AP exams offer the chance to demonstrate subject mastery and the possibility of earning college credit. While the majority of Advanced Placement testers take formal classes either in a brick and mortar or online school, self-study is an increasingly popular option. The decision to self-study for an AP exam needs to be made thoughtfully with a clear understanding of what it takes to earn a strong score. Performing well on an AP exam requires both a mastery of core content and an understanding of the test format. If you are considering self-study for an AP exam here are key strategies you need to know.
Find a test site
Unfortunately, the College Board has chosen not to require high schools to offer tests to homeschoolers. AP tests must be scheduled through public and private high schools and they can refuse to offer seats to homeschoolers. While AP tests are in given in May, high schools must order AP exams in the early fall. Homeschoolers are advised to contact the high school guidance office and speak with the person in charge of ordering AP tests to find out if their student will have the opportunity to test. Students who require disability accommodations may find it more difficult to find a test location. Students who wish to take less common exams such as foreign language exams may also struggle to find a test site. Given the time and financial investment in signing up for online AP courses, it is wise to plan ahead and make sure the student will have a testing site available.
Choose APs wisely
There are over 30 APs available in core subjects including math, science, English, history, social studies, and foreign language. APs are not all equally difficult or time consuming. Especially for their first self-study, AP students are well-advised to choose a subject area that plays to their natural interests and strengths. APs are intended to be at the level of a college course. Another key consideration for homeschoolers choosing an AP is local availability of testing. Not all high schools offer all AP tests. Homeschoolers in some areas have found it difficult to find testing sites, particularly for less common tests and tests such as foreign language or AP music theory that require a listening component to the exam. Before your homeschooler gets too far into studying for an AP exam make sure they have a place to take the test to avoid a lot of work for no potential pay off.
Create a schedule
AP tests are offered on set days each May. The fact that exams are only offered once a year can be frustrating and doesn’t allow for the kind of flexibility many homeschool families have become accustomed to. Teacher-led courses should keep students on track with completing required course materials and preparation by the test date. Students who are self-studying for APs will need to have the discipline and organizational skills to create their own schedule. Encourage your homeschooler to create a study schedule and put it on a calendar. The exercise of learning to look at deadlines and break large tasks into a series of smaller steps is a very useful skill to master. College assignments are often open-ended and longer assignments such as research papers require students to be able to organize and budget their time.
Use APs to learn study skills
Getting good grades in college is about more than just love of learning. Successful college students learn studying isn’t just about working hard it is about working smart. Homeschoolers who have a nontraditional or relaxed approach may find studying for APs in high school offers the chance to work on some traditional study skills such as memorization, learning how to answer multiple choice test questions, and writing essays. Study skills aren’t particularly exciting for most students to learn. Knowing they will have the AP test in May can act as an incentive to encourage students to try out master new skills.
Learn the test format and take practice tests
Simply knowing the subject content may not be adequate preparation to earn a 4 or 5 on the AP exam. Understanding the test format helps students know what to expect and to use their time wisely on test day. Companies like Barron’s, Cliff’s, and Princeton Review produce AP study guides that are readily available in local bookstores and many libraries. I suggest that students don’t wait until April or May to get started with a study guide. Many students find they like to get more than one test prep book because they contain different strategies and additional practice exams. As with ACT and SAT tests, taking practice AP tests can improve scores. One challenge for students self-studying for AP exams is that some exams include a written, short essay component and it can be tough to score your own writing. Students are encouraged to study the scoring rubric carefully and ask for support from parents, tutors, or friends to get a realistic idea of how they may score.
Make use of free online resources
MOOCs such as Coursera offer free video lecture courses that may dovetail nicely with AP tests. This excellent list of available free courses that work well for AP self study is an excellent tool to use as you plan AP courses. Lectures add variety and richness to a course and they also offer the opportunity for homeschoolers to learn to take a notes which is an important skill for college. For many AP courses high school teachers have put together free website resources such as flashcard sets, organized links to supplementary videos, and writing assignments.