From Stress to Success: AP Exam Prep Secrets Revealed

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AP Exams start this week! That means almost three million high school students across the nation are gearing up to take one or more of the standardized tests from the College Board, which offer an opportunity to earn college credits. These annual exams, covering subjects as varied as calculus, world history, and psychology, demand not only a deep understanding of content but also the ability to apply knowledge in complex scenarios. 

The benefits of AP Exams go beyond the allure of gaining college credits; they allow students to challenge themselves academically, improve their college applications, and gain a taste of college-level courses. However, the rigorous nature of these exams can also be daunting. As the review sessions ramp up and the study sessions grow longer, students might feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material and the pressure to perform well.

We asked employees from Macmillan Learning and BFW Publishers to share some of their top tips and strategies to help students navigate their study sessions effectively, reduce stress, and maximize their performance on the upcoming AP Exams. Here’s what they shared with us:

Try not to stress. Macmillan Learning employee Lisa Grosbier, Executive Rep for High School, wants students to know that they already have it in them to pass. Relax and remember that you have worked all year towards this and you've got the skills and tools you need to nail this!” She also encourages students to try to get a good night sleep the night before and have a good breakfast the day of the exam.

Space out studying over time. Janna Tolleson, High School Sales Rep for North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia encourages students to chunk their studying. “When you do that, it gives your brain time to process the information and make connections in your brain. When you go back to review and begin studying a second part, then the initial information becomes part of a stronger connection in your memory. It also helps you figure out where you're strong and where you need more review and it allows you the time to do that.”

Focus on the essay. For some subjects, especially those in the humanities, the essay or free-response section is crucial; it can be make or break for passing as it often represents a significant portion of the exam's total score. Macmillan Learning Recruiter Ngozi Lush believes that focusing on that section is the way to go. “It's about how effectively you can compile evidence from texts you learned in class because the most prominent point is the contextual part of the essay session.”

Use your textbook. Sr. Director of Communications Marisa Bluestone encourages students to go with the tried and true method of studying -- the textbook. “While it’s been some time since I took the exam, I remember relying heavily on my textbooks, as I knew they were designed specifically to support the AP Exams. Their structured explanations, detailed reviews of key concepts and practice questions are invaluable tools, and they provide practice scenarios that mirror the format of the AP Exams. It helped me turn my nervous energy into a focused, strategic approach to test preparation, which helped me pass all four exams.”

Mix up the study tools. Macmillan Learning College Account Manager Rosie Loiacono recalls taking the AP exam, and offered one of her tips for getting a top score. “Use different media while studying! Watching videos, specifically the Crash Course series by John and Hank Green, helped me conceptualize all of my written notes by adding visuals and fun narration. If there's a podcast on the topic you can listen to while studying your note cards, it might help the info stick better.”

Keep it in perspective. Janie Pierce-Bratcher, BFW Director of Marketing, reminds students about their self worth, noting “Remember that your value as a person is not determined by how you do on this exam. Regardless of the outcome, you are better for having pushed yourself to take this class. AP exams are hard, but the more you do hard things, the better you get at them. So, see, you’re better already and you haven’t even taken the exam. (This is coming from a mom who pushed her child and should’ve given this advice instead.)”

Ed tech can help with practice. Katie McGaughey, Publisher's Rep Kansas & Western Missouri, noted that many students have access to educational technology and digital learning courseware like Sapling and LaunchPad. To help prepare for the test, they should take some of the sample exams and work through the solutions with their teachers.

Write it out: BFW Marketing Intern Emily Wills wrote as she studied. “If I was taking a practice test or rereading notes and something felt important or it was something I kept misremembering, I'd write it down in a new set of notes. So then I'd have an extra study guide that was just the stuff I needed extra help with and physically writing it down helped solidify it in my memory.”

Use memory tricks: Carter Brantley, also a BFW Marketing Intern, used buzzwords to help him remember what was important and trigger knowledge. He described it as “thinking of phrases that would help me to remember certain information. Like something that would bring all the information back.”

As you can see, preparation for the AP exams is not just about memorizing facts; it’s about understanding concepts and applying them. Throughout the year, students put in tremendous effort, and these final days are just about pulling all that knowledge together. Use the tips shared by our Macmillan Learning and BFW experts to guide your study sessions, manage stress, and approach your exams with confidence. Good luck on the exams!

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