Are you considering taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses to strengthen your college applications?
Taking AP courses is a great way to demonstrate your scholarly independence and ability to handle higher level coursework with responsibilities to mangage heavier workload.
To help you succeed in AP classes and exams independently, we’ve written an article on the easiest AP classes you can take with the easiest AP exams to self-study with tips on how to study for an AP test. By the end of this article, you will know exactly which are the best AP classes to take junior year and AP high school classes to demonstrate your achievements on the transcripts you plan to submit for your college application.
Does Self-Studying for APs Look Good for College Applications?
Self-studying refers to independent learning where you are not guided by an instructor but are self-led and disciplined at your own accord. Self studying isn’t actually conveyed on college applications concretely, but you can write about it in your personal statements. Self-studying is a great way to foster your own independent learning style to take on more challenging coursework or responsibilities.
Now, while you cannot actually prove your self-studying capabilities in a college application, you can certain display these efforts by self-studying for AP exams. Self-studying for AP exams requires you to take an exam without actually taking the class. So, you study on your own time with your own materials to prep for the same exam as other AP students.
Self-studying for AP exams demonstrates your abilities to initiate projects independently, stay organized, maintain commitment, and be disciplined with your study habits. Luckily, these are all the qualities that make a college application look more favorable over other candidates. AP exams without the coursework also indicate your potential to succeed in higher level coursework and abilities to use critical thinking skills in college level content.
Our definite answer is yes, self-studying for AP exams will look great for your college application.
How Can You Self-Study AP Classes?
Now that you know the promising advantages of self-studying for AP exams and how this would strengthen your college application, let’s talk about how you can self-study.
How do you get started? Where can you learn how to study for an AP test?
The first step to self-study AP classes is to learn how to study for an AP test. There are plenty of resources to select from and you should likely start with basic test prep textbooks that provide you with an overview on how to take these exams, what to expect, and an opportunity to practice on sample exams.
Many students have shared the value in practicing for AP exams using test prep materials. The advantages to this are that you not only train yourself in knowing how to take a particular type of exam format, but you also get to work on the amount of time you take to complete all the question items. If you practice enough times, you should find a consistent time completion rate that you will likely replicate in the real AP exam.
However, other strategies that might be more efficient would be identifying the easiest AP exams to study. Then, learning how to study for those in order to learn how to self-study for AP exams. For instance, it might be a more beneficial learning experience to self-study for a class like AP Psychology rather than AP calculus.
We will explain why this is the case.
Some AP exams are designed to have easier approaches to self-studying, while others may be more difficult to initiate as a high school student. Some former students have described these challenging AP exams as nearly impossible to self-study. So, the best strategy to embark on your self-studying journey is to begin with the exams that have been formatted in a friendlier manner for independent learners.
Other factors that might help you identify the level of difficulty for an easy AP class include
- Course workload
- Extent of conceptual material
- Time commitment needed
- Extent of relevance your strengths or existing knowledge
What are the Easiest AP Classes to Self-Study?
Wouldn’t it be great if you had a list of the easiest AP classes to self-study?
Thankfully, we have done all the hard work for you! We have created a list of the easiest AP classes to self-study with details on what to expect from the exam and some recommendations for books to help guide your exam preparation. The books we provide will teach you how to study for an AP test, including practice items and exams to work on.
This list will guide you in your decision to pursue AP exams, but remember to also consider your own personal learning style, time commitment, and available resources to facilitate self-studying.
The AP exam for Psychology is a 100 multiple choice exam with 2 essay questions. The entire test takes about 2 hours to complete, with time split between the two sections (70 minutes and 50 minutes, respectively).
Most students in this AP class will study using AP Psychology from Barron. However, we think that your psychology book from the class should suffice. If you are looking for practice exams, then go for the book, but otherwise you should just read and understand the theories, principles, and historical events in psychological research.
AP U.S. Government and Politics
The AP exam for U.S. Government and Politics is 60 multiple choice exam with 4 essay questions. This is one of the best AP classes to take junior year because you likely have prior understanding about if you grew up in the United States.
The exam is narrow in topics and there might be material that you’re not familiar with related to the government, but it’s manageable and certainly applicable to your setting.
We recommend the following books to prepare for the from The Princeton Review.
AP Human Geography
The AP exam for Human Geography is a 75 multiple choice exam with 3 essay questions. The entire exam lasts about 2 hours and 15 minutes. The exam tests you on basic understanding of concepts and analysis that can interpret the causation of human behavior on geographic factors.
We recommend the following books to prepare for the exam: Human Geography from Barron and Cracking the Human Geography Exam from Princeton Review. In these books, you will have access to plenty of practice questions that will show you similar items to be expected on the actual exam.
For this exam, we recommend strengthening your critical thinking skills and vocabulary. The test emphasizes the integration of several concepts and requires you to align concepts critically and coherently. Make sure you understand how theories are defined and be creative in how you can bring different ones together.
Have you taken a biology course or a higher level biology courses, such as honors? If you have, then this is one of the best AP classes to take junior year to reflect on your transcripts for college applications.
Biology is one of the college courses you will need to meet basic requirements, but also for pre-med or other medical driven careers. So, if you’re already familiar with the basic knowledge and concepts, then this should be a great option.
If, however, you have never taken a biology course in high school and less even in an honors class setting, then we strongly advise against self-studying this exam. It will be extremely difficult to go in without any prior understanding or knowledge on how to study concepts.
The AP exam for Biology is a 60-item multiple choice exam with 6 essay questions. The time allotted for the same is up to 3 hours, with 1 hour and 30 minutes split between the two sections. The exam typically tests for your understanding of concepts, scientific approaches, analyses, and other theories in biology.
We note that for this exam you will also need to understand how to graph functions on a scientific calculator. You are permitted to bring your own calculator, so make sure to take advantage of this to speed up your responses and accuracy of them.
AP Computer Science
The AP exam for Computer Science is a multiple choice exam testing for basic knowledge on programming. The entire exam takes about 3 hours long. The suggested books to help you with this exam include Computer Science from Barron and Be Prepared for the AP Computer Science Exam in Java from Litvin.
For this particular exam, we strongly encourage practice to hone your coding skills and understanding on basic programming. The books that we recommended will provide you with a lot of materials to access practice problems that you might run into on the exam.
AP Macroeconomics and AP Microeconomics
The AP exam for Macroeconomics and AP Microeconomics is a 60 multiple choice exam with 3 essay questions. The exam takes about 2 hours and 10 minutes to complete with 60 minutes split between the two sections. Topics included in the exam usually ask about theoretical principles, calculations of hypothetical situations, and best choice decisions in scenarios.
We recommend these books to start self-studying: 5 Steps to a 5: AP Microeconomics/Macroeconomics and Cracking the AP Macro and Micro Exams from the Princeton Review. Overall, we encourage you to memorize general principles and rules to be able to apply these successful in hypothetical scenarios.
AP English Language and Composition
The AP exam for English Language and Composition can be a great option to self-study if you happen to have strengths in writing. If writing is not your greatest skill, then we strongly advise against taking this AP exam independently.
The exam questions test your knowledge and understanding on rhetorical analysis, reading passages, and essay questions. This exam is slightly heavy in the types of questions with 45 multiple choice items and 3 essay questions. We mention this because the multiple-choice items are analytical with language rhetoric, comprehension questions with lengthy reading passages, and other types of writing questions.
The essay for this exam is also somewhat more complex – you are expected to address a synthesis question, where you demonstrate how you can summarize facts succinctly and coherently. You are also expected to address a rhetorical analysis question about language composition itself. And, you have to respond to an argument question, which has a very structured composition for high points.
The good news is that there are plenty of practice exams that will guide you in writing these and to minimize the time taken to read the passages. We recommend 5 steps to a 5: AP English Language and Cracking the AP English Language and Composition Exam from the Princeton Review.
AP Environmental Science
The AP exam for Environmental Science is a 100 multiple choice exam with 4 essay questions. The entire exam takes about 3 hours long, with 90 minutes split between the two sections (e.g., questions and essays). The topics usually include knowledge of natural ecosystems, the impact of innovation on the environment, and statistical approaches.
We recommend these books to start self-studying: Cracking the AP Environmental Science Exam from Princeton Review and the Environmental Science Exam from The Smartypants. We also recommend that you make sure to have a basic knowledge and understanding of the environmental problems, processes, and mechanisms of change leading to a need for field studies.
AP Environmental Science is actually one of the easiest AP exams to study for because you are not expected to have any prior knowledge in ecology, making it easier to start as a novice to the subject. This would be a great start to learning how to self-study for AP classes.
There you have it! An accurate list of the easiest AP classes to self-study. Another thing we want to point out is that this list may not be inclusive of your skills. What makes an AP exam easy really depends on what it is you’re actually good at.
Alternatively, really smart math folks that we know could often have trouble wrapping their heads around social science or poetry, so we don’t want you to just take on a class without considering how you think about concepts, what topics/subjects are usually easy for you to understand and apply, what comes to you naturally (like calculations).
What are the Hardest AP Classes to Self-Study?
Our next discussion is on the hardest AP classes to self-study. These are classes and exams that we think are much too challenging and complex to study independently without instructor-led coursework. The reason is really because of the way the class is designed rather than the level of difficulty you can take.
Some exams just aren’t made for self-studying and are simply not an efficient use of your time. Here is our list of the hardest AP classes to self-study.
AP Calculus AB and BC
It is no surprise that calculus is a challenging course to learn especially as one of your high school classes, let alone AP high school classes. The exam for AP Calculus is not advised to do without a good instructor to guide your understanding of complex math.
AP Chemistry is very challenging because of the workload. There are lots of new content that you’ll need to learn, memorize, and be able to synthesize all together. Because there is a lot expected from you in learning this subject, we don’t recommend self-studying unless you have a tutor or some instructor-led curriculum.
AP Physics 1 & 2
Oh, AP Physics. We admire the lot of you who happen to have a natural proclivity of physics, but it is definitely not a good exam to self-study. Not only are the concepts, theories and calculations in physics complex, but the exam is one of the most difficult to pass without a guiding instructor.
Many students have experienced this exam as one of the most difficult AP exams they’ve ever taken, even the smart ones! So, we don’t want to encourage you not to take the exam, but we strongly encourage you to please do so with a formal curriculum to guide you for that passing grade.
Wrapping Things Up: The Best AP Courses to Self-Study
At this point, you have already prepared yourself to start self-studying for the best AP courses yet. We gave you an extensive and detailed list of the easiest AP exams to self-study to guide you in your exam preparation.
The important thing to remember is that knowing how to study for an AP test isn’t the same as strategizing your abilities to self-study an AP class that was designed to learn independently. Make sure to critically assess what an AP exam can offer you and what you can do more efficiently to show your AP accomplishments on your college application.