Aug 09

AP Self-study: Is it for you?

Did you know that you do not need to enroll in an Advanced Placement course to take the exam that goes along with it? Some people believe that all they will need is a study guide, a pencil, the required registration fee, and a dream. But do they have a point?

In this post, we will cover the self-study fundamentals for the Advanced Placement examinations: what self-study means, why people self-study, whether you should self-study, and the five key tips for any self-studier

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What Is AP Self-Study?

Self-studying for an Advanced Placement (AP) exam means preparing for the exam on your own instead of enrolling in a course designed for that exam. You may already be familiar with this concept.

Some students engage in a self-organized version of independent study for this purpose. Others will pick up a review book a month before the test, speed through it, and hope they will do well. And some who have enrolled in the honors level of a subject (like biology or United States history) will choose to put in the additional effort to prepare for the Advanced Placement exam. (I did that with APUSH.)

Then there are those who choose to teach themselves the information covered in the advanced placement courses as they already have an extensive background in the subject matter and believe that taking the course would be unnecessary. This method is especially popular among students who are fluent in more than one of the languages tested by the Advanced Placement program. Even though these individuals still need to study to acquaint themselves with the test and brush up on their grammar, it is evident that it would be counterproductive for them to take an entire course for a language in which they are already proficient.

There are a few scenarios in which students can decide to study for an AP exam on their own instead of taking a course.

One possibility is that the school they attend does not provide any Advanced Placement (AP) classes they’re interested in or any AP courses at all.

Another possibility is they might not have room in their schedule for an additional Advanced Placement course but still want to get as much AP credit as possible. This is common among students who are self-studying more content-light AP exams, such as Human Geography and Environmental Science.

Similarly, some students believe they can make more progress if they study on their own and not in a classroom. This may be especially true if the individual already possesses a certain baseline level of knowledge in the subject matter, such as in a foreign language.

People usually engage in self-study when they are unable to enroll in the Advanced Placement (AP) course or do not want to because they are confident they will achieve a satisfactory score on the exam if they prepare for it on their own.

Should You Self-Study for an AP Exam? 5 Key Factors

There are five key factors to determine if self-studying is the right approach for you.

Factor 1: Which AP Exam You Want to Self-Study For

The importance of the content that you are contemplating studying on your own cannot be overstated. Self-studying for Advanced Placement Psychology is one thing, but doing so for Advanced Placement Chemistry is an entirely different ballgame. The more demanding the coursework is in the classroom, then the less sense it makes to try to learn the material on your own.

It is not realistic to presume that you will be able to master the content on your own for classes like AP Calculus, Physics, and Chemistry because students in those classes have a difficult time earning a score of 5 on the exam even when they take the equivalent course.

On the other hand, AP Psychology, Environmental Science, and Human Geography don’t cover an overwhelming quantity of difficult content thus students often choose to study this material on their own

Factor 2: How Much Time You Have for Studying

Assuming that you have picked an appropriate Advanced Placement exam to self-study for, the next thing to think about is whether you will have enough time to study the material on your own.

If you have a large course load and a full schedule of time-consuming extracurricular activities, it may not make sense to try to self-study for a demanding exam on top of everything else.

If, on the other hand, you already have late arrival and early dismissal built into your senior spring schedule and you only want to see if you can gain more credits for college with AP tests, then self-studying could be for you.

Factor 3: Your Studying Motivation Level

Even if you have the time, you still need to ask yourself if you are motivated enough to do the extra studying on your own.

Before you sign up for the exam, it is critical to have an open and honest conversation with yourself. If it is more likely that you will offer to do household chores than cracking open a textbook if there is no one around to check your progress, then AP self-study might not be a particularly practical or beneficial approach for you.

Factor 4: Your Ability to Stay on Track

Self-studying for an AP exam may not be the best option for you if you are unsure about your ability to maintain a routine that is consistent with your study timetable.

If you are the kind of person who can only keep to a New Year’s resolve rigorously for about six weeks but then completely falls off the wagon, then keeping to a self-study plan might be too difficult for you. Self-study requires you to be responsible for your own actions, and if you can’t keep to the schedule, you might fall too far behind, and trying to catch up by cramming will be an extremely unpleasant experience for you.

If you feel that you need some accountability to get work done for an AP on your own, you might want to think about taking an AP course online instead of in the traditional classroom. There will be weekly deadlines for the course, which will serve as a form of motivation for you to stay on track and focus when studying the subject.

Factor 5: Access to Study Material

Before you decide to embark on AP self-study, it is important to determine whether you have access to the high-quality materials needed when studying.

You will have a much easier time preparing for the exam if you have a variety of resources available to you, such as practice problems or questions, some explanatory videos, an up-to-date textbook from your library, and so on. Even though a copy of The Princeton Review can be helpful for AP preparation, having access to a variety of resources will make it much easier.

Therefore, before you make the decision to self-study, do some research to ensure you have access to enough high-quality resources that will help you learn the AP test content you’ll need to know.

5 Essential Tips for Effective AP Self-Studying

After deciding to self-study for an Advanced Placement exam, you may be curious about the best way to go about it. I’ve outlined five essential tips that, when followed, can help you make the most of your time when studying on your own.

#1: Stay on Track

When it comes to independent preparation for an AP exam, staying on track is by far the most crucial thing you can do. If you study the content throughout the academic year, you will find that the months and weeks coming up to the exam are considerably less stressful for you.

#2: Make a Schedule

I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to establish a study routine and adhere to it if you want to succeed. This means that you should have a rough plan of how much content you’ll cover every week or month and consistent, scheduled times to learn the material and prepare for it.

You can, of course, adjust your timetable to account for the fact that you may need more or less time to learn certain content, but if you have a game plan for how you’re going to study everything, you’ll have a much better chance of succeeding.

#3: Find the Best Material

Before you commit to using any AP study tools, especially before you invest money in them, you should make an effort to read evaluations of such resources. You need to be sure that any information you utilize is genuinely pertinent to the topics that will be tested on the exam and that other students have also found it helpful.

#4. Take Practice Tests

Be sure to give yourself some mock exams! Because the course outline for traditional AP programs must first be authorized by the College Board, taking mock exams is even more crucial for students taking AP classes through self-study.

You will, in some respects, be flying by the seat of your pants, which is why taking practice tests will help you judge what it is you still need to learn and if there are still gaps in your knowledge.

Make an effort to use as many official College Board examinations as possible; but, because they are relatively limited, you might be forced to prepare with some material that was not produced by the College Board. If you choose to use unofficial material make sure that you read the reviews for those materials very carefully.

#5. Register for the AP Exam

When you don’t have an instructor to remind you to hand in the registration form for the Advanced Placement exam, it’s easy to forget to sign up for the exam. To register for the exam, you will need to speak with the coordinator of advanced placement exams at your school. In most high schools, this takes place anywhere from the beginning to the middle of the second semester.

If the Advanced Placement program is not offered at your school, then your school will not have an AP coordinator. Don’t Panic! You still have the option to take your exams at a nearby school that provides the opportunity to do so.

To accomplish this, you must get in touch with AP Services no later than March 1 of the year in which you intend to take the exam. You can get in touch with them using the following methods:

Email: apstudents@info.collegeboard.org 
Fax: 610-290-8979 
Telephone (inside the United States): 888-225-5427 
Telephone (within the rest of the world): 212-632-1780

AP Services will provide the contact information for local AP coordinators at schools who are willing to administer exams to students attending schools outside of their own. To make arrangements for the exam, you will need to contact the AP coordinator at a nearby school no later than March 15 at the latest.

Final Thoughts on AP Self-Study

Is it possible to take the Advanced Placement exam without first taking the course? Yes! It is possible to obtain a 5 on an Advanced Placement exam even if you do not take the corresponding course but you should only consider this option if it is not feasible for you to enroll in the class. You just need to pick the right test for you, make sure that you study meticulously, and equip yourself with study material that is both high-quality and pertinent.

Self-studying for the Advanced Placement exams isn’t impossible, but in the end, you’ll probably need more than just a study guide and hope to get a successful outcome.