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Your AP Exam Survival Guide


Feeling nervous about Advanced Placement exams? You’re not alone, and we definitely don’t blame you for feeling a little test anxiety. But if you’re feeling like you don’t know where to start, have no fear! From study strategies to test-day snacks, we’ve got you covered with all the steps for acing your AP exams.

Choose the right study technique

Everyone has his or her own ideas about which study strategies are most effective. But recent studies have indicated that the old-school methods of highlighting and re-reading notes may not actually be as helpful as we thought.

Researchers at Kent State University tested the relative utility of 10 commonly used learning techniques for retaining large amounts of material. Of the 10 techniques tested, the five with the lowest utility ratings included highlighting and rereading—ironically, two of the most heavily relied-upon study techniques. On the other hand, practice tests and distributed practice proved to be highly effective.

So put down your highlighter and pick up those practice exams! And forget about last-minute cram sessions. Jenn Gold, a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, can definitely relate to feeling bogged down in exam stress. With five APs to prepare for her senior year, Jenn says “the worst thing honestly was the anxiety. But the best way to ace them is to think about them in little chunks. Study little pieces at a time and have faith in yourself that you know the information.”

Use your resources

Ever been to the College Board's AP Central website? Now might be a good time to check it out.

Not only does this site have practice questions for each subject, but it also offers sample student essays for many subjects, such as AP U.S. History and AP English Language and Composition.

Another thing to consider is purchasing a review book. This can help with time management and with providing a digestible review of all of the material you need to know for the exam. Furthermore, if your AP teacher missed teaching you something, you won’t be at a disadvantage for not being exposed to any of the material.

There are a multitude of options out there, but some popular books to look into are Barron’s AP test prep series and McGraw-Hill’s 5 Steps to a 5 series.

Eat right

You might not think your diet has much to do with your test scores, but food is fuel, and what you’re putting into your body can really effect how you perform on the exam.

“First of all, don't overeat, especially during [the] test; small and healthy [meals] is the way to go,” says registered dietitian Elisa Bremner.

According to Bremner, certain foods are actually linked to increased concentration and memory function. For starters, eggs, walnuts and blueberries are among the top “brain-boosting” options out there.

Eggs contain the essential nutrient choline, which, according to Bremner, increases memory function, and the serotonin in walnuts helps keep you to stay calm and focused. In order to make it through the whole exam without losing steam, make sure that your morning-of breakfast includes both a complex carbohydrate and a protein. Some great breakfast options include:

  • Whole-wheat toast with almond butter and banana slices. Top it with cinnamon for a flavor boost!
  • A Greek yogurt parfait with walnuts and blueberries. Add a dash of honey for a little sweetness.
  • An omelet with spinach and mushrooms. The protein from the eggs and the fiber from the spinach will keep you satisfied during those grueling test hours.

The same goes for snacks. The AP tests are very long, but luckily you’ll get a quick break generally about halfway through the exam. Take advantage of this opportunity to refuel.

Steer clear of junk food, which can leave you feeling bloated and drowsy. Instead, Maria Simonetti, the director of community health education and outreach at Northern Westchester Hospital, suggests packing a snack with a healthy balance of protein and natural carbs.

Some test-day snack favorites include:

  • Carrots with hummus. Sabra sells convenient snack packs that are great for packing on the go!
  • Yogurt with fruit. Try Fage Greek yogurts. Fage separates its fruit from the yogurt, so you have more control over how much sugar you’re adding compared to fruit-on-the-bottom brands. Plus, the extra protein in Greek yogurt will keep you satisfied for longer, so you won’t have to worry about your belly grumbling mid-exam.   
  • Raw, unsalted almonds. Stay away from trail mix varieties with too many sugary ingredients, like M&Ms or dried fruit, which can pack in loads of sugar and extra calories. Try sticking mainly to raw, unsalted nuts.

Treat yourself along the way

Yes, it’s crunch time. But that doesn’t mean that AP exams should consume your life. As Simonetti says about teen health, “It’s all about balance.”

Help yourself to stay on track by rewarding yourself when you do well. A study conducted at the University of Chicago explored the short-term effects of financial and non-financial incentives on students’ performance. Researchers found that when students were promised rewards for doing well on tests, their scores increased.

Did you ace a practice exam? Treat yourself to a manicure. It’s Friday and you’ve stuck to your study schedule the whole week through? Grab some celebratory fro-yo.

Annabelle Tourkam, a freshman at George Mason University, uses Netflix to reward herself for good study habits. “It gives me something to look forward to and I feel that I deserve to have downtime because I put in the time and effort to study,” she says.

And don’t forget to treat yourself after the exam, either. You’re almost there! Anxiety is a killer—don’t let it get you. Eat a good breakfast and believe that you know the material. We know you do!

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