How to IMSA: AP Exams

Spring break is upon us! A week of home-cooked food, hibernating for 18 hours a day, maybe going on college visits, enjoying the pleasant weather… and studying for AP exams.

IMSA doesn’t offer any formally-designated AP courses, although many course curricula align quite closely with the AP material. For example, the two-semester Statistics sequence, the two-semester Advanced Chemistry sequence, and U.S. Government and Constitution cover most of the material in AP Statistics, AP Chemistry, and AP U.S. Government, respectively. Some of the Literary Explorations courses (depending on your teacher) have also replaced some of their formal essays with timed writing to simulate the AP English Language or AP English Literature exams.

But more than likely, you’re planning to take an AP exam in a subject that IMSA doesn’t currently offer – AP Psychology, Environmental Science, and any of the history exams, to name a few. (Note: The Biology of Behavior and Geology electives are new next year, so it remains to be seen how much AP overlap they will contain.)

So if you’re in that situation, here’s some advice on how to prepare.

  1. Study over spring break. Seriously. In the 6 hours each day that you don’t spend sleeping, just take a couple of hours out to glance through a chapter of Kaplan.
  2. Designate a time of day to study AP stuff. It’s easy to study over extended weekends, but AP prep is easily forgotten in the shadow of the next tidal wave of homework and sleep deprivation. Try to schedule your AP studying during a designated free mod, for an hour after 10-check, or even just for 15 minutes a day during midday. AP exams are about memorization, but not all about memorization. Especially when it comes to the humanities, the exams look for an understanding of overarching concepts rather than specific historical anecdotes. So even a very short amount of study time will help, as long as you maintain it on a daily basis.
  3. If you’re not currently taking a class in the respective AP subject, try to sit in on a related elective. I used my free mods to sit in on an Advanced Chemistry class, in an attempt to absorb the information through reverse osmosis. Although I didn’t necessarily understand all of the lectures the first time through, it just helped to have the basic introduction before I tried to self-study the same concepts.
  4. Cross-reference the AP study guide book with your notes from sophomore year courses. This especially applies if you’re taking a science AP exam and have your notes from SI Biology, Chemistry, or Physics, but your American Studies notes would also help for U.S. History. For example, SI Chemistry covered entire chapters of my AP Chemistry Princeton Review book while skipping over others. But being able to cross off even a few sections of those enormous study guides can make you feel accomplished.
  5. Check the score standards for the colleges you’re planning to apply to. Of course, make sure that the schools you’re applying to actually accept AP credits. But if you research some southern flagships (the Universities of Alabama, Florida, Arizona, etc.), you’ll notice that they generally don’t differentiate between a 4 and a 5 in terms of course credit awarded. A 3 gets you out of an introductory class, but a 4 or a 5 might earn double the credit of a 3 and give you more flexibility in your freshman year schedule. So consider that you may not actually need a 5 to maximize your course credit – that’ll save you some study time and stress.
  6. Free-response. Depending on what high school you came from, you might have written an “AP-style essay” for your semester paper and gotten an A for using a really basic, easily-gradable, three-point structure. At IMSA, you dropped that habit, as you learned to dread comments that criticized your writing as “a very AP-style essay.” But the AP exams are not the Literary Explorations sequence. The AP graders are all but skimming your writing with checklist in hand – so make it easy for them to check off everything.

It’s difficult to manage AP exam preparation during the school year, as the IMSA course load is demanding enough on its own. But we hope that the above advice will help you get more college credit. Happy studying/spring break!

About the Author

Grace Yue
Grace Yue is a junior from Des Plaines, a resident of 03A for the second year running, and the Opinions editor for the 2018-19 school year. Outside of Acronym, she participates in an SIR particle physics analysis at Fermilab, is a peer tutor, and volunteers as an SCS member. You can find her in 06B-wing "studying" particle physics, or in 03C-wing writing the next installation of the How to IMSA column, which she co-authors with her friend and hallmate Mara Adams.

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