AP Test: What Do You Need to Succeed?

AP Test: What Do You Need to Succeed?

If you’re taking an AP class in the upcoming school year or just considering it, you may feel a little nervous. After all these classes tend to be more challenging, rigorous, and time-consuming. Plus, they’re all leading to an even more challenging test.

That’s why we asked our AP Course Prep and AP Test Prep teachers to share what foundational skills are necessary to ultimately earn an A in the class and a 5 on the test.

The key word here is foundational. We can – and will – say a lot about the test-taking skills and content knowledge needed to succeed on the AP test. But for those who are still contemplating what AP classes to sign up for, this blog will show you the core aptitude that is required.

AP Classes & Test

AP Calculus

“A strong AP Calculus student must be very analytical. While the new skills you learn over the course of a Calculus class are important, the biggest hurdle students must overcome is the ability to identify what skill to use in a given word problem or equality.

The big difference between a 3-4 scoring students and a 5 student is the ability to pick apart a sentence or problem, find key words that identify which concepts to use, and apply the right tool for the job. Very regularly, a student stuck on an AP Calculus question will already know all of the possible processes to solve a question, but will lack the insight as to where to start or which process to use. This kind of pattern recognition is integral to earning a 5 on the exam and will separate the good students from the great students.”

Nicholas Lang
AP Calculus Teacher

AP Chemistry

“To do well in an AP Chemistry environment, students must be able to identify and apply core chemistry concepts.

Chemistry is, above all else, a subject about understanding concepts contextually, and being able to apply those lessons to a range of different situations.

While other subjects are prone to being heavy on diagrams and memorization, chemistry is about utilizing fundamental lessons to create your own pathway to solving a problem. All lessons in chemistry are interconnected, and no skill ever stops appearing across the year. Students who perform very well in class are able to internalize these lessons and confidently apply them to problems of all shapes and sizes.”

Nicholas Lang
AP Chemistry Teacher

AP Computer Science A

“Computer Science is a very technical field of study that requires a more specialized skill set than other traditional STEM fields. Computer science treats the world much differently than other subjects.
Students should be able to identify constant/variable parts of information (data) and understand how a program can change/manipulate such data (operations). Students with a good understanding of change, strong mental visualization, and high logical reasoning skills will adapt quickly and rarely fall behind.
Student coming from strong foundations in mathematics, especially with a good understanding of variables, functions, and substitution of variables and functions will be a strong fit for the AP Computer Science (AP CS) curriculum.
A typical student who is good at math (say Algebra or Calculus) may not fit in well in the AP CS curriculum because problem-solving in computer science requires students to divide-and-conquer, be thorough, and think very carefully about the order of things. Not something typically done in problem-solving in math.
So students should not only have a good grasp of general problem-solving, but they should also be very capable of testing values, finding edge cases, and following repetitive/recursive steps.
Many people often mistake Computer Science as simple writing of code. However, the field of computer science is much more in depth and ties strongly with the field of engineering. Code is merely a tool used to solve problems in the field of high-speed information exchange, big data analysis, artificial intelligence and general computing scene. Students who fully understand the capabilities as well as the limitations of the tool they have access to (code) will have a good foundation for showing exceptional performance throughout the course with a high exam score to prove it.”
Minjae Park
AP Computer Science Teacher

AP Language & Composition

“AP Language & Composition as a class and a test is focused on your ability to read a variety of text and quickly comprehend the main points, rhetorical devices, and tone of what you’ve read.

It also requires you to adeptly synthesize multiple sources of information and form a strong, well-reasoned essay in a limited amount of time.

Therefore, students considering taking the class or the test should assess if they have the following characteristics or skills:

  • strong reader, who enjoys reading multiple types of texts, especially nonfiction
  • strong writer, especially for critical analysis
  • an ability to comprehend main ideas quickly
  • able to understand rhetorical strategies at work in a text or speech

The student who already has a strong foundation and enjoyment in these skills will be the most successful in their preparation to earn a 5 on the test.”

Rachel Erwin
Director of Exam Prep – English

AP Literature & Composition

“The AP Literature test is similar in format to the AP Language test, but students often find it more difficult to earn a 5 on the test because of its emphasis on more complex literature: poetry, prose, and drama.

The AP Literature test also requires a deeper level of analytical ability than the AP Language test (and most English classes). The multiple-choice questions and the essays necessitate a strong understanding of themes, literary devices, and literary structure.

Furthermore, the literary texts can be chosen from different time periods that have language and connotations unfamiliar to most students.

Therefore, for students to succeed in the class and on the test, they must have exceptional reading and writing skills, especially as it pertains to literature. They need to have a core understanding of how language and structure enhance, reveal, and create the meaning of a text, and they must be adept at close reading.

While our AP Course Prep class and AP Test Prep classes can teach students to build-up these skills, they should already start with an overall enjoyment and skill in reading, analyzing, and writing about literature.”

Rachel Erwin
Director of Exam Prep – English

AP Physics

“AP Physics Exams have been revamped into AP Physics 1 & 2 since 2015. The main change 1 & 2 brought in comparison to A & B is the depth in conceptual understanding of physical motion.
Previously in A & B exams, students were fine with simply identifying the variables, picking the correct formula and simply plugging them into calculators.
However, the 1 & 2 exams reach further into the minds of students and ask more “why” and “how” questions. Students are no longer just asked to compute values, but are also expected to coherently explain and communicate how well they understand the motion in question, and justify the choices they made in coming to the answer.
Students will be asked not only to come up with correct answers but also to identify any incorrect answers or explanations and pin-point which part might have led to such incorrect conclusions. Students with a keen eye to detail and a structured, organized approach to problem-solving will have a much more solid foundation than students with only general problem-solving skills.
Students with great verbal and written communication skills will also perform better on the AP test.
Some of the multiple-choice questions as well as majority of the free-response questions on the AP Physics exams require the student to connect concepts from multiple units into a single problem, further testing each student’s understanding of each individual concepts as well as the connections between multiple concepts in the bigger context of physical motion.
While an interest in the general subject of physics is a given for students who wish to partake in the AP Physics curriculum, to reach for a 5 on the AP Physics test, students should also have a strong understanding of the big picture of motion, a desire to find applications of concepts in the physical world, and an ability to identify relationships between multiple quantities.”

Minjae Park
AP Physics Teacher

AP Statistics

“Students who are interested in taking the AP Statistics exam should be curious to learn about how their math skills can be used in one of the most useful and applicable fields of study.

From medicine, to finance, to engineering, and virtually any other profession, statistics is relevant, and students only need to have a solid foundation in high school Algebra to start learning about it!

The emphasis of the AP Statistics exam is not on the advanced math required for statistics, but instead learning the basic tools and using them in practical examples. It is similar to driving a car: you do not need to know how the car works under the hood to get a lot of use out of it.

Students do not need to be the best at math to succeed in this class (that would be necessary for other tests, such as AP Calculus or AP Physics), but what they do need is confidence, determination, and eagerness to learn something completely new to them!

All of the formulas and equations can be understood by someone who has a good understanding of Algebra, but the AP Statistics course introduces several new topics that many students initially struggle to understand, only because it is such a different way of thinking than they are used to. So having the ability to persevere through something difficult is more important than anything!”

Aiden Kenny
AP Statistics Teacher

AP United States History

“AP US History has a significant amount of content that must be mastered. That is what students’ classes will spend a considerable amount of time on–reviewing the knowledge required to do well on the official exam.

However, the AP US History test is not just about remembering facts. Students are required to read and correctly interpret primary sources (such as historical speeches, political cartoons, and graphs) and secondary sources (such as complex academic texts about historical events). The official test is also 60 percent writing in the form of short answer questions, a document-based essay question, and a long essay question. Thus, students must know not just how to regurgitate facts but actually write a cohesive and complex historical argument.

Understanding these skills will not only help them on the official AP exam but also help them to succeed throughout the year in their AP US History class.

So in addition to an ability to recall historical details and a general interest in history, the student who wishes to ultimately earn a 5 on the AP test will have strong reading and writing skills, and the ability to interpret and draw connections between complex events.

That’s why our Summer AP Course Prep focuses on the writing aspects of the AP US History exam. Students will have the opportunity to practice reading and correctly interpreting primary and secondary sources and learn the best way to use that information in a cohesive essay.”

Rachel Erwin
AP United State History Teacher

Getting Started

Did any of these subjects pique your interest? If so, use the summer to solidify the foundational skills our teachers mentioned above. Set yourself up to get an A in the class and a 5 on the test – a guaranteed way to impress any admissions officer!

You can also contact us here for a more individualized consultation on what courses are the best fit for you!

We can’t wait to hear from you!

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