How to self-study for AP exams

This post is for high school students. I got a 5 on my AP Biology without taking the course, 5 on AP Calculus with taking the course, and a 4 on AP Chemistry with taking the course. These are the resources that I personally found helpful when I studied. I spent a lot of time combing through blogs and forums to decide on which books to buy before studying. Yay you get to benefit from both my research and my personal experience using them.

I’ve linked the newest version of the resources for you but I actually used older editions of these. I love buying books on Amazon because my local bookstores didn’t have them. 

General tips

  • Buy your  books/flashcards as early as possible (September if possible!) so you can start using it as you take the course because….
  • …You should start studying as early as possible!
  • Focus on practice questions and exams more than content review. That’s the difference between a 4 and 5. Practice practice practice.
  • Use pre-made flashcards to study on your way home from softball games, jazz band practices, on your way to a party, whatever.

AP Biology

Recommended books: Cliffnotes, 5 Steps to a 5

Everyone talks about studying with Cliffnotes.  I was going through this carefully when I started studying. I ran out of time close to the exam so I switched to my AP Biology 5 steps to a 5. I took this review book with me everywhere. Very close to the exam, I locked myself into my bedroom and made my review books my best friends. 5 Steps to a 5 is thin enough that I studied while I was sitting in class. To be fair, I only dd this when we were watching a movie in class (which oddly my classes did a lot of) or the school technology wasn’t working yet again and everyone was sitting around staring at the teacher try to fix the computer and not if there was a lecture going on. I think the Cliffnotes covered information more in depth while the 5 Steps to 5 give a quick overview and had good practice questions.

PRO TIP TO GET a 5: If your extracurricular schedule is insansely busy as mine was, invest in a pre-made flashcard set! I studied my flashcards on the way home from softball games, jazz band practices, and more. If you study 10 minutes everyday 6 days a week, you gain a hour of time! The small pain is worth it when you get a hour to go for ice cream with your friends one week, to drop in on a party the second week, to study for your regular school classes. Get the flashcards.

AP Biology Cliffnotes:

AP Biology 5 steps to a 5:

AP Biology Barrons Flashcards:


AP Calculus

Princeton review is the only way to go. I’ve passed on my Princeton review to my younger brother because it was my saviour. I’m actually awful at math so I relied on review books and practice questions to get me a 5.

Best for Calculus AB: Princeton Review

Best for Calculus BC: Princeton Review

The key to doing well in math courses is do as many practice questions as possible! I just bought this set of practice questions for my younger brother who is writing the AP Calc exam this May.

AP Chemistry

I recommend taking the in-school course which helped me a lot for AP Chemistry. I don’t think I could have learned as well if I only self-studied. My friend Seon Yeong bought the Barrons so we shared resources.  I think the practice questions in the Princeton review are superior to the questions in Barrons but I think the content review explanations are better in Barrons.

Best book to study AP Chemistry: Princeton Review

If you’re shaky on content or are completely self-teaching, Barrons 


Good luck on your AP Exams. Hope you all get 5s!

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