AP Countdown: A Teacher’s Advice

AP Countdown: A Teachers Advice


As May nears, EPHS students, along with many high school students across the country, are immersed in the annual stress of Advanced Placement (AP) exam preparation. The weeks leading up to AP testing can be nerve-wracking and stress-inducing, filled with many review sessions, practice tests, and last-minute cramming. Filled with detailed teacher advice, this article will dive into a teacher’s perspective on navigating the difficulties of AP exam preparation.

Let the countdown begin!

What are AP classes & how do they differ from regular courses?

AP courses are advanced high school classes that offer a college-level curriculum. Students might decide to take AP classes for many reasons: GPA boost, academic challenge, or the potential of earning college credit or advanced placement in college courses.

AP Spanish, Language & Culture, Mr. Contreras: For students, what is probably different is the expectations. At EPHS, we give students an opportunity to make up things and retake test–AP classes don’t work like that. AP classes really prepare students for college because it’s an actual college class. As for teachers, it’s absolutely more work. This is the first year I’ve taught it at EPHS, and the entire winter break I was grading essays. It’s a lot more to both prepare and grade.

AP Statistics + AP PreCalculus, Mr. Murmann: As far as for me, it’s different because all the learning objectives are laid out for me. In a traditional classroom, you can deviate a little bit and control the gas pedal more: you can speed up, you can slow down. Whereas in an AP classroom, everything we do is for the AP test, and [we follow] how the course is specified by the College Board. I want to make sure we cover everything for the AP test, so in that regard, the schedule is very rigid. As far as for students, in traditional classrooms, the expectations are very straightforward. For AP, we cover a learning objective, and that might [be presented in different formats] on the test. From those learning objectives, we take them, extend them, and apply them more indirectly than you would see in a traditional classroom. 

AP Language and Composition, Mrs. Rosenzweig: As a teacher, they take way more prep and way more grading. The grading is significant, I would say three or four times what it takes to grade other classes. If anything, probably more because we have so many essays. For students, I think the rigor, definitely marks a big difference. I think getting used to timed essays and timed multiple choice is really tough. [Not to mention] the pace of the lessons, we move much faster than in other classes.

AP Psychology, Mrs. O’Mahoney: In my AP class, we have different goals. [Introduction to Psychology] deals more with how students interact with psychology, but AP Psychology is more theory-based. There’s a lot more vocabulary, memorization, and there’s a huge writing component and analysis. I would say, for students, it’s the hour and a half to two hours of homework a night, the reading, the vocabulary. The writing for this AP [class] is much different than the writing for AP English, or even other AP social studies classes. That, I would say, is a big challenge for students who come in [to AP Psychology]–they have to learn a whole new way of writing.

AP Physics 1 + AP Physics 2, Mr. Rosenzweig: The most direct comparison to make is from Physics to AP Physics 1 since they actually cover all the same ideasthe major difference is how deep we go into it. In physics, you’re trying to represent reality using mathematics using formulas, models, and other approaches. How exact you want your representation to be, dictates how complex it is. [The two courses] do the same scenarios, but in Physics, we simplify it as much as possible. In AP Physics, we do it as accurately as we canand that takes a lot more rigorous math. In terms of what is expected of students, because the math is much more challenging in AP Physics 1, they are required to be a little bit more sophisticated math. My AP students typically get from three to four hours of homework a week. I encourage students [to set aside] 30 minutes to an hour of preparation for the AP exam, which is kind of where we’re at in the semester right now. They’ve been strongly encouraged very frequently, they might argue too frequently, to do some extra practice on their own for the AP test. In terms of actually structuring the curriculum from the instructor’s perspective, it’s actually quite a bit more work. There’s never enough time in a class period, so if ever there’s stuff we don’t get to, I tend to film videos. I probably spend about two and a half hours per week specifically planning for Physics. I probably spend five to six hours prepping for AP Physics I. [Not to mention the workload from] setting up science labs or my AP Physics 2 class. To try and get resources compiled and put together for students is a huge time commitment. There’s definitely a [heavy] workload that goes into it.

How should students prepare for AP test week?

Preparing for the AP exam has many different forms. Whether you’ve started months ago, or are cramming the material now, there are many resources and study techniques available.

CLICK HERE,  HERE, and HERE, for extra study resources!

AP Spanish, Language & Culture, Mr. Contreras: [I recommend students] to think about their own cultural experiences. Be aware of the cultural things and take mental notes about differences that we don’t do here; the stores, how people greet each other. It helps to use personal experiences on the AP test.

AP Statistics + AP PreCalculus, Mr. Murmann: Create a good schedule, one that you’re able to follow, one that’s realistic, and that [covers] everything from: “What did I learn? What are the formulas?” Then practice more problems, and constantly assess yourself.  Ask yourself: how do you best learn–are you a visual learner, do you need to write stuff down, do you like to watch videos, do you like to take a graphing approach or an algebra approach? Think about how you think. So when you get problems wrong, try and put yourself in that place of “Why did I get it wrong, and how can I get this correct next time?”  

AP Language and Composition, Mrs. Rosenzweig: Simply practicing. There are lots of extra questions and prompts on the College Board. There are also great YouTube videos out there. As you are doing the multiple choice and you find that you are struggling with a particular concept, you can look it up and find lessons on YouTube. Because reading quickly and thoroughly is so important, I think reading consistently is huge in helping to improve those scores. If you really want to practice for it, I think reading non-fiction and longer non-fiction pieces helps greatly. But really, anything that you are interested in is going to help too.

AP Psychology, Mrs. O’Mahoney: Psychology is a little bit different. Due to all the short-term and long term-brain research, I actually tell my students that they should not be studying [for the AP test] after May 2nd. I don’t want them studying for the test anymore because it becomes a cramming situation. I feel that psychology is better learned in small chunks. The review calendar is set up to review for 20 minutes every night so that when the test rolls around, they’ve learned everything and hopefully aren’t exhausted from studying. I also realize that other AP classes maybe do lend themselves a little bit more to some last-minute types of preparation and I don’t want to tax my students in that way. I want to make sure that they do the review ahead of time as opposed to waiting until the last minute. We do in-class review the three days prior to the test, but I am very firm with my students that they should not be doing anything outside of class that week.

AP Physics 1 + AP Physics 2, Mr. Rosenzweig: Sit down with other students and practice the act of sharing ideas out loud. This practice of communication, I see it as a necessity in this class. There are just too many things to have a misunderstanding about, for you to not say it out loud. Another thing, there is a lot of math that’s used to describe what you’re doing. That means that you just have to practice skills and solve problems; study formulas, learn the tricks, and know when to FOIL, know when to factor. Physics is also one of the only classes where a scenario you’ve never seen is what you’re tested on. You go and take the AP exam and there’s some weird scenario that nobody’s ever seen. The only way to solve that scenario is to understand the fundamentals deeply enough that you can look at [any odd situation] and be able to build your way to modeling formulas. Give an hour a week, and do some practice tests so that when you see the test, it’s nothing new. Get familiar with the content and format of the test, and that will be big.

How do you see the students’ demeanor change as the test nears?

As the AP exam nears, managing the stress it induces is crucial. While those feelings are common, there are ways to lessen its intense hold on your well-being.

  • Taking study breaks, paired with deep breaths or alimentation, will help ground and relax your mind.
  • Exercise can help relieve stress, providing a necessary, yet productive, distraction.
  • Sleep is arguably the most important factor when it comes to doing well on your AP exams. It’s necessary to create a healthy environment for your brain to work. Trust in your abilities and your knowledge, and give your brain the rest it requires.

Finding a good balance between studying and relaxing is key to avoiding burning out. If there is ever a need for support, reach out to your teachers, the counselors, or family/friends!

AP Spanish, Language & Culture, Mr. Contreras: At the beginning, I had some students say “This is going to be easy, I speak Spanish.” They think the test is about how well you can say something, and it’s not really that way at all. It’s about real-life applications. Students are either really stressed or they’re looking forward to the test to get it over with. It’s hard work, they should be proud of getting this far.

AP Statistics + AP PreCalculus, Mr. Murmann: Usually, by this time of the school year, once you get through all of the material, I usually see students go one of two ways. Their motivation either ramps up and they start to work harder for the AP test or their motivation just tanks: “I finally made it through, I want the school year to be over with, I don’t care about the AP test, I just want to get it done with.” They just kind of show up and move along. Then, you have the students who take multiple AP classes, and they are just burning the candle on both ends. Once the AP tests are over, they’re just zombies because they’re so exhausted. [Students] can always get better and as long as they’re making progress, that’s all that counts. Don’t worry about the AP score, just do the best you can. You’ve been working all year for this moment. You can relax when it’s over. Some days you might not be as motivated as others, and that’s okay. Overall, just do the best you can to show what you’ve learned throughout this school year.

AP Language and Composition, Mrs. Rosenzweig: I see probably everything across the board. Some people get kind of that excited-nervous, some people are terrified, and some people shut down a little bit. What I also notice is that every individual day-to-day changes usually. Some days are good, some days are bad, and so on.

AP Psychology, Mrs. O’Mahoney: I would say I see two different things. I see nervousness in the students who have multiple AP classes because I think their brains are spread out over prioritizing the test. [Since] I do a little pep talk with them right before, I see students who just want to get it done. Then, the day after the test, we do a debrief and talk about the test. That’s the day when I feel like we can take a deep breath and just say “We did our best and whatever happens, happens.” At a minimum, you learned something about yourself in psychology. At best, you might get elective credit for next year.

AP Physics 1 + AP Physics 2, Mr. Rosenzweig: Early on in the class, students tend to be a little bit indifferent or ambivalent about the AP exams, as you would expect. As they get closer, pretty much around January, I start reminding them [about the AP exam]. I say that knowing that a lot of the people hear that and they’ll still hold off. Right around this point in the year, students who have been preparing start to show a little bit of confidence, and students who haven’t been preparing start to panic. Students who are serious about trying to pass that AP exam, [put in the extra outside work] and won’t feel blind-sighted. The students who never do that get increasing anxiety before the AP exam because they just don’t know what to expect. I do try to alleviate some of that by forcing my students to take their final which is formatted with the same AP structure. Simply doing it once, though, it’s not really enough.

Anything else you would like to say?

AP Spanish, Language & Culture, Mr. Contreras: I hope that students who are considering AP [classes], [actually] take the classes. It’s a really great experience for all students. If students are interested, look into [them] and ask your teachers. See what [the classes are] about, and you might be pleasantly surprised.

AP Statistics + AP PreCalculus, Mr. Murmann: For me, I would just say it is a joy working with a lot of the AP students I have and have had. Their motivation is truly what gets me motivated–working with students kind of drives me. The only other thing I would say is: Thank you for all your hard work this school year. It’s been a pleasure working with you and I look forward to continuing to work with you. Good luck with your AP exams and stay awesome!

AP Psychology, Mrs. O’Mahoney: If you are interested in taking AP Psychology, please come and talk to me because I would love to have you in class!

AP Physics 1 + AP Physics 2, Mr. Rosenzweig: Hopefully, students are feeling that natural amount of anxiety. Use it as a little bit of motivation to just tidy up months in advance. If you wait too long, that anxiety becomes something preventing you from progressing rather than something that motivates you to progress. Time matters!

Good luck with your AP exams –  your EP Journalism Team is rooting for you!


Work Cited:

(R. Contreras, personal interview, 04/04/2024)

(T. Murmann, personal interview, 04/05/2024)

(N. O’Mahoney, personal interview, 04/08/2024)

(C. Rosenzweig, personal interview, 04/10/2024)

(T. Rosenzweig, personal interview, 04/05/2024)

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