“Expect one to two hours of homework per night, per class.” The woman at the front of the room somehow managed to even click to the next slide of the PowerPoint intimidatingly. My tiny freshman form shook in my seat as a million doubts flew through my mind. I took AP Human Geography this year, but World History is supposed to be so much harder…Maybe I should just take honors. That's right! My school had an annual AP meeting in the theater where the counselors tried to intimidate slackers out of the AP program by explaining the amount of work and dedication expected of everyone. They might be hyperbolizing it a bit to have more of an effect—which is understandable, APs are a big commitment.
I had 11 AP classes under my belt by the end of junior year, and I scraped a respectable grade on nearly every exam I took and managed an organic A in almost every class. With such a résumé, I feel inclined to share what I wish I had known prior to taking advanced courses. Here are five tips on how to get A’s in APs from someone who’s tried just about everything.
1. Read. the. book.
Just read it. I wish I had some alternative for you, but there’s a reason those textbooks are so heavy and pricey: They’re loaded with invaluable knowledge. I really got into my textbooks junior year, and as a result, my cumulative average went up about four points in every class. Those questions that seem “totally unfair” because your teacher never covered the material in class are most likely in your textbook. I've found that reviewing the textbook in the week leading up to a test, just to solidify all information, is the best way to do well—I found it especially helpful in my social studies classes. Other than that, I read it when I’m thoroughly confused in math and science classes (except for statistics, where I owe my grade to the entire book), and it almost always clears up the problem. I know it sounds painful but read the book.
2. Do your homework
It feels like no one ever bothers to do their homework because when everyone can copy off of each other. As tempting as it can be to shrug it off, you need to do it. This is vital not only to getting an A but to getting above a score of three on the AP exam. How can you know what questions you have until you do the homework? Short answer: you won’t. Take my opinion with a grain of salt, as I was a chronic homework copier. But after doing my own homework, my grades improved, and more importantly, my understanding of the content improved.
3. Actually study
Maybe you’re the type of student who never studied for tests and pulled A’s with no problem. Then you enroll in three AP classes without changing your study habits, and suddenly you’re drowning in C’s. I’ve been where you are, and there is an answer: study. Even if you’ve been in gifted and talented programs since you were five, start studying like everyone else. Look up study tactics online and find what works best for you. For example, as a visual learner, I make Quizlets for every vocab quiz ever and study them until I can say the definitions perfectly. Swallow your pride and do it.
4. Accept tutoring
In my mind, I was hot stuff in sophomore math. I had never gotten a B and was determined to ace the class without studying—then I got a 64 on my first test. Yikes! I shrugged it off as a fluke and vowed to do better on the next test: 77. Well, I did do better! Even so, after months of convincing myself I was too smart for tutoring, I finished with an 86. I still regret that grade to this day, and I’m confident if I had accepted help, I would have ended with a much better grade. My school had multiple honors societies that offered free tutoring during weekdays—I had no excuse. Even if you’re not used to being tutored, don’t let your pride stop you from accepting help! There’s no reason to be ashamed of not understanding something—the A in the grade book will make you completely forget about it.
5. Talk to your teachers
When I say, “Talk to your teachers,” I don’t mean go to them after school and complain that you have a B in their class and whine for them to fix it. There’s a big difference between “Ms. Park, I have a B in your class because I failed that one test and I really want an A. Can you give me bonus points?” and “Ms. Park, I found the material in the Chapter 9 test difficult, and I got some tutoring and feel much better about it. As of right now, I feel like my grade in your class doesn’t reflect my understanding of the material. Can I work with you to do extra credit to bring my grade up?”
The operative differences here are intent and growth. In one case, you’re upset and sound like you want to be handed something you don’t deserve; in another, you show that you want to prove to your teacher you worked hard to improve and understand the material. Believe it or not, that’s every teacher’s primary goal for you. Frankly, it should be your primary goal too.
The moral of the story is you don’t have to put that much more time into an AP class than, say, an honors class; the true distinction is the quality of the time that you put in. Manage your time, focus your energy, and work hard, and you’ll be fine. Best of luck!
Not even sure which AP courses you want to take next semester? We’ve got you covered in our article Insider Insight on AP Courses: Which Classes Are Best to Take?