We Will Survive….AP Week
In college there’s the infamous finals week. But if you’ve been an AP student, there is nothing that can quite compare to those two weeks. The week that a years’ worth of late nights of DBQs, FRQS, open synthesis, prose/poetry analysis, pages of limits, derivatives, integrals, redox reactions, chi squared analyses comes to fruition. Now that you’re in the height of AP week, you start thinking to yourself, “Why did I take AP anyways? Is this test really that important? Nah….I don’t need to study, I understand everything this is a piece of cake…I don’t know anything!! I need to study!” AP week reveals your full emotional (oh I got this…I don’t know anything….this is all my teachers fault…) to physical (it’s been 3 days and I’ve gotten 12 hours of sleep and have grabbed a banana between my back to back exams) to spiritual (please god….just let me pass this exam. I will be good Santa… please this can be my Christmas present.) spectrum and as a veteran of 17 AP exam in 3 years , I am here to help you through it all! Don’t worry, we’ll get through it! We just have to understand three things: how to study, sleep, and don’t stress yourself out. (Just as a side note, I want to say that I should probably be studying because I have the joy of having college finals and AP week in the same week….whoopee….so I have the full spectrum, I can still help you though! We will get through this!)
I bet during AP week, you hear the word “studying” about a bajillion times (that is a scientific fact.) Your teachers say “study!” Your parents say “study!” Your conscience says “study!” But it’s AP week…what are you even supposed to study?? I think the key here is that you should not try to relearn the entire class. You should focus on brushing up and reviewing the things that you did not previously understand. Don’t cram all of the topics of the class into one session because you will probably end up not remembering half of the things that you were cramming. Instead, make an honest list of things that you think you need to review (1 being most urgent or least understood and 10 being, eh I could review this but it’s ok if I don’t.) I recommend a study book such as Barron’s or Five Steps to a Five because they organize the information. They straight out tell you “This is important. Know this!” These books take out the unnecessary information and organize and condense the necessary info. Also guys, there’s this magical place where you can get free Barron’s books and almost all AP review books! It’s called a library. I know my library has a whole section that’s just study books and has every AP, SAT, ACT book that you could ever need all for FREE! Another thing that I have found very helpful is in the Collegeboard website, for each subject, they break down the topics and percentages of frequency of each topic. This way, you know what subjects/topics make up more of the test so you know where to concentrate your studying. This goes back to my first point, find where you need the most and least work and also what types of questions are concentrated on the exam so you study smart not hard! And, once you know where you need to review, there is an amazing site called “Learnerator” that is completely free and has hundreds of test questions that’s broken down into topic and further into subtopics. Each set varies in the amount of questions and if you want, you can make a free account and it will record your progress and averages on each subject. I think that this website is very useful because it is an application of the knowledge which helps you to retain it better for test day.
Second and very important is sleep! (I’ve actually written another whole article about sleep [Caffeine, A College Students Best Frenemy] so if you’re curious, go check it out!) I know I probably sound like your mom, “Go to sleep! It’s so late! You’ll stop growing! You need to sleep more!” But the thing is, your mom was onto something; especially when it comes to remembering things for exams. See, sleep actually consolidates memories. A Harvard article for Healthy Sleep says that the three steps of learning are: Acquisition, Consolidation, and Recall. (If you’re doing AP Psych this should sound familiar! Shout out to Ms. Douglas!) “Acquisition refers to the introduction of new information into the brain. Consolidation represents the processes by which a memory becomes stable. And last but not least, recall refers to the ability to access the information (whether consciously or unconsciously) after it has been stored.” The type of learning that you do for AP exams is called declarative memory because it is fact base. Harvard study hypothesized that REM sleep played an essential role in the acquisition of learned material. Plus sleep makes you feel good! So after you study, try to get a good night’s rest, it will cement your learning and although not 100%, you will retain better than if you don’t sleep. Link here for reference!
And last but certainly not least is to not stress yourself out! Again, I get it, that’s completely easier said than done. But stressing yourself out actually releases a chemical called cortisol. According to the Cognitive and Neuroscience Society, this stress hormone actually decreased ability to recall information; “While increased levels of cortisol boost the formation of memories, they can hinder their recall. Indeed, new research looking at more than 1,200 individuals finds that people whose cortisol levels stay higher during memory recall will find it more challenging to retrieve specific memories.” Link here. Basically, this means that the more you stress yourself out the less you’ll be able to recall! Now we know that stress is bad and why, what should we do about it? Everyone is different, exactly how you relax is something that you get to discover for yourself. If you Google “ways to relieve stress,” there are millions of links; go explore and see what’s right for you! But something that I would like to share is that when something is really stressing me out, I try to picture the worst (reasonable) case scenario. It is not likely that if I fail this exam, the world will literally end; but if I don’t pass this exam, I will have to take this class again in college and waste money and time and I hate this class. So now, is that livable? It isn’t ideal of course, but taking a course again will ultimately be ok. I hate when people say to me, “Adrianne. This won’t even matter in 10 years…” Well it matters to me right now! Never discount how you’re feeling or call it weak; something that I’ve had to come to accept is that, “I’m only human. All that I can do is my best.” After your exam, don’t stress over that question that you didn’t get or that essay that you completely BS’ed. It’s done. You’re free! There’s nothing that you can do now. You can’t go back in time and study more, you couldn’t of known to study that more, there’s nothing more to do. Celebrate! After my AP Calculus exam, I went and had my own little happy party and got a chocolate sprinkle donut! Whatever makes you happy :). The way that you can ensure that you rest easy after your exam is to do all that you can beforehand. You’ll start feeling guilty when you know you had your textbook open for 3 hours and watched Netflix; you’ll regret not studying more, you’ll blame yourself for wasting time. In the end, to make sure that you feel truly satisfied with yourself, do your best before the exam and you’ll be able to rest easy.
Finally, we know how to study, the importance of sleep, and the repercussions of stress. It may seem weird for me to say enjoy it, because 4 hour exams aren’t exactly on the Top 10 list of fun things. But guys, before you know it, it will be your last AP. Today I took my 17th and final AP exam and walking out it felt oddly bittersweet; I have taken these exams every year for 3 years and this is the last time in my whole life that I will ever take one. Now, I would never choose to take one again! But enjoy the phase that you’re in because it will be the last time you’ll ever have this in your life! Good luck on exams!
-Adrianne, Junior, Class of 2018