All About APs: A Brief Overview + Some Helpful Tips!

AP classes. Most high school students associate all sorts of emotions with them, from anxiety, fear, or even joy. So what are AP classes? Simply put, AP stands for Advanced Placement, and they are essentially classes that are usually harder and teach students content similar to that of many introductory college classes. Due to the accelerated pace of the course, AP classes can often require a lot more time commitment than normal classes in high school which is why keeping a balanced schedule important. We’ll be discussing organization and time management in a later blog post, so make sure to stay tuned for that!

Despite the scary reputation of AP classes, there are also many positives to taking them. Not only do they boost your weighted GPA (an A in an AP class is usually counted as a 5 on the 4 point scale), you can also earn college credits by taking AP exams administered by College Board every year. Doing so can save you a lot of time and money later on by allowing you to skip certain “weed-out” introductory classes or General Education requirements (however this varies by college). Even though taking AP classes are extremely valuable, taking care of your own health and overall well being is even more important. This is why I would advise you guys to only take as many APs that you know you have the potential to thrive in and that you can balance with your busy schedule. Doing well in just 3 AP classes in one year is better than struggling to keep up in 5 or even 6 classes.

Personally, as a recent high school graduate who has gone through this challenging process, here are some tips regarding AP classes that I’ve learned over the years.

1. Actually read the textbooks that are given to you

This is important because not only will you get a better understanding of the material, you may pick up things that you may have missed in class. Even reading a bit every few nights is a good refresher to help you remember course content. If your teachers really emphasize the use of your textbook, they will often include that material in a test or a quiz, just to see if you’re actually doing the work to read through it.

2. Use free time wisely (don’t procrastinate...too much)

Using free time to be productive is vital when taking AP classes. I recognize that almost everyone is prone to procrastination and would rather be binging their favorite TV show than grinding out the tedious studying for a test that seems so far away. However, your future self will thank you if you take the time to prepare effectively beforehand.

3. Ask for help

One very important thing to remember is that you’re not in this alone. There are many other students going through the same process as you. Reaching out to teachers, other students, parents, or even TAs for help can dramatically increase your learning ability and understanding of the class.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to upperclassmen and ask for their guidance too! While the test for AP classes is completely standardized, the difficulty of the course itself at each high school is not. Since some courses might require more work than others, don’t be afraid to ask upperclassmen about their experiences taking a certain AP and any advice they have about studying for the test.

4. Take classes you’re interested in

While you might feel pressured to take challenging classes in every academic subject, if you find it too overwhelming don’t be afraid to only select challenging courses in things that are interesting to you! By making sure you are making your course list with intention, you’ll be able to create your academic narrative as a student in a very authentic way. Make sure to always ask yourself why you are taking the course, and by doing so you’ll have a far more fulfilling intellectual experience. If possible, it’s also a good idea to take a challenging course in an area of study that you might want to pursue in college.

5. Take the test seriously, but don’t worry about it too much

While APs are great for receiving course credit at the college level and showing college admissions officers that you can thrive in a rigorous academic environment, don’t worry about your AP score excessively. If you do well, that’s great! The score will be another positive addition to your application as a whole. If you don’t, reflect on what you might be able to improve on but don’t get too hung up on your score. When I was applying (and the SAT/ACT was still required), the AP scores didn’t carry nearly as much weight as other elements of my application.

If you do want to do well on the AP test, make sure to ask your teacher at the very beginning of the semester about the average score from previous years. This will be a big indicator of the quality of the course at your particular high school and will give you some insight into how much preparation you need beforehand. If the averages are generally pretty low, getting an A in the class will give you a false sense of security before taking the test. To minimize this risk and maximize your chances of getting a higher score (no matter how “good” the course is at your high school), you should definitely do the following:

  • Watch videos on YouTube (they’re free!) from popular teachers/creators to supplement your learning throughout the year. College Board released a bunch of them on their channel this past spring, and I found them especially helpful when I was preparing for exams once all of my classes went online.

  • Take practice tests and questions directly from College Board! Your teachers will probably get a few tests from them that aren’t offered to the public on the internet, so make sure to ask them for those resources a few weeks prior to actually taking the test if they haven’t given them to you already.

  • Actually pay attention in your class throughout the year. If you actively try to learn the information over a long period of time, you’ll develop a deeper understanding of the material that will be reflected in your exam by the end of the year. Like I mentioned previously, taking the time to truly study the material using the textbook, notes, videos, etc. will definitely pay off in the end!

If you're interested in future blog posts related to time management and organization as you try to balance challenging AP classes, follow us on Instagram @collebo.advisors to stay updated!

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