How to STUDY for various AP courses [part 3]
Studying for Advanced Placement courses is similar to studying for any other class a student may take. However, in comparison to regular and Honors classes, there is a greater degree of self-learning and independence required for an Advanced Placement class. In addition, there is a lot of difference regarding the quality of instruction for Advanced Placement courses. As such, students will need to adjust their studying strategies, depending on the quality of instruction.
Although the material being covered in an Advanced Placement class has been pre-determined by high school instructors and college professors working in concert with College Board, the teaching method is completely left to the individual instructor. As such, depending on your instructor at school, your experience will vary tremendously. For example, some of my students went to the same high school, but had different instructors for the same Advanced Placement course. One instructor at this high school was extremely hard and unforgiving of ignorance in his class, demanding that students learn the material well or suffer the consequences of a failing grade on every exam. The other instructor who was supposed to teach the same material emphasized lab work and excluded much discussion of the concepts that students were supposed to learn and covered material at an extremely slow pace such that this instructor only covered roughly half the material the first instructor did.
YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY, WITH THE QUALITY OF INSTRUCTION
Classes where the instructor explains material well and clear to you as a student means much less work needs to be done, on your part. This does not, of course, mean you don't need to do anything. Rather, it means you have a clear understanding of the concepts that need to be understood and as such, less intensive approaches may be more than enough for you to do well in the course. For example, basic strategies such as reviewing notes that you've taken in class, reviewing previous homework assignments and labs, and a skim through the textbook may be adequate to do well in the course.
On the other hand, classes where the instructor does not explain the material well may require a much more through read of the textbook, even more so in cases where the instructor outright dismisses or ignores the use of the textbook, in favor of just their notes alone! In my opinion, instructors that say to just rely on their notes and to not use the textbook are wrong because a textbook helps fill in gaps in the instructor's notes or lecture that may not readily be apparent to the instructor due to the fact that the instructor is very familiar with the subject matter. In addition, a textbook provides a slightly different perspective of the material, which may make it much easier for a student to understand the concepts. Many a times, as an instructor, I have found that different students need slightly different explanations to really grasp the same concept and at times, a simple explanation by me helps fill in the holes in the reading the student has already done. For example, some Calculus concepts are difficult to understand and visualize. Poor understanding of the geometry or the visualization can make some of these problems nearly impossible to consistently get right. At times, for different students, they will need completely different explanations to understand how the concept and visualization actually works.
Unlike many regular and honors classes, there is a much greater emphasis on tests, where tests may comprise of upwards of 50% of the student's grade in the course. As such, every test in the course will matter. Unfortunately, many students may do extremely well on homework, classwork, and projects, but curiously do poorly on tests. Part of the problem for students is not having good test-taking strategies and also missing subtle nuances to a question.
However, this then opens the question of what if a student isn't sure what they are interested in. How should someone who doesn't know what they are really passionate about pick Advanced Placement classes? This is a very common question that comes up because high school students don't necessarily know what they are interested in and that's okay. In that case, students should pick Advanced Placement courses that gives them a solid foundation, which would allow them a degree of flexibility in terms of major options once they do realize what they are genuinely passionate about. For example, usually this means students should aim to have some form of Calculus under their belt, since it is better to be exposed to some of the calculus concepts before seeing it in college due to how tricky and difficult some of the concepts can be.
ANATOMY OF THE AP EXAMS
For many AP courses, exams are generally broken into a multiple choice portion and a free response portion. Each part of the test has its own unique challenges and their own strategies for dealing with them. For multiple choice questions, students generally find it easy to eliminate answer choices until they get stuck between 2 answer choices. Often times, the answer choices are very similar, I find that students generally need a bit of practice with multiple choice questions and also think about the subtle difference between the answers choices to be able to pick the right answer choice. For free response questions, students generally struggle with a few different issues, including not completely and thoroughly answering the question that is being asked, justifying why their answer is correct even if the question doesn't necessarily explicitly ask for justification, and misunderstanding what the question is actually asking. Careful reading and analysis of what the question is asking is crucial to avoiding missing aspects of the question that needed to be addressed in order to earn full credit.
STRATEGIES FOR YOU
In summary, the strategies that a student utilizes to do well in an Advanced Placement course is going to depend in part of how their instructor teaches the material, but it is also important for a student to ACTIVELY study the material themselves. A great instructor will make it easier for a student to do well, but a poor instructor will make a course significantly more challenging than it needs to be. Understanding the nature of the exams, the way your instructor likes to make designs and careful reading and analysis of the exam will make it more likely that one will make fewer mistakes and thus, do better on the exam. Better test-taking skills are crucial to doing well in an Advanced Placement test and as such, it's never too late to start learning how to be a better test taker. Intro to AP CLASSES [part 1]