Should You Self-Study for an AP Exam? 5 Key Factors
Factor 1: Which AP Exam You Want to Self-Study For
Factor 2: How Much Time You Have for Studying
Factor 3: Your Studying Motivation Level
Factor 4: Your Ability to Stay on Track
Factor 5: Access to Study Material
5 Essential Tips for Effective AP Self-Studying
#1: Stay on Track
#2: Make a Schedule
#3: Find the Best Material
#4: Take Practice Tests
#5: Register for the AP Exam
People in classes such as AP Calculus, Physics, and Chemistry have a hard time getting 5s on the exam even when they take the corresponding course, so it's not really feasible to expect you'll be able to learn the material yourself.
On the other hand, AP Psychology, Environmental Science, and Human Geography are frequently self-studied because these courses don't cover enormous amounts of complex material.
See my article on the best AP exams for self-study for more information.
Factor 2: How Much Time You Have for StudyingAssuming you've chosen a reasonable AP test to self-study for, the next main concern is this: will you have time to study the material on your own?
If you're taking a challenging course load and have a slate of time-consuming extracurriculars, it might not make a ton of sense to try to study for a demanding exam on top of all of that.
If, on the other hand, you already have late arrival and early dismissal built into your senior spring schedule and you just want to see if you can get some extra credits for college with AP exams, self-studying could be for you.
Factor 3: Your Studying Motivation LevelEven if you have enough time, you need to consider whether you're self-motivated enough to do the extra studying.
It's important to be honest with yourself before you register for the exam. If you think it's more likely that you'll volunteer to clean the bathroom for your dad than to crack open a textbook with no one there to check your progress, AP self-study might not be a particularly useful or beneficial approach for you.
Factor 4: Your Ability to Stay on TrackSimilarly, if you think you won't be able to stick to a relatively stable prep schedule, it might not make much sense for you to self-study for an AP exam.
If you know you're the kind of person who keeps a New Year's resolution very diligently for about six weeks and then completely falls off the wagon, it might be difficult for you to stay with a self-study schedule. If you get too far behind, trying to cram to catch up will be very stressful.
If you feel you really need some level of accountability to get work done for an AP on your own, you might consider taking an AP course online. In general, you will have weekly deadlines for the course, which should help motivate you to stay on track and actually learn the material.
Factor 5: Access to Study MaterialA final factor to consider before you commit to the AP self-study route is whether or not you have access to high-quality materials you can use for studying.
As useful as a copy of The Princeton Review can be for AP prep, you'll have a much easier time preparing for the exam if you have a variety of resources available to you: practice problems or questions, maybe some explanatory videos, possibly a copy of an up-to-date textbook from your library, and so on.
So before you decide to self-study, do some research to ensure there are adequate high-quality resources available for you to learn the material you'll need to know for your chosen AP test.
5 Essential Tips for Effective AP Self-StudyingOnce you've decided to self-study for an AP, you might be wondering how exactly you should go about it. I've laid out five important practices that will help maximize your self-study success.
#1: Stay on TrackBy far the most important thing you can do for yourself when self-studying for an AP test is stay on track. Learning the material throughout the school year will make you much less stressed in the months and weeks leading up to the exam.
#2: Make a ScheduleTo help you stay on track, I strongly advise making a study schedule and sticking to it! This means that you should both have a general plan of how much material you'll cover every week or month and consistent, scheduled times to learn the material and prepare.
Of course, it might take you a little longer or shorter to learn some material, so you can adjust your schedule as you go, but you'll be much more successful with a plan of attack for learning all the material.
#3: Find the Best MaterialTry to read reviews of any AP study resources before you commit to using them, especially before you spend money on them. You want to ensure that any material you use is actually relevant to what's tested on the exam and that other students have found it helpful, too.
#4: Take Practice TestsBe sure to take practice tests! This is probably even more important for AP self-study students than for students taking regular classes because the syllabus for regular AP classes have to be approved by the College Board first.
You'll be flying by the seat of your pants in some respects, so practice tests will really help you gauge what you still need to learn and where you still have gaps in your knowledge.
Try to use as many official College Board tests as you can; however, these are somewhat limited, so if you end up using any non-College Board material, be sure to carefully read reviews.
#5: Register for the AP ExamThis probably seems really obvious, but registering for the AP test can be easy to forget, especially when you don't have a teacher to remind you to turn in the form. You'll need to talk to your school's AP exam coordinator about registering for the exam. This takes place early to midway through the second semester for most high schools.
If you are self-studying because your school doesn't have AP exams, your school won't have an AP coordinator. Never fear! You can still take your exams at a school close to you that offers the tests.
To do this, get in touch with AP Services by March 1 the year you want to test. You can contact them by phone, email, or fax:
- Phone (domestic): 888-225-5427
- Phone (international): 212-632-1780
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Fax: 610-290-8979