The road to a 4 or 5 on AP exams starts early and includes serious talk about how hard the exam is, supplementary materials, and free candy.

Don’t wait to start helping students ace their AP exams

The road to a 4 or 5 starts on the first day of class and includes serious talk about how hard the exam is, offering supplementary materials, and some free candy

Students across the country take AP exams in hopes of earning high exam scores that help them opt out of college prerequisites and ultimately save money on tuition. Unfortunately, as many as 40 percent of students who take AP exams will earn a 1 or a 2 on those tests, which will not help them test out and earn those coveted college credits. 

As a former high school teacher and current content author for AP History and Social Sciences, I’ve learned several key strategies to help your students earn the AP scores they need to assist them in their academic careers—and retain the material that they have learned.

1. Start talking about the test on Day 1.

When students take an AP class, they need to know what they’re in for. Let students know that they can expect the test to be rigorous and that, as a result, they need to be prepared. It’s not just the test that’s challenging, though. AP classes are focused on preparing students for the rigor of college coursework, so AP teachers need to look beyond the test to help students gain the skills and knowledge they’ll need in college and in their careers.

That being said, you should continue talking about the test throughout the semester. This includes teaching test-taking strategies including:

  • Active Reading: When I was a classroom teacher, I collaborated with the English department to teach students to become active readers, which makes it easier for them to pick out the information they really need from AP test passages and questions alike. As a result, they’re better able to identify what those questions are really asking.
  • Essay Rubrics: Early in the semester, provide students with the rubric for the essay sections of the test. When students have the rubrics in hand, they can work on the writing skills that are specific to the test they’ll be taking.
  • Process of Elimination: For multiple-choice tests, students should know about the process of elimination. When they can eliminate some of the possible answers for a question, they can focus on choosing among the ones that are more likely to be correct. 

2. Give students as much practice as possible answering questions that look like the AP exam. 

From bell-ringers at the beginning of class periods all the way to unit exams, make sure your questions match the test as much as possible. Using AP test questions and AP test question formats accomplishes two goals: 1) It makes students more comfortable with those questions, which decreases anxiety and makes them more comfortable on exam day. 2) It puts students in a better position to remember and answer those questions when the time comes. 

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