6 Tips for Rocking Your AP Classes

You’ve heard the horror stories: Making the decision to take AP classes means you’ve thrown away any hope of having a social life and replaced it with endless nights of homework and cramming for an impossible-sounding exam. In reality, however, AP classes aren’t the monstrous beasts survivors of said classes make them out to be. In fact, they can be a great option for collegiettes looking for a way to boost their college applications, earn credit before stepping foot inside a university and push themselves to learn a lot in the process. Check out HC’s pointers to learn how to transform your AP-filled schedule from a nightmarish semester to a killer opportunity for you to excel. 

1. Make sure you understood any summer work that was assigned.

As torturous or inhumane as it may have seemed, any work you were assigned to complete over the summer was given to you for a reason. The goal of summer homework is usually to help you get a sense of how much homework is assigned during the year as well as the level of difficulty of the class. Oftentimes this work is also meant to re-teach or reinforce past concepts of which you’re expected to start the year with a solid grasp. Obviously some of what you’re reading might also be new (e.g. a new fiction novel you had to read), but it’s also a great chance to review concepts like how to analyze a book to an English teacher’s satisfaction, or how to think critically about reading.

“Advanced Placement courses are very dense in terms of the content, and they are often cumulative, meaning the content builds upon itself over time,” says Jason Szporn, an AP Economics teacher at Edina High School in Minnesota. “What may begin as a small hole in content knowledge can quickly grow larger if a student doesn’t keep on top of the material.”

Ask your teacher questions if anything you learned over the summer was unclear or confusing. Make sure to ask for feedback about work completed over the summer and ask for advice about how to do better on future assignments to make sure you’re performing at the level expected of an AP student. Now is the perfect time to ask questions and clarify anything you didn’t understand; don’t wait until November or December to finally grasp what you were supposed to cover in August or September!

“If you get really stuck on something, definitely go ask for help right away. Don't wait till the last minute before a test to ask someone about it,” says Chloe Lee, an AP student at Hong Kong International School who offers tutoring for several AP classes.

2. Don’t procrastinate!

The reality of many AP courses is that they’re intentionally difficult. After all, these are classes taught at a college level that will hopefully earn you credit once you actually make it to the hallowed halls of a particular college or university. “Don't underestimate the difficulty and the amount of work that will be needed,” Chloe says.

Alexis Zimmer, an AP student at Viera High School in Florida, agrees. “If studying and practice is done consistently, then the end-of-year cramming should be nonexistent,” she says. “In fact, I really believe that small revisions at home every day after lectures in class is the best way to go, especially if students are balancing more than a few AP classes.” 

With the higher degree of difficulty associated with AP classes, it’s important to have a good grasp on how to manage your time. “Once enrolled in the course, I believe the key is to stay on top of the material and never to let oneself get too far behind,” advises Szporn.

Play with your schedule and figure out which times allow you to be most productive when working on assignments. Give yourself more time than you think you’ll need to complete your work initially to make sure you’re allowing yourself enough wiggle room to fully understand and finish everything that’s assigned or recommended by your teacher. 


3. Try different study methods.

Don’t be afraid to try out new methods of studying or prepping for assignments, quizzes and exams, especially if you’ve never been in a college-level class before. After all, it’s a different kind of class, so you may need different study methods than you’re used to!

“I'd say successful AP students are also flexible, trying multiple strategies for note- or test-taking in order to find the one that works for them,” says Elyssa McIntyre, an AP US History Teacher at Wayzata High School in Minnesota. “There is no one magic formula for success, and students have to be actively advocating for themselves with teachers and trying different approaches on their own until they find the one that works for them.”

Used to studying alone? Try getting together with your classmates to review before your next exam. Never used flashcards before? Break open a pack of index cards and give it a try for your next AP French quiz. Always taken Cornell notes? Try being a little more freeform and breaking up your notes into a loose outline in your AP Statistics class. Don’t be afraid to play around and see if a different method might be a better fit if you’re having trouble understanding your notes or aren’t totally grasping the material. If you find something that works, definitely stick with it!