Junto's Guide to Surviving AP Season
November 20th, 2021
It’s AP season. Students are fretting about their inability to live up to their standards of study efficiency and panic before realizing that they have to cram half the textbook’s worth of content into the few nights leading up to the exams. To help with this, we’ve compiled a list of tips that might help you ease the stress of studying.
Different subjects call for different strategies, but there are some general rules of thumb when trying to maximize efficiency and getting the most out of your limited time. We’ll talk about some of the universal strategies across different subjects below, and also provide some suggestions as to how you should approach your work pile.
First and foremost, make sure you know the requirements of your class and what type of skills it requires! Subjects like bio emphasize memorization and analysis; subjects like chem, physics, and math emphasize application and familiarity with the problem-solving aspect. Humanities classes typically emphasize critical thinking, understanding, and how well you can come up with a coherent point. Biology requires the specific memorization of factual information across different subcategories (e.g. the function of certain components of a system), while history courses tend to focus on the big picture (e.g. the factors that led to a certain event).
Generally speaking, success comes with a combination of solid understanding, logical coherence of ideas, and plenty of practice to hone your abilities.
Small steps can make a big difference. For problem-solving based subjects (e.g. math), make sure to stay on top of homework assignments and drill on problems so as to not encounter brand-new content on the test. Subjects heavy on the memorization side (e.g. bio and history) require you to practice effective notetaking and understanding what you read to aid in retention. For critical-thinking based courses (e.g. Lang), it’s usually necessary to develop a strong sense of organization and knowing how to succinctly get your point across. Get plenty of practice and don’t forget to plan any essays beforehand (with specific paragraph topics and supporting ideas).
Note-taking is a very personalized skill, so you need to take the time to find what suits you best. One of the more important ideas is the concept of ‘active recall’, by which you force your brain to draw from newly-gained knowledge rather than passively assimilating information.
Note-taking comes in a sort of spectrum in terms of the amount of writing one does. On one end of the spectrum you have the person who reads the textbook like a newspaper, while on the other end you have the person who copies the textbook word for word into their notebook, hoping that this will facilitate hard memorization. Both of these people are destined to fail; ideally, you should be somewhere in the middle.
The most popular note-taking methods seem to be Cornell notes and the outline method (headings, subheadings, and bullet points). These are rather effective, given the logical flow and interconnectedness of bio concepts. In spite of this, you may find some of the more unorthodox strategies to your benefit.
“Blind notes” are an interesting strategy that may help with specific memorization of facts and figures. This method entails reading the textbook section first, then closing the book and writing down everything you remember, and finally going back to revise afterwards. This forces the process of active recall when trying to learn new concepts.
Some highly effective students take notes entirely in the form of questions. This way, you always have the option to go back and force your brain to draw from your knowledge pool.
Mind maps are pretty powerful tools as well. Really guys, listen to Ms. Mulligan; these present a logical pattern that your brain can easily latch on to. They compel you to condense lots of information into a limited amount of space.
Teaching someone is not really a note-taking method, but it's by far one of the most effective methods of learning, as it combines the power of active recall and paraphrasing. Have fun lecturing your goldfish about the Krebs cycle.
Highlighting is a popular strategy among the humanities subjects. It is commonly used for its speed and ability to pick out the important parts of an otherwise lengthy passage. Keep in mind that it’s a relatively passive process that gambles on whether or not you can remember something that you glanced over.
SQ3R does have its merits in terms of solidifying knowledge, but has been criticized for being a ridiculously slow and arduous process.
Procrastination is something universal across the student body, with even the most successful of students succumbing to it from time to time. However, highly successful students have all found ways to limit procrastination. There are certain strategies to maximize your chance of success when the urge to procrastinate comes along and kicks you in the face.
Prioritizing planning. Having a strict daily plan can give you something to go off of, so you'll have more of an incentive to stick to your tasks during working periods. Additionally, you can mandate protected hours, or certain times in the day when you tell yourself I have to work with no excuses.
These all help in building a routine. Remember that patience is bitter, but its fruits are sweet. Start with small increments; for example, "I will work for at least 20 minutes after I get home from school" and work your way up from there. Eventually, you'll form good habits that will almost be impossible to break.
Keeping a log is a good form of deterrence. At the end of the day, writing down what you accomplished and whether you got distracted or not is a good way of keeping yourself in check. Additionally, write down the reason why you procrastinated, and these excuses will begin to sound stupid later on (i.e. 90% of the time it's actually "I was lazy and didn't want to do my work").
Choosing your busy days and setting deadlines in advance will help keep you on top of things. Mark certain days on your calendar that you'll want to treat like deadlines. Start to cram on those days in order to free up future time, so you won't be stressed when the real deadline actually comes.
Finally, when all else fails, remember that we live in the 21st century. There are a plethora of apps and browser extensions that can aid in limiting potential time-wasting activities. They’re available to download as apps, Chrome extensions, and computer software. Some effective ones are Forest and Self Control.
General Strategies for Each Subject
Biology and related sciences
Memorization is particularly difficult with biology, as it often requires the retention of specific facts that are difficult to remember using logic alone. Good note-taking and practice questions are crucial. Try to push the knowledge into your brain via active recall: skim the textbook chapters once and close read it the second time, try to use the ‘blind notes’ strategy, form a study group with your friends, etc.
It’s important to get the main idea and understand the bigger picture when it comes to humanities. Aside from the few key dates to remember, try to grasp the thematic aspect of what you’re learning and facilitate this with a logical understanding of the events that happened over time. After reading, make sure to ask yourself what the passage is trying to convey and other relevant ideas, e.g. stakeholders, cause and effect, perspectives.
Math and calculation-based sciences
It’s important to familiarize yourself with the concepts involved and how they can be applied in context. Drill on questions to get used to how specific formulas or procedures can be used. More importantly, make sure you understand why things work the way they are rather than blindly forcing concepts into your mind without any real grasp of why they make sense.
Apart from vocabulary, language courses tend to stray from the memorization aspect and more into the realm of application and critical thinking. When writing, make sure to always know what the prompt is asking for, write a plan before you begin, and clearly articulate your ideas. Get plenty of practice and ask your teachers for feedback. When analyzing literary pieces, identify the literary elements and common themes among different forms of writing. In expository and persuasive pieces, clearly identify what the author’s message is and annotate ideas that you deem important. In narrative pieces, make sure you clearly follow the plot development and whatever nuances that the piece may have. When looking at grammar, familiarize yourself with the rules of the language so you do it by mind instead of by ear. When memorizing vocab, try to see the words applied in context instead of forcing the definition into your head.
Social sciences do involve knowledge retention and memorization to some degree, but these can be rather logic and knowledge-based. Study and read up on how specific concepts are seen in a variety of different contexts and identify common themes.
Godspeed in your journey.