimely midterm exams—I chose to dedicate those days entirely to my schoolwork, again keeping in mind that APs were additional, after-school work.

By the last few weeks of April (and the first week of May), I was taking practice exams, scoring my own essays, and scanning my notes for the last time—and by the day before the test, I was skimming through the book again, making sure I knew everything and hadn’t missed anything. Obviously I wish I could’ve scanned the material a few more times, but I believe that in general, for hardworking students, this kind of plan should work.

On Test Day

At this point, I knew nothing new could be done—I simply re-read my notes (now in grimy tatters), and made sure that I checked the especially infuriating bits I had highlighted beforehand. I chose not to have a heavy meal, knowing that fullness combined with stress may lead to sickness.

By now, with only a few minutes left, stress and the possibility of failure didn’t bother me anymore—I know this sounds strange, but the primary source of torment was the act of taking the test itself. AP exams tend to go on for hours (usually about three), and by the end I just wanted to get done with it.

For new high school students, these college-level tests may seem intimidating. I won’t say that they are not, but with a good enough plan and an industrious attitude, most will end up with a conclusion similar to mine—while the preparing process is engaging and helpful, eventually the exams themselves become reduced to tasks you need to check off your list of chores. Work on it, and you’ll get it done.

Image Source:

Featured Image: This image was originally posted to Flickr by Chia Ying Yang. The image has been licensed for fair use by the creator under the Creative Commons license – Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0). No changes were made.


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