September 20, 2017

How to Get Straight A's and Prep for AP and Subject Tests at the Same Time

Update: I've added a section titled "Studying Ahead."

Are you wondering how you'll ever find time to study for school and still prep for AP and SAT Subject Tests?

Fortunately, you can do both at the same time.

Reading prep books is a great way to review for the classes you're already taking.

Choosing Study Materials

Once you know which classes you're taking, go online and order several SAT Subject Test or AP prep books for each subject.

Stick to the ones with 4.5- and five-star ratings. The books with the best reviews will have lots of practice problems, good answer explanations, and relatively accurate answer keys.

The College Board publishes a line of books with official practice tests, but those books don't offer much help with strategy and content review.

Of the major publishers, the Princeton Review usually produces the most accurate practice tests. Barron's and Kaplan's practice tests tend to be harder than official AP and SAT Subject tests. Avoid McGraw-Hill, ARCO, and Peterson's materials, as they tend to have poorly written problems and answer key errors.

I've also compiled a list of the best prep books for each subject.

Studying Ahead

Your classes will seem easier if you read ahead and do practice problems at least one week before your teacher covers the same material in class. It takes just as much work to be a week ahead and maintain an A as it does to be a week behind and maintain a C. You'll feel more confident and be more prepared for college.

I was able to get mostly A's during the latter half of my time at U.C. Berkeley because I figured out how to study ahead. Suddenly, instead of struggling through my classes with B's, I was in the top ten percent. Students asked me to lead study groups, professors invited me to offer feedback on the chemistry department's classes, and I got to take graduate classes with PhD candidates. Studying late at night at the library with my friends became a social event; we enjoyed pushing each other to get every problem right on tests.

Use the syllabus or class Web site to figure out what you need to read in order to stay at least a week ahead in each class. If your teacher publishes the homework ahead of time, you can do the homework early and fix any mistakes during class while your teacher is lecturing on the work you've already done. If you don't have access to the homework ahead of time, pick some representative problems in your textbook and AP prep books and check your answers against the books' solutions.

Preparing for Tests

Before each of your school's tests, go through one of the prep books you bought and create a practice test by circling all the problems that look like the ones your teacher gave you for homework. Do those problems and give yourself a letter grade based on the number of problems you got right.

Stare at each problem you got wrong for several minutes and try to figure out how to do it on your own. If you're still lost, read the prep book's answer explanation carefully.

If your grade on that practice test is lower than an A, repeat the process using one of the other prep books for the same subject.

If you want to raise your grade in any particular class to an A, calculate the average grade you need to get on each of your remaining tests and use the method above to make sure you score at least that high on the practice tests you create.

Do this consistently during the entire school year. When you get ready for AP tests and SAT Subject Tests in April, you won't be prepping from scratch, and any prep you end up doing will also prepare you for your school's final exams. April is also a great time to take timed practice tests using official College Board materials.


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