04/19/2013 01:04 pm ET Updated Jun 19, 2013

How to Prep for Advanced Placement Exams

Last year, more than 2 million students worldwide took Advanced Placement (AP) exams, and more students are now gearing up for the next AP testing period, which starts May 6th. For students, passing an AP exam means potentially earning class credit before ever stepping foot on a college campus - and standing out to college admissions boards - making it well worth the effort.

While AP coursework is developed to help students prepare for testing, earning an "A" in class is no guarantee that you'll pass the exam. Dedicating time to AP exam prep is still critical. And as AP testing becomes an increasingly popular way for high school students to get ahead of the game, some are choosing to take AP exams without enrolling in the corresponding AP course (often due to scheduling issues, the lack of AP courses at their school or they didn't meet the performance requirements in prerequisite classes). My colleagues and I have seen evidence of this trend first-hand, as we've been receiving more tutoring requests from self-study students.

Regardless of if you took an AP course or chose self-study, it's important to prepare for AP exams in order to earn a score of 3 or higher. Below are strategies and tips to help you get ready for test day:

1. Go beyond practice questions.
Studying practice questions is a great way to gain a better understanding of the AP exam format. But you shouldn't stop there - a smarter strategy is to prepare by taking timed practice exams. Doing a full run-through of the testing experience for each AP exam you plan on taking, or perhaps several run-throughs, will give you a better idea of what to expect, increasing your comfort with the exam and eliminating surprises when you sit for the real test.

2. Get advice from other students.
When preparing for an AP exam, your peers can serve as a great source of information.
Find other students who have already completed the AP class you're taking, and ask them if you can pick their brain about the exam. Their first-hand experience and familiarity with the test might lead you to some helpful tips and insights that you might not get otherwise.

3. Seek additional help.
Don't let your test prep process end with class time and assignments. To ensure that you earn the best possible score, it's important to go above and beyond in your studying efforts, and there are a variety of resources that are available to you. Ask your teachers for additional help, enlist the services of a tutor or seek out supplemental study materials, like AP test prep books.

And for students preparing for an AP exam through self-study alone, here are three additional tips to consider:

1. Think like a teacher.
Because you do not have the benefit of a traditional structured AP class, it's important to do some research and create your own study schedule. Go to the Advanced Placement Program website and make a checklist of the core concepts that will be included in the exam. This will be helpful in mapping out your study plans to make sure that you're ready on the big day.

2. Start early.
Learning AP class material, especially on your own, takes a lot of time and effort. To do well on an AP exam, you need to make sure you give yourself enough time to learn the material and prepare for testing. Remember, most students are preparing for the same exam over the course of a year through traditional class instruction - don't try to cram for a test in a limited timeframe.

3. Be realistic.
With the option to self-study for an exam in order to potentially earn more AP credits, it may be tempting to overdo it. Be realistic about the number of exams you can handle at one time, and don't forget to consider your other academic responsibilities. Remember, it isn't about the number of AP exams you take; it's about the number of AP exams you pass.