How to Be Successful in AP Classes

AP Classes: How to Be Successful

During high school, I became a more thorough and capable student after tackling multiple AP Classes in one year. I went into my junior year with no background knowledge on what AP Classes really were going to mean or how to succeed in them. There are so many benefits to AP Classes, and not a ton of resources out there to help students succeed within them. Here’s the breakdown on what AP classes are, how to succeed in them, and some tips and tricks in order to get the most out of them.

How to Be Successful in AP Classes

What are AP Classes?

AP classes, or advanced placement classes, are college-level classes taken in high school, offered in a variety of subjects. After taking the course, in May, there are national AP exams for each course. If you score high enough on this test, you will be awarded college credit once you get into college.

To give you a point of reference, I only did AP classes my junior year. I took three AP classes: AP Biology, AP Psychology, and AP Language and Composition. The AP exams are scored on a scale from 1-5, 5 being the highest. Most colleges award credit definitively for scores of 4 or 5, but some courses may take 3’s as well.

I’m entering college with 14 college course credits from AP classes alone. Combined with my dual enrollment credits, I am entering my freshman year of college with 30 credits, or a whole year’s worth of credits.

AP classes are challenging. They are designed to push students past the boundaries of a typical high school course. They are meant to force you out of your comfort zone and prepare you for the rigors of college coursework.

However, AP classes can be so rewarding. I feel 100% confident going into my college experience because I know I have the endurance, study skills, perseverance and knowledge to succeed, thanks to AP.

The First Day of AP Classes

Surprise! You don’t start work the first day of AP classes. In many cases, you start working the summer before. In english classes at the AP level, you may be assigned various readings and even essays over the summer. For Chemistry or Math, you might do textbook readings and work packets over the summer.

When you step foot in the door, you want to be as prepared as possible. If you get to choose a seat, sit in the front, or at least towards the front. I know that’s hard if you’re shy or self-conscious. It will pay off in the long run. The bonds and relationships I formed with the teachers of my AP classes are some of the most meaningful teacher relationships from all of high school.

Use your syllabus wisely! I know that most high school classes give out syllabi, but in AP classes, it’s a lot more important. It will outline how grades work, the different units of study, material requirements, and more. Highlight important information and put any important information down in another location for safekeeping.

Get organized. After the first day of classes, set up binders. I personally used one binder for each of my classes and created specific sections with sturdy binder dividers.

Don’t stress out. When teachers are going over the outline of the course, it can sound overwhelming. There is a lot of stress, hard work, and struggles to come. But you will get through it. If you can be flexible, work hard, and be willing to spend a lot of time on homework and studying, you’ll come out the other side more successful and prepared for anything.

AP Class Tips

How to Study in AP Classes

Obviously, how you study is going to depend on a number of factors. There are two things to consider highly important in learning how to study.

What kind of learner are you? Do you remember things best writing them down, listening to them, or looking at illustrations?  Or maybe you learn best feeling and experiencing things for yourself? Do you need flashcards and repetition? All of these are strategies that reflect different learning styles.

Next, use your syllabus and ask questions about the content and structure of the class. You will need to study much differently for AP Biology or AP Calculus than you would for AP Psychology or any AP English class. Some courses are going to be about learning tough concepts and applying practice problems to real world situations. Some will be very reading and essay heavy. It all depends on the course as well as, in part, the instructor.

Take good notes, and do all the assigned homework. This may take some sacrifices, like not going out with friends or out to dinner. Start studying for tests in advance!

The most helpful thing when studying for AP classes is to create your own study guides or practice tests. I would literally pull out all of my homework, notes, and worksheets from the course and use them to create study guides in Microsoft Word. Then, I’d work my way through the packet of review. This helped me feel like I was doing a practice run of the actual test or quiz.

Another strategy for studying is to form a study group. These are popular in college, but not many people in high school think about doing this. I got together with 2 or 3 of my other friends days before a test. We would approach our teacher and ask permission to use an empty room in the hallway where our class was. Then, we’d go to town filling the white boards with scrawled versions of our notes, diagrams, practice problems. We’d quiz each other, and like my favorite teacher once said, you know you’ve mastered something once you can accurately and completely explain it to someone else.

Finally, do test corrections! For many of my classes, these were a requirement in order to help you prep for the AP exam at the end of the year. Even when they weren’t, I did them, whether for extra credit or just for my own benefit. Knowing what you got wrong and why, then trying to figure out the correct answer and why will solidify the knowledge in your head.

AP Classes: Q&A

Do you have to take the AP Exam if you take an AP Class? 

National AP Exams are completely optional. There are registration deadlines, so you’ll have to decide a few months prior to the test date, but there is no requirement to take the test. If you do choose to, most teachers will have various study sessions held outside of class. For example, in my AP Biology class, my teacher held after school review sessions twice a week as well as Saturday review sessions a few times a month first thing in the morning.

Do AP Test grades affect your grade in AP Classes? 

No. Since taking the national exam is optional, your grade on it won’t affect your class grade at all. Of course, preparing and studying for the AP test can help you in your classes with knowledge retention and already having studied the majority of the content.

What are AP Classes like? 

I can only speak from my own experience to answer this question. My three classes differed hugely in the setup and content, but were similar in rigor and intensity.

AP Biology, for me, was the most difficult but most rewarding class. You can form real connections with your professor and your peers. In AP Bio, we focused on moving through intense course content at a faster pace. Reading the textbook was a must, and it was easy to fall behind if you didn’t keep up with assignments and studying. My teacher was absolutely phenomenal, and I don’t think I could ever top her skills and kindness as a teacher. She knew exactly how to keep us all sane under such pressure (mostly from ourselves!)

AP Bio was also very lab-heavy. To illustrate complex biological processes and concepts, we did many labs and real life experiments. My favorite part of  AP Biology was a stream study we conducted over the course of a month. In groups of 4-5 people, we were assigned a section of a stream behind our school. We collected water samples, caught fish and bugs and other specimens, analyzed the different plants present, and much more. Then, we had to take all of our research, data, photos and conclusions and present them in a large binder portfolio. It was so much work but so much fun, and rewarding to experience a real research project from start to finish.

In AP Language and Composition, I flourished. Naturally, I have always loved reading and writing, and that is what this course is all about. Reading different texts and learning how to write about and in different styles of text. In this class I learned different ways to structure essays, how to write a complete rhetorical analysis in an hour and a half, and much more. My teacher was an amazing person who worked hard, and encouraged the growth and blossoming of my writing skills. I honestly credit him with my successes throughout the rest of my high school and future college classes.

Finally,  AP Psychology, which was difficult in terms of the amount of work, but awesome in terms of content. The psychology content as a whole was interesting and fun to learn about. I enjoyed all of our projects, like creating a clay model of the brain or making a Facebook account for a famous psychologist. I loved my teacher, because she pushed me without being harsh or over the top. Finally, my class was assigned specific sets of vocabulary flashcards to make for each unit with a pre-set deadline, which kept me on track study-wise.

What supplies are important for AP Classes? 

First, invest in a nice planner or agenda. This will be your lifeline. I wouldn’t be able to manage all of my homework, studying, and other obligations without writing them down! Recording your assignments each day will also allow you to then prioritize when you get home.

Next, make sure to buy flashcards, highlighters, and nice binders. You do not want a cheap binder that will fall apart halfway through the semester! Staples has really nice quality ones. For my AP classes, I purchased one   1 and 1/2 inch binder for each class in a different color. Additionally, invest in some nice binder dividers. Staying organized is key! For most of my classes, I made up 5 sections in my binder. Warm-ups, notes, classwork, homework, and tests/quizzes. This way, everything had a place. As a bonus, I usually kept all ‘in-progress’ stuff at the front of my binder so I didn’t have to dig around and look for it.

My favorite binders to get are the ones with storage pockets on the inside cover. In all of my AP classes, we made different foldables and resources that wouldn’t make sense to clip in the binder. None of your resources will get lost or damaged if they are tucked safely in a pocket.

Finally, I would purchase a sturdy two pocket folder. Each night, I didn’t have room to take home all three of my AP binders plus binders for my other classes. So, I pulled out the papers and resources I needed to do my homework and studying for the night, and put them in the pocket folder. I always took home my planner and made sure to take home the textbooks I’d need for that evening. This simplified my load since heavy textbooks, binders, and papers can seriously weigh you down!

If I had to pick two things that weren’t school supplies that you should have with you, it’s hand sanitizer and water bottles. School is stressful enough as it is, and getting dehydrated can lead to headaches and more. I drank at least 4 bottles of water during a school day. Plus, drinking lots of water can help with acne, a common problem for most high school students!

Hand sanitizer is key. Getting sick is awful as is, but when you’re in AP classes, it’s hard to catch up when you miss school. That being said, don’t be afraid to take a day to recover, especially if you’re feeling exhausted or drained from stress. Your mental and physical health are more important than a perfect attendance certificate!

Other tips, advice, or suggestions for AP Classes? 

I thought I’d give a quick mention to organization on your laptop or computer. For AP Classes, you will be typing up documents, making projects, and even creating your own note sheets, resources, and study guides on the computer. It’s important to stay organized so you can easily find, print, or send documents when necessary.

My system for organizing documents is as follows. I make a folder for each school year on my computer. Within that folder, I make individual folders for each of my classes. For example, in my 12th grade folder, I had folders for each of my classes, like Human Development Through the Lifespan and Intro to Early Childhood Education.

Computer Organization for AP Classes

Then, whenever I typed or saved something for a class, I’d place it within its specific folder so I’d know exactly where to find it!

This post is getting pretty long, so I’ll go ahead and end it by simply saying, don’t focus on perfection. Do your best work, and try your hardest, but don’t be too hard on yourself if your best doesn’t mean hundred percents on everything. I was used to this going in, so I had to adjust to A’s and B’s on tests being amazing for me personally. Don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone processes and learns differently, and while some people may be amazing at recognizing slides under a microscope and identifying the tissue with a slight glance, others may be able to name over 50 parts and nerves in a dissected sheep brain. You’ll find your niche and you’ll blossom within it. As long as you will work hard and try your best, you will find success in AP classes, and beyond.

Good luck to everyone starting AP classes or high school this year!

Kaitlin's Signature at thecuriouslemon blog




  • Jocelyn

    Such an awesome post! I’ve also taken AP, and these tips are spot on! I’ve been loving your blog and I’m so happy to have found it!
    xx Jocelyn //

    • Kaitlin

      Aw, thank you so much, Jocelyn! I really appreciate the feedback. AP classes were some of the toughest classes I took in high school, but I feel like it definitely prepared me for college and I can utilize these tips in my college experience! So happy you are enjoying my blog. Thanks again for commenting!

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