AP Test Tips

No, it’s really not that bad.

Some of this is specific to the computer science AP-A test since that’s what I have the most experience with. But some of it is applicable to any AP test, or any high stakes test for that matter.

About the test

The Computer Science AP-A exam is split into two sections; a 90 minute, 40 question multiple choice test; and a 90 minute, 4 question free response section.

General Test Strategies

Let’s start with some basic strategies that apply to any test.

Get Your Sleep

This is not a test that you should be cramming for the night before. You shouldn’t stay up late studying. You’ve been working towards this test for almost an entire school year. The night before anything you might pick up from cramming will probably be negated by your lack of sleep.

And Eat Breakfast

Trying not to sound too much like your parents, but you don’t want a growling stomach to mess with your mind during a test.

What to Bring

  • Pencils
  • Pen
  • Current phone ID
  • Snack and water, maybe. Check with your school on this one.

What Not to Bring

  • Backpack
  • Calculator
  • Phone

Multiple Choice

The first part of the test is a 40 question multiple choice test with 5 choices per question.

You probably don’t want to go through the test in order, only answer a question after you’ve answered the one in front of it. What I typically suggest is to go through the questions in three passes.

Don’t forget the quick reference sheet. It’s there to help you.

First Pass – Low Hanging Fruit

Your first time through you want to answer the questions that you are sure of and can answer quickly. Even if you know how to work a problem during the first pass, if you think it’s going to take you more than a couple of minutes to get an answer go ahead and skip it for now.

The goal here is to get as many points as quickly as possible. It also helps you get into a testing zone by not getting stuck on any tough questions.

Part of this is also that you’ve at least skimmed every question by the time you’re done with this pass.

Second Pass – More Points

Next, go through and pick up the questions that you know you can solve but that might take some time.

These are probably going to be the longer tracing questions. Recursion, matrices, sorts, that sort of thing. Questions that you can trace through and get the right answer, but maybe not quickly. These are still questions that you’re fairly confident on.

Third Pass – Whatever is Left

Last go through and make sure you’ve answered everything. This might involve a bit of guessing.

Try at least to knock out one or two of the possible choices to narrow down the answer and improve your odds of getting the right one. Even if you have to guess, crossing out 1 of the 5 choices will bump up your odds of guessing correctly from 20% to 25%.


After you’re done, make sure that every question has been bubbled in on the scantron. They’re not going to look in the question book for answers. If it’s not on the scantron, it hasn’t been answered.

And if you’re the type of student that likes to go back over your answers, you can do that.


If you have time at the end of the multiple choice, relax a bit and start to get ready for the free response.

You should also have a short break between the two sections.

Free Response

For the free response you’re given 90 minutes to solve 4 coding problems. That averages out to 22.5 minutes a piece.

Order Doesn’t Matter

The four problems are all worth the same nine points. Just like the multiple choice, there’s no real benefit to doing the questions in order.

It’s a good use of the first couple of minutes of the test to skim through the free response questions and come up with a game plan. Figure out which question you feel is the easiest to solve. Figure out which you think is the most difficult. Do the easiest first and save the hardest for last.

General Tips

99.9% sure you won’t use System.out.println() anywhere in your responses. Going back to 2004 there have been very few problems that were looking for output, and none in recent years. Printing when you’re not supposed to will likely cause you to lose a point for an unexpected side effect.

Do not return from void methods or constructors.

Make sure you’re returning the correct value. If a method is suppose to return an int value, make sure it returns an int value.

Don’t forget about the quick reference.

Whenever possible, use previous methods. Don’t force it, but look to use the method from part A in part B and both A and B in part C. It doesn’t always happen, but check if you should.

If they give you a method that lists /* Implementation Not Shown */, there’s a reason it’s there. Odds are pretty good you’re going to be calling that method somewhere.

If you’re given parameter or variable names, use those names. Don’t change them.

If you’re making a variable, name it logically. x and i are okay for loop counters, but lousy for other variables. But don’t go crazy and make your variable name too long. You’re going to have to write them out.

If there’s an abstract class in the problem there will probably be a super() call somewhere.

Implementing a constructor? You’re probably going to be setting instance variables.

Be sure return methods always return the right type of data. Make sure voids and constructors don’t return.

Hail Mary Play

What do you do when you don’t have a clue? The absolute worst thing you can do is leave the question blank. That’s a guaranteed zero points. At the very least put something down that resembles Java.

That said, don’t start with these tips. These are here for when you don’t have a clue and are just hoping to eek out a few points.

Look at the return type for the method. Unless it’s a void or constructor make a variable of that type and return it.

Arrays or ArrayLists? Make a look and go through the list. Inside the loop pull a value out.

Matrix? Make a nested loop and pull a value out of each element.

Looks at the methods given to you or defined in previous parts. Call those methods.

And Done

That’s it, your finished. Now you just have to wait until July to get your 5 back in the mail.