What’s the Best AP Computer Science Principles Review Book?

William Cohen
Published by William Cohen
Last Updated On: May 5, 2021

If you're planning to pursue a college major in computer science, we recommend taking an AP Computer Science class, which mimics an introductory semester of this college course.

Since the class will cover AP computer science principles, analysis, and code testing, you need to have a good foundation on computer variables and control structures.

You can start investing in that knowledge by getting the best AP Computer Science books. After more than 50 hours of in-depth review, we've come up with this list below.

Table of Contents
Editor's Choice
5 Steps to A 5 AP Computer Science
5 Steps to a 5
Book Quality
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#2nd Best Choice
Barron's AP Computer Science A Book Reviews
Barron's AP Computer Science
Book Quality
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#3rd Best Choice
Princeton Review AP Computer Science
Princeton Review
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5 Best AP Computer Science Books in 2021

1 - 5 Steps to a 5 - AP Computer Science Book (Editor's Choice)

5 Steps to A 5 AP Computer Science

Most former test-takers we've interviewed claim that if you wish to ace your AP computer science exam, this easy to follow study guide may be a good bet.

The 5 steps to a 5  AP Computer Science is considered one of the best AP Computer Science A exam prep books that aim to help students score a 5. It includes a detailed explanation to help you understand the concepts.

This 5 steps to a 5 review book matches the latest course syllabus and the latest AP Computer Science exam based on our research.

It includes 2 full-length practice exams and an interactive planner for better time management and organization.

  • Comprehensive review of the AP Exam
  • Includes 2 full-length practice tests
  • Well-structured prep book
  • Strategies are well-presented
  • Includes an interactive planner
  • Not for last-minute studying

2 - Barron's AP Computer Science A Book Reviews

Barron's AP Computer Science A Book Reviews

As per our detailed review, Barron's AP Computer Science A book is a comprehensive test prep guide that offers 3 practice tests for the level A Computer Science course.

The book includes a diagnostic test, subject reviews, detailed test topics, and answer explanations for the key concepts. These features make it stand out as one of the best AP Computer Science A exam review books.

The book's practice exams contain new questions that reflect the new free-response style used on the upcoming AP exam.

Additionally, two-dimensional arrays are provided for the bonus practice exams.

You'll also find another full-length practice test that likewise includes complete answer explanations.

  • Includes full-length practice tests
  • Well-organized structure
  • Affordable price
  • Includes a diagnostic test
  • Not ideal for beginners

3 - Princeton Review AP Computer Science A Prep, 2021

Princeton Review AP Computer Science

Based on our research, Cracking the AP Computer Science A Exam from Princeton Review is another recommended book for AP Computer Science A exam preparation.

While it may not be our top choice, we think it's still good enough if you've likewise enjoyed other Princeton Review books.

Cracking the AP Computer Science includes 2 full-length practice tests with detailed answer explanations. You'll also see step-by-step introductions for each of the sample questions and practice exams.

We find the practice drills at the end of each chapter useful in monitoring your progress. The test-taking tips and strategies are effective in preparing you for the exam day.

  • Ideal for last-minute studying
  • Focused on the key concepts
  • Includes 2 full-length practice tests
  • Not for comprehensive study

4 - Decoding AP CSA: For a High Schooler By a High Schooler

Decoding AP CSA

Decoding AP CSA is a straightforward AP Physics 2 prep book written by a high school student, with the help of some adults, of course.

The good thing about this book is that it is written from the perspective of a young adult who's about to take the AP Physics 2 exam with you. Hence, the maximized learning potential.

It covers extensive computer science principles to strengthen your basic Java knowledge. It has 3 practice tests and 250 problems to test your knowledge after each chapter, making it one of the best AP Computer Science A exam book.

It also comes with an online course that you can access anytime.

  • Includes practice tests
  • Straightforward approach
  • Includes an online practice course
  • Not for comprehensive review
  • A few typos and errors

5 - Be Prepared for the AP Computer Science Exam in Java

AP ComSci

Be Prepared for the AP Computer Science Exam in Java review books is a Java-focused preparatory book that aims to solidify your knowledge on the core concepts of the AP Computer Science course.

Based on our research, it is written by a computer science expert, and based on his experience as a consultant for the College Board.

While it mostly focuses on Java, it also covers other AP CS topics. It contains 5 full-length practice tests and codes based on the AP exam's free-response questions.

We recommend you use this in conjunction with an AP Computer Science textbook for a more comprehensive review.

  • Includes full-length practice tests
  • Has several sample codes
  • Has a special focus on Java
  • Not a standalone review material
  • Not for beginners

Exam Information

The College Board AP Computer Science exam lasts for 3 hours, and it has two sections - multiple-choice questions and a free-response section.

  • Section 1: Multiple choice sections have 40 questions, and it lasts for 75 minutes. It covers 50% of your score.
  • Section 2: Free response section has 4 questions and lasts up to 105 minutes.

You need to write the code on a piece of paper. You cannot compile and run it using a computer.

What Is Tested On The AP Computer Science Exam?

The AP computer science course and the test will be instructed using the Java programming language. As an object-oriented programming language, it has similar features to other popular programming languages. There are 5 main concepts tested on the AP computer science exam. These concepts will be taught throughout the year, and you will need to understand them to score well on the exam.

Program Design and Algorithm

The first concept is the program design and algorithm. This section will test your knowledge of what types of code segments are required to produce a given output. It will help students understand what types of programs are needed to solve specific problems. This core concept will also test students’ ability to choose correct code segments to add to already completed programs.

Code Logic

This core concept will focus on the logic behind programs and code. It will test the ability of students to determine the output of a series of coding statements. This concept will test how many times a code segment will execute and when the method will call a specific class or statement. This section makes up 40-45% of the multiple-choice questions on the exam, so we recommend studying it well.

Our guide on how to study for an AP exam might come in handy, so feel free to check it out.

Code Implementation

This section is tested using free-response questions. This core concept will test how well a student can write program code to identify, call, and create objects within a class. You will also see questions that require students to write and manipulate ArrayList objects and 2D array objects. Students will be required to write conditional statements, expressions, boolean expressions, and iterative statements.

Code Testing

Your code must be readable and testable, so the AP computer science exam will also test your ability to use test-cases to find program errors or validate code functionality. Students will also be expected to identify coding errors and determine if two or more code segments will produce the same output.


This core concept will require students to analyze code documentation and determine their behavior and compilation. Students will need to understand why a code segment will not compile or run based on coding documentation. They will also have to explain why a program output will change based on changes to the initial code. This section is geared more towards explaining and understanding the programming process than writing actual code.

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3 Tips For Succeeding On The AP Computer Science Exam

1. Focus on the Goals of the Test

You should know exactly what types of questions will be on the exam. You should have a thorough understanding of the core concepts you will need to know in the Java programming language. The core concepts we laid out above are essential study tools for you to succeed.

2. Take Online Courses in Java

Many free online resources can teach you the basics of the Java programming language. You should sign up for as many as possible. Many of the free options online are pretty fun and can keep you motivated before exam day. We also recommend using one of the AP computer science books we recommended to supplement your learning.

3. Practice, Practice, Practice

It is no joke that practicing and learning from mistakes will help you succeed. We recommend practicing coding every day. If you run into an issue with your code, you should step back and analyze it to find the problem. You should try different techniques and rerun the code until you get your desired output. Practicing and making mistakes will help you solve your initial problem, understand coding logic, and perhaps learn new things along the way.


Is the AP computer science exam hard?

It depends on how well you know the course material. According to the AP College Board test results, 69-72% of students pass the exam. The passing score is 3 or higher to earn college credits.

Can you take the AP computer science course and exam with no prior experience?

Yes, you can enroll in the course without experience. We recommend gaining a rudimentary understanding of programming principles before enrolling, but you will learn most of the basics in the course itself.

Is it easy to self-study for the AP computer science test or should I take a prep course?

It is one of the easier exams to self-study for since most of the material is on the internet. After all, most computer programmers are actually self-taught. If you feel like you need extra assistance and want guidance, then you can ask your AP teacher for a prep course recommendation or tutoring.

Do I need to know any other languages besides Java for the AP computer science exam?

No, but you should definitely understand general programming principles and basics that apply to all object-oriented languages.

Final Words: AP Computer Science Book

Each of the AP Computer Science book we've reviewed offer specific benefit based on your preference.

If you want a comprehensive review book that includes enough helpful practice tests, we recommend the 5 Steps to a 5: AP Computer Science A. It's a good start, especially if you have more time to spare. Aside from learning the concepts thoroughly, you also get to track your progress using the practice tests.

If you are after affordability, you can also check out Barron's AP Computer Science A, 9th Edition. 

Barron's prep book is ideal for time-crunched students who already have a good understanding of the subject.

About the author

William Cohen

William Cohen

William is an electrical engineer whose great passion is helping promising students achieve their goals and dreams. He enjoys sharing his knowledge and expertise with aspiring learners from all over the world.

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