Sweet baby carrots, is it that time of the year again? The Advanced Placement or AP exams are around the corner so you’ve come here to either have a pressing question answered or to learn how to study for your AP exams more efficiently (or both). We get it. The AP exams are a big deal: this is your chance to get your tertiary education off to an excellent start, while also possibly saving a lot of time and money on college tuition if you score well.

That’s what we’re going to help you do with this AP study guide, so strap in; we’ve got the answers you’re looking for!

Hi! We’re Brainscape

We’re the brains, minds, and hearts behind the world’s smartest study app. You’ll be learning more about Brainscape during the course of this guide but, for now, know that we’ve brought together some of the smartest people in AP to compile this study guide, as well as a comprehensive collection of AP subject flashcards.

Our collection continues to grow but right now, within our Knowledge Genome, you’ll find certified flashcards for:

Plus, you’ll find many other users’ collections of flashcards for the other AP subjects ranked according to popularity, which tells you which collections are the best and most trusted.

These flashcards leverage decades’ of cognitive science research—and powerful learning principles like spaced repetition—to help you learn the facts TWICE as fast as you would using traditional study techniques. So get ‘em in your corner to lend some rocket fuel to your AP exam prep!

Now, with that introduction out of the way, let’s begin by answering a few of your FAQs before sharing with you our best tips on how to study for AP exams.

FAQ on AP exams

AP exams FAQ

What are AP exams?

Advanced Placement or AP examinations are offered in the United States once per year, typically in May, by the College Board. The exams themselves are the culmination of year-long courses, of which there are 38 offered globally, ranging from Art, Humanities, and Languages to Psychology, Physics, and Mathematics.

(Check out Brainscape’s comprehensive collections of certified AP Subject flashcards.)

AP courses are essentially designed to prepare students for college-level work by offering a more accelerated approach to the traditional courses offered in high school. They can also count as college credits, provided students perform well in them, which can end up saving them time and money on college tuition.

In other words: there’s a lot at stake for you to score those 5’s!

How long are AP exams?

Most in-person AP exams are between 2 and 3 hours long. Students who are still learning remotely can take the digital exam at home, which is 3 hours long.

Refer to the College Board website for up-to-date information on AP exam timing and structure.

How to register for AP exams in 2023

  1. Ensure you’ve joined your class section online. (Haven’t done that? Follow these instructions.)
  2. Register—or confirm your existing registration—in My AP. This will let your coordinator know that you plan to take the exam, and they will order it for you. (If you don’t see the “register” button, it means you’ve been automatically registered.)
  3. Talk to your school AP coordinator about paying exam fees. They will collect fees directly from you. (You cannot pay through the College Board website.)
  4. Once you have selected to register, the date and time of your exam will appear in your course card in My AP. Your AP coordinator will let you know when and where to report for your exams.

For more detailed information on how to register for AP exams, check out this page on the College Board website.

When are AP exams in 2023?

AP exams generally take place every year during the first two weeks of May.

Can you retake AP exams?

You can retake an AP exam but you’ll have to wait for the following year, when it’s administered again. If you do decide to retake, both scores will be reported on your record, unless you request that one be withheld or canceled.

Our 8 best tips on how to study for AP exams

How to study for the AP exams

Tip # 1: Create detailed study plan and schedule

The AP exams cover a lot of material and since many students take on multiple AP subjects at once, you’ll need to have a clear plan of action if you’re to get everything done in the months or weeks ahead of your test dates. And so, we recommend that you embark upon your studies first by drawing up a detailed study plan that breaks down each AP subject into daily or weekly study goals.

Keep each goal achievable but with each day covering enough new material so that you arrive for your exams fully prepared, without having to cram. (But if you do slip up, read: ‘How to cram for a test, if you must’.)

Tip # 2: Use flashcards that leverage spaced repetition to memorize content efficiently

Flashcards are proven to be the most efficient way to remember a lot of content. They also make mountains of work feel a whole lot more approachable, so downloading a flashcard app like Brainscape to your devices gives you a super convenient way to study for your AP exams really efficiently, wherever you go, and in any spare snatches of time you might have.

You can easily make your own flashcards (which, in itself, helps you process and remember information) or you can dive into Brainscape’s expert-curated AP collections, which have already broken down the most recent AP curriculum into flashcards for you, saving you a TON of time!

AP subject exams flashcards
The question (left) and answer side (right) of one of Brainscape’s AP Biology flashcards. By rating how well you knew the answer to a flashcard on a scale of 1 to 5, you determine how frequently you’ll see it again. In this way, Brainscape (1) automates the review process, (2) drills you on your weaknesses, and (3) saves you time on reviewing concepts you already know well.

What sets Brainscape apart from other study apps is that it applies the potent learning power of spaced repetition. With every flashcard, you’ll be asked to self-assess how well you knew the answer. (This self-reflection—called metacognition—is another cognitive trick for remembering information quicker.)

Then, you rate on a scale of 1 to 5 how well you knew that concept, with 1 being “not at all” and 5 being “entirely confident”. Our sophisticated spaced repetition algorithm will then determine the perfect interval at which to show you that card again.

If you know the concept really well, you won’t see it again for a while. But if you didn’t know it at all, you’ll see it again in a few cards’ time. In this way, Brainscape drills you on your weaknesses until they become strengths, while saving you time on reviewing the concepts you’re already confident in.

So, if you want to study for the AP exams more efficiently, definitely get Brainscape’s AP subject flashcards in your corner!

Tip # 3: Frequently review what you covered before

Many students make the epic mistake of studying in a linear fashion: from the beginning of their subject to the end without ever looking back to review what they covered before. Unfortunately, the brain doesn’t retain information it doesn’t use frequently and so by the time these students arrive for their exams, they’ve forgotten a lot of what they studied at the beginning of their prep. #panic

To avoid this, it’s crucial that you schedule a bit of time every day to review what you learned the days before. For example, let’s say you cover “Chapter 1” on day 1 of your prep. If you review that content on day 2, day 4, day 7, day 14, and day 21, by the time you sit for your exam, you’ll be completely fluent in chapter 1’s content.

This is a completely arbitrary spread of revision dates but the point is that you, at first, frequently review the content, and then again in longer intervals of time so that you refresh your memory at just the right cadence so that you never forget it. Brainscape automates this revision timeline so all you have to do is hit the “study” button and, within a few flashcard rounds’ time, be completely caught up on what you studied previously!

Tip # 4: Study a little bit every day, rather than cramming

It is far better to study for 30 minutes a day than it is to pull an all-nighter before an exam. Sure, it’s been done before but a sleep-deprived brain is like a sieve for information. You just aren’t going to retain the knowledge you need in order to do well.

So, several weeks out from your exams—maybe even months if you’ve signed up for several AP subjects—make that detailed study plan and dedicate a little time every day to working towards the ultimate goal of acing your AP exams.

Better yet, use Brainscape to keep track of your progress so that you always know where you are as a percentage of subject mastery. Also, by using our app for as little as 10-20 minutes a day, you can ensure that you steadily progress towards, and smash those study goals.

For advice on how to build those strong daily study habits, check out the linked free Learner’s Academy guide or watch this video on our YouTube channel:

Tip # 5: If you’re getting bored, mix things up

Spreading your studies out over a longer period of time should help to prevent extreme study burnout but, still, there are those days where you just can’t handle the thought of another textbook page. When the boredom hits, shake things up by using a different study technique, media, or even environment:

  • Instead of making study notes, draw up a concept map to illustrate how various important facts are links;
  • Practice questions or solving problems (if relevant for your AP subject);
  • Use Brainscape’s flashcards to (1) review older content and (2) break new ground;
  • Study somewhere different, like a coffee shop or library;
  • Use the Feynman Technique to reinforce what you’ve learned (see tip # 6); and
  • Create a study group to hold yourself and others accountable (see tip # 7).

Remember, the key here is to really engage with what you’re learning so if the textbook is beginning to bore you (as it most certainly will after the third straight hour of reading) it’s time to switch over to more engaging methods, like flashcards, concept maps, question practice, social studying, or even teaching, etc. In other words: methods that compel you to actually use what you’ve learned.

Also, make sure you’re taking decent study breaks. If you feel burned out, it could be because you’re hammering the books too hard, without taking any breaks for processing and rejuvenation. Read: ‘How and when to take study breaks for optimal learning’.

Tip # 6: Teach the subject aloud to really ingrain it

Feynman Technique tach subjects aloud

If you want to test how well you know a concept, chapter, or subject, teach it aloud as though the “person” (or comatose pet) you’re explaining it to knows absolutely nothing. This compels you to explain the subject from the bedrock upwards, scaffolding your knowledge and logically connecting the facts as you do.

If you hit a snag, you’ve just identified a weakness, which you should then address with research or questions. Also, make a flashcard for that fact so that you never forget it again! This method of studying is called the Feynman Technique and it’s one of the most powerful methods for (1) internalizing the knowledge you’ve been studying and (2) identifying any chinks in your armour!

Read: ‘Use the Feynman Technique to make knowledge STICK

Tip # 7: Only study in groups with a plan

Group study is great for holding you accountable but only if you go into it with a plan. Every participant should be serious about learning and come to the table with a portion of the work prepared—perhaps by pre-making flashcards for a chapter, for example. Everyone should also have questions ready so that you can study efficiently, tackle your weaknesses together, and avoid getting distracted by the social aspect of being in a group.

Read: ‘When to study in groups, and how to do it’.

Tip # 8: Take care of your physical well-being

Your brain is really your best tool for passing your AP exams, so keeping it happy (read: healthy) is crucial if you want to learn quicker, remember longer, and generally operate like a question assassin in that examination room! Your brain (and body) needs (1) proper hydration, (2) decent sleep, (3) a healthy, balanced diet, (4) de-stressing, and (5) regular exercise in order to operate optimally so make sure you take care of your physical wellbeing throughout exam time and your brain will serve as your ally.

Read: ‘Optimize your brain health for effective studying’.

A final word on how to study for AP exams

Student writing AP exams

So there you have it! The answers to your AP exam FAQs and our very best tips on how to study for AP exams efficiently. To recap briefly:

Tip # 1: Create detailed study plan and stick to it

Tip # 2: Use flashcards that leverage spaced repetition to memorize content efficiently

Tip # 3: Frequently review what you covered before (so that you don’t forget anything)

Tip # 4: Study a little bit every day, rather than cramming

Tip # 5: If you’re getting bored, change up your study methods, media, and environment

Tip # 6: Teach the subject aloud to really ingrain it (the Feynman Technique)

Tip # 7: Only study in groups with a plan

Tip # 8: Take care of your physical well-being

For even more excellent study advice, check out the Brainscape’s Academy for a totally free library of study guides on everything from focus, habits, and motivation, to vocab learning, flashcards, and memory. Armed with this advice, our AP Subject flashcards, and your studious ambition, you’ll have the tools you need to rise to the challenge of your AP exams!