If you’re taking an Advanced Placement 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
- AP Chemistry
- AP Computer Science A
- AP Language & Composition
- AP Literature
- AP Physics
- AP Statistics
- AP United States History
“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.”
AP Calculus Teacher
“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.”
AP Chemistry Teacher
AP Computer Science A
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.”
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.”
Director of Exam Prep – English
AP Physics Teacher
“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!”
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.”
AP United State History Teacher
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!
We can’t wait to hear from you!