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Playing to win: the AP game

Richard Geib lectures to his Advanced Placement United States History students at a cram session on Thursday night. Credit: Anaika Miller/The Foothill Dragon Press.

Are your academics taking over any hope of a social life? Has your sleep pattern been repeatedly disrupted? Does your brain feel like melted ice cream? Welcome to hell, Foothill-style! Just when it seemed that there was a light at the end of the Farch tunnel, BAM! Advanced Placement testing hits you.

If you take AP, you know that colleges are watching your every move, scrutinizing every letter grade, waiting for you to fall on your face.

If that wasn’t enough, you must maintain your year-long balancing act of the usual homework load, athletics, community service hours, club activities, jobs, friends, home life, and a perfect driving record. No biggie.

And if these AP tests are anything like the dreaded SAT, there’s much to fear. But is earning that coveted “5” score on each exam an impossible task? No, at least not from what I see in Richard Geib’s American Experience Hall of Fame.

As a first-time AP test-taker, I strive to remain optimistic amidst the pre-testing pressures. Thus, I have taken the liberty to compose a series of tips and tricks that just might help you achieve victory over the AP monster.

Motivation Check

Out of the 34 AP courses offered by College Board, the most popular subjects at Foothill are U.S. History, U.S. Government, Biology, Physics, Spanish, and of course English. Yikes, looks like there’s no room for slacking off.

Keep these things in mind while studying: Why did you sign up for AP? The extra challenge? The way it will look on your high school transcript? Whatever the reason, do not spend an entire year in a rigorous course if you don’t plan on carefully preparing to pass the test in May. That not only wastes your time, but your teacher’s time, and possibly some of your parents’ hard-earned money.

Another good motivator is self-reward. Set aside something for yourself to look forward to after hardcore studying and after testing. Perhaps your high AP score will be reward enough. For others, go ahead and indulge a little – award yourself with an extra twelve hours of precious sleep, an entire season of The Big Bang Theory on your Netflix queue, or a bonfire for roasting a year’s worth of notes – sorry, I mean, marshmallows.

Remember this too – potential college credits. Good AP scores result in class credits for over 90% of U.S. four-year colleges. This means possibly not having to take these classes again after high school (depending on your major). Why take the class twice? Work on passing it the first time around.

Study Habits

Admit it. We’ve all dozed off in class more than once, and missed some important material. However, it’s not too late to catch up with the rest of the class. Hopefully you’ve at least written down the stuff you missed in your sleepy state of mind, so now review your notes.

But note-taking and reading is just one step towards success. For the most dedicated students, re-reading the entire textbook and/or purchasing an AP Test Prep Book are a must. These are great ideas, though you don’t necessarily need to do these things in order to pass the test.

Be sure to take advantage of every opportunity to take online practice tests or mock exams. Some classes offer on and off-campus cram sessions, which provide you fellowship with a group of people undergoing the same pressures and desire to succeed. Depending on who you are, these types of study groups can provide an excellent source of accountability for staying academically motivated, and possibly more notes for you to study from.

Finally, there are the very basics of studying, study tips that you’re probably familiar with after years of studying for semester finals. Always, always space out your study times, because you will feel less pressured to remember vast amounts of facts in a short period of time. Remember to take mental breaks between a few hours of studying.

This will help you retain the information longer, and more effectively. Do whatever it takes to remember the details; finding stupid ways to remember ideas and concepts is actually quite helpful. And even if you don’t enjoy the subject, find someone who does, and have conversations with them regarding your course topics. In doing this, you will be forced to regurgitate information you thought you forgot, and may be pleasantly surprised by how much you know.

The Beauty of Sleep

If you’re like me, you’ve heard teachers tell you that this time is for studying, and that you can sleep all summer long. You’ve probably also heard your parents tell you to put down the books, and get a good night’s sleep before a test.

When you procrastinate, and you’re staying up into the wee hours of morning, are you really absorbing any of your reading? Most likely not. The voices in your head shouting things like “Failure!” and “You should have studied for this earlier!” and “Colleges will never want you!” make it impossible for textbook material to enter your mind.

According to Science Daily, sacrificing your beauty sleep for cramming can actually have a reverse effect. Your lack of sleep can result in slow reflexes, higher chances of making mistakes, and ultimately, an unanticipated low test score.

My advice? Review your study guide for a short time before hitting the sack (assuming you’ve done the bulk of your studying beforehand). Who knows? You might dream about protons and government policies.

Though the likelihood of getting adequate sleep prior to testing is slim, it’s definitely something worth trying for.

Playing the Game

Do I think that AP testing requires a ridiculous amount of knowledge from us? Sure. At the moment, I don’t remember who was president in in 1839, what anadiplosis is, or much about past wars in Spanish-speaking countries. I barely remember what I had for breakfast. But by playing by these rules of the AP game, hopefully you and I will both find that achieving a passing AP grade is not an impossible feat.

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Playing to win: the AP game