At this point, you’re probably starting to feel the pressure of preparing for your Advanced Placement (AP) exams. We know how stressful it can be.
Trying to juggle school, after-school activities, social life, and work can be overwhelming. But as you know, a great score on your AP exam can make a huge difference when it comes to college admissions.
So it’s important to be as prepared as possible.
In this guide, we’re going to dive into the world of AP exams and give you some tips on how to best prepare for them, and how to ace them. Plus, we’ll give you the lowdown on how to choose the perfect prep course to help you succeed.
And don’t worry, we’ll also give you a comparison of recommended courses so you can make the best choice for you.
So, let’s get started and take on those AP exams together!
Table of Contents
What is the AP exam?
The Advanced Placement (AP) exam is a standardized test administered by the College Board each year. These exams are designed to test students’ knowledge and understanding of various subjects (38 at present) in Arts, English, History and Social Sciences, Math and Computer Science, Sciences, and World Languages and Cultures.
Each AP exam is created by a team of college high school teachers, and they cover material that is typically taught in a college-level course. The exams are designed to be challenging and rigorous and are meant to test students’ ability to analyze, reason, and communicate effectively.
The culmination of year-long Advanced Placement courses, the exams are typically administered in May and are graded on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest score. A score of 3 or higher is generally considered passing and may be accepted for college credit at many colleges and universities.
AP exams are designed to give students the chance to tackle college-level work while they’re still in high school and are a great way for students to show that they’re ready for college-level classes. And the best part? If your future college accepts them, you could even earn college credits, which means you’ll save time and money down the line.
One thing to keep in mind is not every college accepts AP credits, so make sure to double-check with the specific school you want to attend. They might have some specific requirements or restrictions you need to be aware of.
How to prepare for the test
Preparing for the AP exams can seem overwhelming, but with the right approach, you can feel confident and ready on test day. There are some easy steps you can take to help you get the most out of your exam preparations.
- Understand the format of the exam: Each AP exam is different, so it’s important to understand the format of the exam you will be taking. This includes the number of questions, the time limit, and the type of questions that will be asked. You can find this information on the College Board’s website.
- Review the curriculum: The AP exams cover material that is typically taught in a college-level course. Reviewing the curriculum will help you understand the concepts that will be covered on the exam. You can find the curriculum on the College Board’s website.
- Take practice tests: Practice tests are a great way to get a feel for the format of the exam and to identify areas where you need to focus your studying. You can find practice tests on the College Board’s website or in prep books.
- Use flashcards and study guides: Read up on the best study methods. Flashcards and study guides can be helpful tools for memorizing key facts and concepts. There are many online resources and apps that can provide these materials for you.
- Get organized: Create a study schedule and stick to it. Break up your study sessions into manageable chunks of time, and take breaks to avoid burnout. Use a planner or calendar to keep track of your progress.
Remember, preparing for the AP exams takes time and effort, but with a solid plan and dedication to succeed, you can feel confident to ace the exam on test day.
What to look for in prep courses
There are many courses and resources out there that claim to help you pass the AP exam. Be careful when weeding through all of the courses, as many of them aren’t very helpful and are just there to take your money!
When you’re choosing your AP exam prep course, make sure you take time to research the course. As well there are a few key factors to consider to make sure you have a successful exam prep experience.
The first thing to keep in mind is the quality of instruction. Look for a course that is taught by experienced instructors who have a thorough understanding of the subject matter. Make sure they are qualified instructors who are able to explain it in a way that is easy to understand.
Second, make sure you find a course with a good variety of material. Choose a course that covers a variety of topics and includes practice tests, quizzes, and other resources to help you master the material.
The next thing to look out for is the accessibility of the course. Make sure the course is accessible and easy to use. Look for courses that offer online and in-person classes, as well as video tutorials and other methods of learning.
Lastly, you must consider the cost. Choose a course that fits within your budget. There are many prep courses that offer discounts and payment plans, and it’s important not to spread your budget too thin while finding a prep course.
The best prep courses
To make it as easy as possible for you to prepare, we have outlined the best AP exam prep courses below, be sure to check the pros and cons of each and find the one that best fits your needs.
Best Overall: Kaplan AP® Test Prep
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Kaplan is a well-known test prep company that offers a variety of in-person and online courses for the AP exams.
Kaplan has been providing test preparation and educational services for over 80 years. Founded in 1938, Kaplan has helped millions of students succeed on these tests as well as in their academic careers. Their founder Stanley Kaplan has even been credited with “inventing exam prep” as Kaplan was the first company dedicated to it. Kaplan now helps 2.1 million people a year.
In 2018, Kaplan bought one of the biggest actors in AP test prep: Barron’s. As a few years have passed since the acquisition, Kaplan is now able to offer the best of their own material alongside that of Barron’s – you’ll notice that a lot of the resources still carry Barron’s branding.
If you’re preparing for one of the “big four” AP exams – AP Biology, AP World History, AP US History, or AP Calculus AB – Kaplan’s courses might be the perfect fit for you, as these courses are very highly regarded. Kaplan also offers four additional review courses in AP Human Geography, AP Psychology, AP English Language, and AP English Literature.
Each course includes:
- 8, 2-hour teacher-led sessions
- A physical “premium” book from Barron’s
- Summary notes
- Online access to slide decks and questions from the sessions
- Recordings of all sessions
The cost for each course is $399.
If you are looking for a more personalized program, Kaplan also offers AP tutoring starting at $799.
If you are only interested in the books and other resources from Barron’s (or if you are looking for subjects that Kaplan does not yet have a dedicated course for), these can be purchased separately.
Kaplan also offers a great value package for students who are taking multiple AP exams – the Unlimited Prep package. For $1,999, you can take as many AP classes as you want during your senior year – together with any ACT, SAT, and PSAT classes that you might need.
Overall, Kaplan provides a solid set of offerings for students looking for support with the AP exams, and it is our overall recommendation for 2023.
Alternate Pick: The Princeton Review AP® Prep
The Princeton Review is a well-established test preparation and education services company founded in 1981. It offers a variety of education and test prep services, including preparation courses for AP exams. They’re known for their comprehensive course options, which include live online classes, self-paced study materials, and personal one-on-one tutoring.
Their AP exam prep courses are specifically designed to help students understand the exam content and format, as well as give them effective strategies to perform at their best on test day. With a mix of video lessons, practice tests, and online resources, the Princeton Review aims to give students a well-rounded and personalized study experience. Whether you prefer live interaction with a teacher or to learn independently, Princeton Review has an option that will work for you and your learning style.
There are two main options offered for AP prep, depending on your level of ambition and what score guarantee you would like.
The AP 4 Courses guarantee that as long as you do all of the required work during the course, you will score at least a 4 on the AP exam – anything less and you get your money back. With a price tag of $1,299, this is a very welcome score guarantee. The courses include 24 hours of live classroom instruction, 160-420 practice questions and 1-5 practice tests (depending on subject), and interactive score reports. Like for Kaplan’s prep courses, you also get the physical prep book from The Princeton Review for your subject. The AP 4 Course is available in the following subjects:
- US History
- Physics 1
- World History
- Calculus AB
It is worth noting that while reviews indicate a consistently high quality of classes, the live class sizes are large – so don’t count on any personalized learning using this package.
AP 5 Tutoring is The Princeton Review’s more personalized approach, featuring 24 hours of one-on-one instruction with their top AP tutors, and the same material as for the AP 4 courses. This would cost you $6,000, which is a lot of money, but it does get you a lot of tutoring with some of the best teachers in these subjects.
Apart from the subjects possible with the AP 4 course, the AP5 tutoring also covers:
- English Language
- English Literature
- European History
- US Government
Note that the score guarantee only gives you 25% back if you get a 4 on your exam (and a full refund if you get less than 4).
If you want personal help, but don’t want to pay the premium rates for the top AP tutors, you can also get their general homework tutors for an hourly rate of $26-$40 depending on how many hours you purchase. And if you are not interested in following a course, you can purchase The Princeton Review’s prep books separately. These are very good value (especially if you get the e-book version).
The Princeton Review wants to make sure that you’re well-prepared for the actual AP Exam by getting you to practice in an environment that closely resembles the real thing. Their team stays on top of things and is always updating their materials to align with the latest test versions.
Overall, The Princeton Review is an excellent choice for your AP prep. While we find that Kaplan’s courses are better value for money and their physical books are better, The Princeton Review’s approach will fit some students better. And with the two leading providers carrying a different selection of subjects for their courses, your choice may be an easy one.
Best Subject Coverage: Study.com AP®
Study.com is a great option for AP exam prep for students looking for an easy-to-follow self-guided course.
Study.com is an online education platform that was founded in 2002 with the goal of making learning accessible and convenient for students of all ages. Study.com has since grown to become one of the largest online course providers in the world, offering over 84,000 video lessons on a wide range of subjects, including test preparation for AP exams.
Their AP prep courses include video lessons and practice tests. With over 4,000 video lessons specifically for the AP exams, you tend to be able to find what you need. Study.com has got you covered with thousands of practice questions and 27 full-length practice exams, all designed to simulate the real thing.
The video courses are quite comprehensive, covering all the main points of each AP course. The video courses are of somewhat mixed quality, but are at a minimum a useful resource for someone reviewing ahead of their exam. A welcome additional resource to help you prepare is the flash cards that are available for most subjects.
You also have access to practice tests, and to help you keep track of your progress, each practice test comes with a result report, so you’ll get an idea of you’ve already mastered and what you need to focus on next.
One of the key benefits of Study.com’s AP Exam Prep course is its approach to learning. The course is designed to be self-paced, allowing students to progress through the material at their own speed. This flexible structure can be especially beneficial for students who have a busy schedule or need to balance their studies with other commitments.
What also sets Study.com apart is its coverage of most AP subjects. This includes both general information about the exams, as well as an in-depth analysis of each exam’s content and format.
At $59 per month, Study.com is quite a bit cheaper than our two top picks, but the quality They offer a full money-back guarantee if you successfully complete the course and still don’t pass your exam.
Best Free Alternative: Khan Academy
Khan Academy is a great option for students preparing for their AP exams who don’t have a budget for prep courses.
This non-profit organization is dedicated to providing a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere, including an AP Exam Prep program that includes video lessons, practice questions, and full-length practice tests.
Their video lessons are taught by expert instructors and cover all of the material you’ll need to know for your specific AP exam. It’s worth noting that even if the instructors are all clearly expert teachers, the videos are of somewhat mixed quality. They are in general easy to understand and engaging, making the learning process fun and interactive. Additionally, the practice questions will help you test your knowledge and identify areas you need to focus on.
For an authentic test-taking experience, you can take full-length practice tests at Khan Academy. The detailed result reports will help you see what you’ve mastered and what you need to work on, giving you a clear roadmap for your studying.
The greatest part of Khan Academy’s AP Exam Prep program is that it’s completely free, making it an excellent choice for students who want high-quality resources without the high cost. And, since it can be accessed from any device, you can study wherever and whenever you want.
While Khan Academy won’t provide you with a personalized learning plan or tutoring, its courses are a great resource for any student. They can even be a helpful complement if you are following another prep course but would like a different angle on your vector-valued functions in your Calculus BC class or another challenging topic.