AP Psychology Self Study Guide (2024 Tips & Methods)

William Cohen
Published by William Cohen
Last Updated On: June 30, 2022

The AP Psychology exam has a narrower scope than other advanced placement courses and is largely based on memorization instead of conceptual content.

For most students, this means less study time and a probable higher score. This also means that you can do away with physical classes and turn to self-studying strategies instead. If you opt for the latter, check out our research on how to self study for AP Psychology.

5 Self Study Steps To Score A 5 On The AP Psychology Exam

Develop A Study Plan

Create a study schedule. Sit down with your planner and work backward from the exam date. Look at your current course load and how much time you have until the exam. Block out dedicated study times where you will have zero distractions. A successful study session does not include checking Instagram, Snap Chat or Tik Tok.

According to ThoughtCo, “Most good study sessions are at least one hour long. A one-hour block gives you enough time to dive deep into material, but isn’t so long that your mind wanders.” [2] Be sure to allow for study breaks in between sessions. Most students absorb information best with short focused study sessions with frequent breaks in between. Use these study session guidelines, your availability, and time until the exam to build your self study plan.

Use High-Quality Study Materials

Because psychology is a rapidly changing field, you must ensure you are preparing for the test with the most current materials available.

Great news! We’ve done the leg work for you (47 hours of research) and performed a thorough review of the best AP Psychology textbooks.

We provide comprehensive reviews of each textbook. But if you are looking for the Cliff Notes , you will find our Pros and Cons chart about each text extremely helpful. We’ve got all of the information you need to pick the best AP Psychology study guide for your study style in one convenient location.

”Learning is the only thing the mind never exhausts, never fears, and never regrets.”
- Leonardo da Vinci

Memorize the Vocabulary

Because AP Psych is largely a memory-based exam, the better you understand the terminology, the better chance you have to score a 5 on the test.

Memorizing information is boring and time-consuming. Quizlet is an incredible resource that lets you create your own quiz using flashcards as a guide or you can find a comprehensive list of all AP Psychology vocabulary. Make sure you put vocabulary review as a daily task on your study planner!

Here is the link to a popular AP Psychology ALL Terms Quizlet study set to help you prep for the test [3].

Whenever you have time, complete a vocabulary quiz. To mix things up, play a psychology vocabulary game through Quizlet. Of all the sources and techniques available to test your mastery of psychology terms, Quizlet is the best and most popular resource.

If an app doesn’t suit your studying style, purchase or make a set of flash cards. Barron’s AP Psychology Flash Cards rank amongst the top study aides. They are affordable, and come with access to a full-length online exam. Baron’s flash cards are available online and at large bookstores.

Master Test-Taking Strategies

man studying while sitting on a couch

One of the most important test-taking strategies is to understand how the AP Psychology exam is formatted so you can manage your time appropriately. Based on the following College Board breakdown, you have 42 seconds for each multiple-choice question and 25 minutes for each free response question. [4]

Taking practice tests will help you recognize patterns in the AP test. Understanding the exam’s patterns is important and will enable you to quickly identify the wrong answers or lead you to the correct answer. If you hit a question and you have absolutely no clue, skip it and move on to the next question.

Leave chain questions that require you to read a paragraph or analyze a chart until the end. Odds are there will be clues in other questions that will help you to pinpoint the correct answer.

What happens when you get to the end and you haven’t answered all of the questions?

You have two choices, make a strategic guess or skip the question.

If you decide to make a strategic guess, use the process of elimination strategy to make your best guess. Eliminate the answers you know are wrong and evaluate the remaining answers. If there is any portion of an answer that is wrong, then the answer itself is wrong and eliminate that choice.

After working through the elimination process, if there are more than two answers remaining and you really don’t have a clue which one is correct, you are better off skipping the question.

On AP tests you are not penalized for skipping a question. You are penalized for wrong answers.

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Practice is Important

We cannot stress enough the importance of practice. Get your hands on as many practice tests as possible. They are available in prep books, at College Board, and other free online resources.

During each practice test, try to simulate the conditions of the actual AP Psychology test. Find a quiet room where you will not be disturbed. Sit down and get comfortable. Make sure you do not have anything with you that would violate the testing rules.

Just like when you are studying, practice tests must have zero distractions. Leave your cell phone in another room so you aren’t tempted to take a peak or even worse, cheat. Imagine you are getting the pre-exam instructions, take a deep breath, and start the practice exam.

Once you’ve completed your practice test, check each answer. For each incorrect answer, write down the question and why you got the answer wrong. This will help you learn from your mistakes and condense your practicing time. Blindly taking practice tests and not identifying your knowledge gaps will not improve your score on test day.

“I’ve always considered myself to be just average talent and what I have is a ridiculous insane obsessiveness for practice and preparation.”

- Wil Smith

Cramming For Your AP Psychology Test

woman holding her wrist watch

Yikes! Your test is just around the corner and you haven’t given yourself enough time to study.

Before you start randomly cramming for your AP Psychology test, you need to understand what content to focus on and how you should cram.

The AP Psychology exam tests your mastery of skills and concepts.

To be successful you must be familiar with the history of the field of psychology, past and present research methods, and the biological and emotional bases for human behavior.

The following table outlines the skills and the weight they carry on the exam.

(Source: collegevine [5])

man writing on his notebook on a table

The AP Psychology exam consists of nine units that focus on core principles, theories, and processes. The table below outlines the nine units and the weight each unit is given on the exam and will help you focus your studying efforts.

(Source: collegevine [6])

Now that you understand the skills and concepts you will be tested on, let’s get cramming. We’ve gathered popular and effective study aids to help you cram for your exam in record time.

Charles Schallhorn, a veteran teacher in California, has a YouTube channel designed to take the most complex ideas in AP Psychology and make them simpler and help you absorb the material in record time. [7]

Hank Green has created an engaging video series, CrashCourse, on the introduction to psychology. The series is highly viewed and rated and consists of 40 short YouTube videos. The focus of the videos is not specifically on mastering the AP Psych exam. Picking the topics you need extra help with will help you supplement your cramming. [8]

Psychologyprogram is a 90-minute crash course in all things AP Psych and might be best used as a final study guide. If you are looking for a video course that has a supporting outline or study guide, this might not be the best cramming resource for you. The content has many positive reviews and might be perfect for you if you need less structure in your cramming strategy. [9]

Since you are short on time, AP Psychology Notes has done the note taking for you! Use the information that they provide to quickly gain the knowledge you will need to successfully pass your exam. [10]

“On AP tests you are not penalized for skipping a question. You are penalized for wrong answers.”

We are confident this guide has equipped you with the confidence that it possible to self study and score 5 on the AP Psychology test with no prior knowledge of the class material.

Your path to success involves a solid study plan, current and quality study materials, and simulated exam practice.  Most importantly, good preparation involves your willingness to work hard and committing to your success.

If you follow the studying recommendations and use the resources we have provided in this guide, you will be able to walk into the testing room full of confidence and ready to score a 5 on the AP Psychology exam!

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