College Game Plan

Taking the AP Test? Five Tips to Help You Make the Grade

Advanced Placement exams are on the horizon for high school students, and with them comes plenty of anxiety. The tests determine students’ mastery of college-level course material in classes ranging from physics to English literature to psychology. The nerves are justified: AP exam scores often show up on high school transcripts and could determine whether students earn college credits or higher course placements in college.

So, where to begin when it comes to studying for the big tests? Trevor Packer, Senior Vice President of Advanced Placement and Instruction at the College Board, the company that produces the exams, has some tips:

Familiarize yourself with the exam details.

Do your research, says Packer, and you’ll feel more confident. “Look up your course on the AP Students page to find out exactly what you can expect on test day,” he said. “For example, how long the AP exam will be and what question types will be on it.”


The College Board offers practice questions straight from the test source on its website under the “Exam Practice” link. “Spend some time on the questions, then score your answers. See how you did — the areas you scored well in and, especially, the areas where you can still improve,” Packer said.

Pay attention to details.

Under the same Exam Practice link on the College Board website are course descriptions. They include even more details about what students can expect on the specific exams, said Packer, and also offers even more practice questions.

Team up.

Students can benefit from banding together and forming exam study groups. Said Packer: “You can support and encourage each other all the way through exam day.”

Get a full night’s sleep — and a full breakfast.

On the top of any AP student’s exam day get-ready list should be self-care, said Packer.

College admissions expert and Admissions Revolution founder Sara Harberson says one of AP students’ best weapons is right in front of their face every school day: their teachers.

Special report: Get more tips and advice about college at College Game Plan

“Students should lean on their teachers, who have typically taught the AP course for years,” she told NBC News.

“These veteran teachers know the exams like the back of their hands. In fact, many of them have served as AP exam readers.”

The 5 Best College Majors for the Money 1:55

Any extra study sessions or tutoring AP teachers offer should be considered can’t-miss events, Harberson said.

As for what is at stake with AP exam scores, Harberson encouraged students to take some comfort in knowing that AP scores are not necessarily required for college admissions.

Related: How to Score College Scholarships — Even if You're Not a 'Genius'

“Sure, colleges want to see the scores, and to some extent, they expect to see them if the student took the AP course in high school. But if the student doesn't ace the exam, those scores never need to see the light of day,” she said.