Building Confidence for the AP Exam

You take the test; the test doesn’t take you.

This is something my students and I talk about a lot. The last thing I want them to do on exam day is walking in feeling powerless to an exam. I want the opposite: I want them to feel like they have a choice in how they decide to tackle the exam. Confidence on exam day goes a long way and knowing some test taking strategies and having a personal plan for exam day helps build student confidence. 

Take advantage of these test-taking strategies and pointers for students:

Multiple Choice:

Quickly glance at the stems then read the passage.

Reading the stems (not answers) before reading the passage gives not only a sense of what to look for when reading but also can give clues about the meaning of the passage which can help students with understanding.

Mark the question based on if the evidence can be seen directly in the text or if it is an inferential question.

(My students write a T or I beside each question). Save the inferential questions for last since some of the specific evidence in the text can help answer those big picture type of questions.

Complete each passage and its questions in the test booklet.

This keeps students focused on the text and questions without having to break concentration by going back and forth between the booklet and answer sheet. This also allows students to skip around when answering questions within a passage. 

Each question is weighted the same.

If one question seems impossible or is taking too much time, it’s only one question. Eliminate answers that are clearly incorrect, guess, and move one.

Use questions to help answer other questions.

Answers will never contradict another answer, so when in doubt, check possible answers against other answers.


Students can write essays in any order they wish.

I coach my students to write Q3 first since they have novels prepared. They can unpack all of the information in their mind then move on with a fresh slate to the prose and poetry prompts.

Have a plan in place before exam day.

Students should know ahead of time what order they will write the essays and not be figuring their plan of attack during the 2 hours designated for writing. Some students will want to write Q3 first while others may want to write the poetry prompt (the only they typically feel is the hardest) first. There’s no right or wrong way, but students should know their plan before exam day.

40 minutes is just the suggested time.

The forty minutes suggested time should be used as a pacing tool and not a hard deadline. Some may choose to spend less time on Q3 since they are prepared for it and more time on Q1 and Q2. Students should keep an eye on the clock and keep moving through the essays but not stress if one takes 45 minutes.

Spend five minutes outlining writing.

In a timed writing, students tend to skip the prewriting stage, but this may be when prewriting is most important. Students must be incredibly focused, clear, and precise in, and the five minutes spent planning writing is essential even though it may feel like a waste of time.

This week I’m excited to have three videos to share with you. These short videos were made by readers who read for questions 1, 2, and 3 last year and will give students some quick reminders before going into the exam. Look for those on this site beginning tomorrow.

One thought on “Building Confidence for the AP Exam

Comments are closed.