Tips to Start Your AP Class on the Right Foot

Start your AP level classes ahead of the game by following these helpful pointers.

By Erica Cirino, Varsity Tutors' Contributor

August 04, 2015

Tips to Start Your AP Class on the Right Foot Tips to Start Your AP Class on the Right Foot

For high school students who seek an academic challenge, enrolling in Advanced Placement (AP) courses is the way to go. AP courses not only test students’ knowledge; if students are successful in these demanding courses, college admissions counselors are likely to take notice.

With college admission more competitive than ever before, the popularity of AP courses has skyrocketed among high school students. In fact, the number of students taking AP exams has nearly doubled within 10 years – from 514,163 in 2003 to 1,003,430 in 2013 – and the College Board administers more than 30 different AP exams offered today.

As mentioned above, AP courses are demanding – and for AP newbies, it’s easy to become intimidated by talk of these college-level high school courses. However, excelling in AP is not impossible – but it may require putting in an adequate and consistent amount of time and effort.

Start your AP class off on the right foot with these three tips:

1. Complete your summer assignments well before the first week of school

Many AP course instructors require their students to complete at least one summer assignment, to be submitted on the first day of class. Such assignments are meant to give students a taste of what their homework assignments will entail during the school year – typically this includes a lot of reading, writing, or a combination of both.

Summer homework is also commonly assigned in AP courses to teach students, or refresh their minds, with the foundational content upon which their studies during the year will be built.

Given the significance of AP summer assignments, it’s important to take them seriously. Rushing through them will only hurt your performance in the course in the long run and will earn you a poor first homework grade.

Begin your summer AP homework early on – at least five weeks before your first day of school – so that you have ample time to work on it. The establishment of good time-management skills is essential to succeed in an AP course.

Bottom line when it comes to studying and homework: AP students should never procrastinate!

2. Thoroughly review the class syllabus

On the first day of class, your instructor will likely review his or her academic plan for the year and distribute a syllabus outlining topics, assignments, exams, and other important information. As your instructor explains their plan and syllabus in class, take notes and use a highlighter to emphasize the most important information.

Then, when you return home after your first day, reread your AP course syllabus. Input each important date – namely, assignment due dates and exam date and information – from the syllabus in your calendar or planner so it’s all in one place.

3. Create an organized notes binder

Besides establishing good time management skills, staying organized is critical when enrolled in an AP course. Over the course of the year, your instructor will hand out assignments, graded exams and note handouts.

Plus, you’ll be taking notes in class during lectures, whether that’s in a notebook or on loose-leaf. All this means you’ll have many messy, loose papers…unless you stay organized!

Many AP students find it helpful to keep their course material in a large binder divided into sections. This makes staying organized as easy punching holes into a piece of paper and then snapping it into the correct section of your binder.

A good idea is to have one section per each topic outlined in your syllabus. For instance, if you’re taking AP U.S. History, you might have “Colonial History,” “U.S. Independence,” and “Nationalism” as the first few course topics in your binder. In addition to a section for each major topic, you should make labeled sections for: “Current Assignments” (for any homework you are assigned and are working on), “Past Assignments” (for graded assignments you receive back), and “Exams” (for graded exams you receive back).

Lastly, place the syllabus as the first page in your binder, in its own section, using it as an index.



Erica Cirino is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, the leading curated marketplace for private tutors. The company also builds mobile learning apps, online tutoring environments, and other tutoring and test prep-focused technologies.

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