How to score a 3 or higher on your AP exam(s)

How to score a 3 or higher on your AP exam(s)

Lauryn Lieske

Calling all students currently enrolled in any AP class: this is your time to study, practice, get ready, and brace yourself mentally and physically for your AP exam(s). For any AP exam, stamina, grit, focus, careful reading skills, and expertise are key factors into being successful when taking the exam. This year, AP exams begin on May 7th and end on May 18th, so with less than a week to go, these tips and tricks will guide you into scoring a three or higher on your exam(s):

1.Take timed practice tests.

If you go to, you can take full-length practice AP exam tests. For more guidelines on how to do this, there are instruction sheets located in the New Berlin West library.  

“I hear from students that they often think that [practice multiple choice tests and essays] were the most beneficial thing that we do,” said Erin Schwane, NBW AP Language and Composition teacher. “But, I hear from a lot of students, even if they didn’t think that they didn’t have a problem with pacing, that still just doing those timed tests is really beneficial for them because they know what it feels like, I guess, like how much they have to get done in a certain amount of time the day of the exam.”

2. Use practice materials like AP test prep books and flashcards.

In the West library,  you can check out Barron’s or The Princeton Review AP test prep books, or you can go to room 213 and buy your own AP practice test book for ten dollars. Speak with Mrs. Cincotta or Ms. Uhen for additional information if you’re interested.

“Some students buy books and don’t use them, but I do think they’re helpful because the first part of the book usually summarizes [test-taking] strategies that I’ve covered throughout the year so it’s nice to have those all in one place,” Schwane said. “Then of course it provides practice tests for all parts of the exam. For multiple choice, they have the answer explanations which always is nice to not just find out if you’re right or wrong but what the reasons are.”

Daniel Counsell, the AP Psychology teacher at West, explained that his students should practice answering copious amounts of practice questions in order to prepare for the AP Psych exam. “I would say that they [students] should be using the materials that they have used all year – notes they’ve taken all year and their textbook. But, what’s also really important is to do a lot of practice questions. In the Psych book, there’s questions there, there’s questions online, there’s a lot of test prep books out there for really every AP course,” Counsell said. “And so, for AP Psych, one that I’ve recommended is the Barron’s book because it’s got a lot of really good practice questions and good summaries, so a test prep book would be helpful to have. Even though the AP exams are just a little ways away, it’s still helpful to get one. It’s crunch time and those come in handy during crunch time.”

When discussing the idea of flashcards during preparation for the AP Psych exam, Counsell said, “AP Psych is very, very content heavy where there is a lot terms so it could be helpful for that. Barron’s has like five hundred flashcards, but there’s also flashcards on Quizlet that are already ready to go.”

3. Know the areas of your AP test you have trouble with.

It’s important to recognize your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to the exam you are preparing to take. If you had difficulty with a particular section during your AP course and are stronger in other areas, then you know you need to spend more time studying and practicing for the part of the class work you have the most trouble with. You can also go to the website,, to watch videos that relate to the topics and terms assessed on your AP test if you are confused on the material.

4. Download AP Exam apps.

If you download AP exam apps on your phone, you can answer a multiple-choice question of the day, take practice multiple-choice tests, and review the reasons why the answers you chose on the practice tests were correct or incorrect.  

Schwane has recommended a Word of the Day app to assist her students in improving their vocabulary levels in order to use better word choice when writing their essays.

“Being aware of vocabulary and kind of looking out for it and thinking about it can help a lot. But really, something like a Word of the Day app, vocabulary books, and doing a Quizlet can start building your vocab as well as writing with it, too. You can look at [a Word of the Day app] and do it with a friend or do it with a family member, and then make a point of trying to use the word of the day,” Schwane said. “When you read other texts for other classes or just for yourself, if you see a word and you know it was on an AP test or a text you talked about in class, allowing that to register and kind of looking out for words.”

5. Keep up with your assignments and tests to avoid cramming.

Schwane spoke about spacing out when her students work on practice multiple-choice tests in contrast with working on them a week before the test.

“With all that practice timed tests, you just have to do it over an extended period of time,” Schwane said. “You know, if you do some practice work the week before, yes that’s helping you, but it’s not helping you to the same extent than if you’ve been doing practice timed work for weeks and weeks or months and months.”  

Schwane also stressed the importance on rewriting essays and retaking multiple-choice tests if her students received a not-so-great score. Although tedious and time-consuming, Schwane said that multiple-choice test corrections compel her students to go back to reread the passages, which helps enhance their reading skills, as well as define vocabulary words her students don’t know the meaning of.  

“Two years ago, I actually looked at all my students who got fours and fives [on their AP Language exam] and then I went back to look in my grade book at who did rewrites on essays and they were all of the students who did rewrites,” Schwane said. “When I look at students who often don’t do as well, those are usually students who haven’t engaged in rewrites or test corrections.”

Counsell said that keeping up with assigned class notes in the textbook is “very important because for one thing, we cover a lot of stuff, and so as we go through the year, it’s natural that some might get a little rusty on things earlier in the year. Well, when it’s time to review, it doesn’t take as long to relearn the material because we’ve already gone through it. As opposed to someone experiencing it for the first time,” Counsell said. “If they haven’t really done a whole lot and now they’re trying to learn all of this at once, that’s not a good spot to be in. But, if you’ve been keeping up with everything, and then it’s time to go back and review that stuff from way back in September and October, it’ll come back to you hopefully fairly quickly as opposed to trying to understand it for the first time right before the exam.”

Counsell discussed the value of retakes for his class and said that it ultimately depends.

“If a students truly puts in the time – something didn’t go well for whatever reason and they put in the time to really understand it – I think it’s beneficial to retake whatever part, especially when it’s a targeted-type retake where it’s not the whole test again, but instead, this is the specific stuff that a student doesn’t understand, let’s deal with this,” Counsell said. “But then, at a certain point, there’s gotta be no retakes, so like the last test for us before the AP exam, it covers the whole year, there’s no retakes, and you gotta be ready. I think it’s important to have at least one test like that to get that in their [students’] minds that this is it.”

6. Develop a plan to set aside time to study, take practice tests, and review notes prior to your exam.

There are AP study night sessions held at the New Berlin Public Library on April 25th-27th and 29th as well as on May 3rd-9th. There will be food, quiet study rooms, prizes, and therapy dog visits. There are banners regarding more on this information hung up in the West library.

When talking about her students preparing for the AP Language and Composition exam outside of class, Schwane said, “I do everything I can in class, but really, the students who are getting fours and fives are the students who are doing a lot of practice outside of class on their own just because they’re getting much more practice.”

Counsell mentioned that it is necessary to make a study schedule in order to space out when students study for any AP exam.

“Some students have multiple AP exams so they really have to budget their time well. But, whether you have one AP exam or four or whatever it might be, I think it’s really important to make a schedule and that you’re studying for your AP classes just about every day,” Counsell said. “Just because there’s not like an assignment that night, doesn’t mean you’re off now. No, it means you have to make time to do practice questions and reviewing, things like that.”

7. Read all parts of the prompt on the FRQs.

Free Response Questions on the AP exams can either really help your score or not help your score at all depending on how often you practice writing FRQs prior to the exam, carefully examine the FRQ questions, study and review terms, and how fast you write and develop your thoughts and ideas clearly. According to IvyWise KnowledgeBase, “the readers who score your exam are looking at whether you’ve developed a well-reasoned argument and whether you’ve presented it in an organized and coherent manner. Outlining the free responses or essays will help you write the essay faster, make your argument stronger, and ensure your essay is better-organized and more coherent.”

8. Don’t get perplexed on one particular question in the multiple choice section of the exam. It’s better to guess and move on than to run out of time.

IvyWise KnowledgeBase says, “You will not be penalized for wrong multiple-choice answers so it is better to guess rather than skip questions. Even eliminating a single answer choice will pay off if you can even marginally increase odds of guessing the right answer over the course of an entire AP exam.”

Counsell spoke about the factor of timing for his AP Psych class and said that most students had some time left when taking the multiple-choice section of the exam.

“[Timing] is only really an issue if someone just gets like so stuck on one question and that they don’t keep going but they just stay there,” Counsell said. “So, if you have good test-taking skills, timing shouldn’t be an issue.”

The night before your AP exam, according to WikiHow, you should get at least eight hours of sleep. Be sure to also put your phone, computer, and tablet away one hour before you go to bed. You can also try exercising a little bit everyday in order to “help you focus when you study and fall asleep when you need to.” Cramming the night before your AP exam can sometimes be unproductive and ineffective. It’s better to study in chunks such as studying for thirty minutes everyday until your exam than studying all at once the night before. The morning before your AP test, eat a protein-rich breakfast such as eggs, a granola bar, oatmeal, yogurt, or peanut butter. WikiHow said that eating a breakfast with protein will “give yourself the energy to make it through the test.” All in all, IvyWise KnowledgeBase said, “preparing for AP exams can be stressful, but by starting early, developing a test prep plan, and knowing what to expect the day of the test, you can set yourself up for success on test day.”

The last advice about AP Language and Composition Exam tips Schwane gave was about creating a positive mindset before taking the exam:

“Well, the first thing or the thing that I think is most important is your attitude, and [stamina] is tied to the attitude and the attacking it. I think going in to the test, telling yourself that you’re prepared for this because I think you’re prepared for it and attacking the exam is something that I talk about, meaning that you should go in and give it you’re all,” Schwane said. “It’s a long test and it’s really hard but when you put it in perspective, it’s only three hours and fifteen minutes of your life that can save you a lot of money and save you a lot of time later on, so it’s worth giving it your all.”

In addition, Counsell wanted to say, “Good luck to everybody, study hard, keep studying, and when you think you’re done, study some more – overlearning effect.”