College Admission Counseling Bethesda

November 12, 2021, by

AP classes don’t have to be stressful!

We’re only approaching the third month of school, but for many, it already feels like crunch time. For Honors and AP students especially, the first couple of tests can be a big wake-up call and a reminder of the difficulty level of AP classes and the expectations of honors and AP level teachers.

Don’t lose hope though! While a rough first quarter can feel defeating, there is plenty of time to turn things around and succeed in a tough class, both for your first semester or trimester grade and down the line for your final or AP Exam. Here are three important steps you can take to improve your grade in a challenging course:

Read Ahead Before Class

Now I know your initial reaction may be, “Yeah right – if I had time to read ahead and do more homework, then I’d already be doing well in the class!” Hear me out though… It took me a long time to learn this lesson, but when I finally did, it not only helped me succeed in class, it was also a time-saver in the end.

For any class, whether it’s History, Science, or Math, reading the chapters ahead of the discussion on those chapters gives you a huge advantage. While the material may be unfamiliar when you first read it, you’ll come to class armed with the basics of what will be discussed that day. You’ll be ready to ask the right questions about the content that was hard to understand. I distinctly remember this method changing the game for me in PreCalc in 11th grade. Instead of coming to class and being completely lost and confused during the lecture, I started reading the section ahead of time and was completely lost and confused at home. BUT, the next day when the teacher explained the concepts in class and demonstrated sample problems, I could usually grasp everything, largely because I had some familiarity with the material after reading it ahead of time.

I concede that implementing this strategy will take an upfront investment of time. It may require devoting a couple of hours this weekend to both get caught up on your reading and to read ahead. But, when the material presented in class is already familiar, everything clicks. Homework is easier and faster, and studying for quizzes and tests is much simpler.

Talk to The Teacher

Believe it or not, even the most difficult teachers want you to succeed. In fact, it’s often those teachers that push their classes the hardest who care the most about the long-term success of their students. It might not seem like it, but almost every teacher wants you to do well in their class.

So, if you find yourself falling behind, struggling on tests or quizzes, or generally grappling with the material for a class, talk to your teacher! Teachers love it when students show the initiative to come see them. Often teachers will make time during lunch, study hall, free periods, or after school to meet with you to review class material, study for upcoming assessments, and generally ensure that you’re caught up in the class. And for those students that really show that they are motivated to improve and are putting in the time and effort, teachers will often dispense some VERY helpful advice on exactly what to study for upcoming quizzes and tests – advice you might not get without making the time to see them.

At the very least, asking your teachers for help will show them that you care and are invested in succeeding in their class. Building that relationship will almost certainly make for a better year, and it may end up dramatically improving your grade in the class.

Use Available AP Resources

Lastly, a common complaint we hear is that even though a student has studied all the notes, homework problems, and review material for a particular unit, he or she does poorly on the unit test because the test questions are more difficult than those in the study materials. This is objectively the worst feeling. You’ve put in all that time and effort to prepare, but you feel that the assessment was unfairly testing more difficult material or using different question types with which you are unfamiliar.

For AP classes, it’s worth getting familiar with the AP practice and review materials that are available on AP Classroom. There are multiple choice and free response questions for each chapter / unit, and these will generally be challenging, cross-concept questions – the types that often catch students by surprise on their first tests of the year. Using the AP materials to practice for unit tests is a great way to push yourself to be ready for those challenging questions and to avoid any nasty surprises.

Note: You may need to ask your teacher to unlock the review materials on AP Classroom. Additionally, you can find many previous years’ AP exams by either Googling a particular course exam (for example “2018 AP Chemistry Free Response Questions”) or by going to the College Board’s website. Some links to get started are below.

Work with a tutor

A tutor can work with you on both concepts and skills you may not have understood in class or would like more practice with.  They can review how you solve differential equations or help you annotate and write a US History DBQ for example. They can point you to resources available and help you distill the most important concepts from your reading.  Marks Education tutors have worked with hundreds of students across most AP subjects.

If you need extra guidance and support to pull up your grade in a challenging class or to get ahead, please contact us. We can match you with an experienced tutor to help you get caught up and excel in your class.

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