Self-Studying APs: Improving Your App

<p>Hi. I've been posting regularly on CC for the past (almost) three years, and I've noticed that the topic of self-studying APs comes up a lot. Over the course of my high school career, I've taken 14 AP exams, with 9 of them self-studied. Now, I recognize that this might be huge compared to certain CC members, but I wish to dispense some of my AP self-studying advice as a method of improving one's application. I come from a very small international school in Taiwan that offers only 5 AP courses - I believe that self-studying APs when one is in a school that is limited in curriculum shows motivation, dedication, and initiative. I hope my advice will help other students that also come from relatively smaller schools that have small AP curriculums.</p>

<p>For reference, I've taken: Biology, Calc AB, Calc BC (self), Chem, Micro (self), Eng Lit, Env Sci (self), Euro His (self), US Gov (self), Psychology (self), Stats (self), US His, World His (self), and Chinese (native). I received 11 fives, 2 fours, and 1 three.</p>

<p>All of the following commentaries are based on my own experience. In the cases where I have not taken the course, the general sentiments conveyed by the test takers I know are presented.</p>

<p>Do I Need a Course?
There are some AP exams where it might be more difficult to self-study if one doesn't have extensive prior knowledge. In these cases, it is much easier (and to your advantage) if you just take the course. Fortunately, most of these courses are offered even in schools with a small AP curriculum.</p>

<p>IMO, I think these courses are better (and significantly easier) with a teacher:</p>

<p>Calculus (without prior calc knowledge), Chemistry (for the labs), English, Languages (non-native ones), Music, Physics (depends), Art (practical), US History (for DBQs).</p>

<p>I think there are four subjects that lay the foundation to a good AP test taker's arsenal of AP knowledge: Calculus, English, US History, one non-Bio science AP. These exams should not be taken as self-study as Calculus teaches important mathematic concepts for university math that one might not be able to glean through self-study, English teaches essay writing skills (a prolific AP essay writer can raise his/her scores across the board by 1 point), US History teaches DBQ skills (good for History APs), and Chem/Physics teaches lab (chem) and scientific theory (physics). I would take Chem in school because of the labs (labs cannot be replicated through Cliff Notes write ups) and I would suggest only self-studying Physics (C) if one has a solid science base and is relatively adept at Calculus. </p>

<p>Self-Studying History APs
I took all three history APs and received 5s on all three. I would say that Euro and World History are some of the most interesting APs one can come across. The best thing is, they can generally be taken prior to APUSH (meaning, you could start on them in frosh/soph years). Euro and World both have a simplified form of the APUSH DBQ, so essay writing is not going to be a big deal in these APs. History APs are reading and writing intensive, so self-studying these courses are good humanities supplements to a strong AP science base. If you can take the whole set and get reasonable scores, I think this boosts the app in terms of academic ability and highly supplements the application.</p>

<p>"Easy" Self Study Exams
Now, there have been numerous threads on this topic. There are some extremely easy AP exams to self-study. I give them below and follow them with some pointers:</p>

[li]Environmental Science - This is a relatively straightforward exam that attaches nicely as an extension to the Ecology portion of Biology. Highly managable in a short time, Environmental Science is a combination of common sense that you already know (gleaned from mass media and general books) and just a few more ecology concepts. This is a good AP to self study right after taking or studying Biology.</p>[/li]
<p>[li]Human Geography - Not having taken the exam, I can't comment extensively on this, but I've heard that this is THE easiest AP exam and there isn't too many advanced concepts covered. Perhaps would work good as a humanities supplement?</p>[/li]
<p>[li]Psychology - Again, this is a popular self-study topic. The study of Psychology is extremely broad, but AP Psychology tests an extremely small subset of Psychology (that is already extensively covered in prep books). This is a self-study AP that you can take just through reading a prep book.</p>[/li]
<p>[li]Art History? - Many people take this to fulfill the a-g Fine Arts requirement for UCs. I'm not particularly sure how simple this exam is, but many people claim it is highly managable through a textbook and serves the a-g requirement nicely.</p>[/li]
General Self-Study Courses</p>

[li]Biology - Bio, IMO, should be the only AP science that should be self-studied. Biology is highly straightforward, as most of it require the memorization and assimilation of concepts. In fact, many people report scoring 5s on Biology just through reading through a prep book. Although I do not advise this route, Bio is the most easily managable science AP and should be considered, if taking AP Bio is not an option at school.</p>[/li]
<p>[li]Economics - This is an "easy self-study" AP, but I would say requires time and is definitely not as easy assimilated as Env Sci and Psych. The AP exams also tests a very small subset of the entire study of Economics, but the various graphs and figures in Economics pose a greater obstacle than just a "breezy" self-study AP. Should be attempted with plenty of time (not a few days before the exam).</p>[/li]
<p>[li]Government - Government is easy to self-study, sure - but it's very hard to get a 5 without good knowledge of the subject matter. Only 8.0% got a 5 in US Government in 2006, so it's not a self-study course that is just a "blowoff." Having a strong APUSH background will help for US Gov - aim for the details. One can probably get a 4 through attacking the gist of things, but to get a 5, you have to have detail. Advice: don't rely on prep book material alone.</p>[/li]
<p>[li]Physics - Assess your scientific performance and decide whether to approach. Physics B is highly managable with just one year of general Physics, but Physics C might require more thought and specialized knowledge, especially Calculus. Physics C is actually one exam I regret not having self-studied in high school. The scientific knowledge contained within it is quite essential for future courses.</p>[/li]
<p>[li]Statistics - Easy to self-study, but make sure you know the concept of "null-hypothesis testing" before venturing into the exam if you want the 5.[/ul]</p>[/li]
<p>General Self-Studying Advice/FAQ
For subject matter containing a lot of material, start early. You cannot viably cram 6,000 years of world history knowledge in 2 nights; neither can you learn the different market systems in Economics in 1 night (I found out the hard way).</p>

<p>It is possible to fit self-study APs along with your school schedule. Set aside about an hour each night starting from January/February and work your way continually through May. With perserverance, it's not hard to get a 5 in many self-study exams.</p>

<p>Remember to register with your school in January/February about the exams you're taking in May. If you don't check in with them, they'll just register you for the AP exams you are taking at school.</p>

<p>Don't overload in certain topics (for example: don't take all 3 history APs and English in one year) in a certain year. Plan accordingly and well so that you can maximize your score, not just the number of AP exams you are taking.</p>

<p>Self-studying three exams and getting three 5s is more preferable to self-studying six and getting 2, 3, 3, 4, 5, 5. If you are not ready, don't take it.</p>

<p>You should be able to walk into testing confident that you will have a decent score (i.e. 5, maybe a 4). If you are self-studying APs, I assume you are aiming for HYPMSC schools - they are generally indifferent towards 3s and 4s.</p>

<p>If you want, aim to be National Scholar at the end of junior year. Take eight AP exams and score higher or equal to 4 on all of them. </p>

<p>Don't overload yourself on too many "small" exams (Env Sci, Hum Geo, Psych) and sacrifice your score on the "big" (and more important) exams (Physics, Calc, English).</p>

<p>If you are contemplating on self-studying APs, you probably have the intellect necessary to do wonderfully. Self-studying APs is a question of discipline, not of sheer brainpower. </p>

<p>AP exam scores are not the most important components of your application, but they can really bring out your initiative when you perhaps cannot demonstrate your academic prowess otherwise. For example, how can you convey the fact that you do have the ability to do 8 APs in one year if your score does not even allow you to take more than 2 in a year? How can you demonstrate that you can take more than 15 APs when your school only has 5 (maybe less) AP courses? I'm writing this generally toward the smaller-school audience, not the prep school or magnet school types.</p>

<p>Questions, comments about self-studying? I'd be happy to answer them :]</p>

<p>Thank you very much for posting this topic. I'm considering self studying several APs this year.
I have a small question though. Through out your post, you mention that Chemistry should not be self-studied for. Well, I'm taking a regular Chemistry class(our school doesn't offer AP Chem.. only AP English Lit and Ap Calc) and I was thinking that I should get a Chemistry by Zumdahl book and bring it everyday to class so I can use it to go along with the lecture. We do several experiments in our school for Chem labs. Do you think it would be a good idea?</p>

<p>What kind of AP's overlap each other so studying for one major exam may cover some or a good majority of another exam?</p>

<p>I'm planning on self studying AP Bio but am also considering taking the AP Env Sci exam because the 2 supposedly overlap. Are there any other combinations which work nicely like these 2 courses do. </p>

<p>Also, for the average person, how soon would one need to make a decision to self study a minor AP (Govt's,Econs,EnvSci,Psych,Geo)?</p>

<p>Thank you for all the help.</p>

<p>To akvareli I think that's a good idea, but also get a prep book because it summarizes up a lot for you. Do realize that you'll have to work extra hard to get a good score though.</p>

<p>Beavers66 I don't think any AP's overlap each other. Maybe World and Euro History, but that's all I can think of. Go for AP Bio and AP Env Sci! One should make the decision by about January or February because March is when you have to sign up for the test.</p>

<p>sciencenerd: thanks! yeah, I'll definitely get a prep book or two to go along, and I know it will require a lot of discipline. I'll see by January/February if I'm ready.</p>

<p>How is self studying for APs going to help your application if you come from a relatively competitive Public School which offers lots of APs?</p>

<p>Does self studying help in projecting passion? Like if I self studied Psychology, Euro and World History?</p>

<p>Also I go to an IB school and IB pretty limits the variety of courses you can take, so will the whole dedication, motivation and initiative apply here as well?</p>

<p>do you think self studying US gov't concurrently w/ APUSH is a good idea (strategically speaking)? i'm taking APUSH in school.</p>

<p>also, you didn't mention economics in your post (i don't think), do you reccomend or discourage self studying AP macroec.</p>

<p>also, i'm taking honors physics in school and i want to also self study physics B, how should i go about doing this. should i start studying AP Phy B w/ my honors physics class in the begininng of the school year, or should i just wait until january like usual. </p>

<p>overall, how do you think my self study schedule looks? should i eliminate anything?:</p>

<p>stats...human gov't....physics B....macroeconomics</p>

<p>one last you think i should self-study Physics B, or do an independent study on it, since i'm taking honors physics. i'm thinking that i could do an independent study w/ my honors phyiscs teacher. what do you think?</p>

<p>you'll see...</p>

<p>oasis did mention Econ</p>

Economics - This is an "easy self-study" AP, but I would say requires time and is definitely not as easy assimilated as Env Sci and Psych. The AP exams also tests a very small subset of the entire study of Economics, but the various graphs and figures in Economics pose a greater obstacle than just a "breezy" self-study AP. Should be attempted with plenty of time (not a few days before the exam).


<p>^ oh, thanx</p>

<p>My school offers 8 AP's but its only possible to fit in 7, which I've done 3 already (Bio,US, English Lang.) and 4 next year (Cal AB, Chem, English Lit, and Euro), I'm aiming to get National AP Scholar (idk why since its my senior year), I want to do a bio major with a pre-med track and I want to graduate from college as humanly early as possible. With my current AP's which I got Bio-5, US-4, English Lang-4, and the ones w/ next year (hopefully 4 and 5), I should start school with sophomore status. So my question is which AP's should I self-study for to get done with my bio major? And also is it in my advantage to self-study like 3 AP's my senior year and where in the application do i list it?</p>

<p>I have to disagree about Chemistry - I self studied using Atkins and got an easy 5 on the actual exam.</p>

<p>I've been wondering for some time now. Everyone says there are those "easy to self-study" courses. Realistically, why would that affect which APs we take? If we're truly taking it for college credit, then many of those "easy" courses would not even get you credit in college...only the cores, like the sciences/maths/languages...</p>

<p>I've taken German for 3 years at my high school and am going to take German 401/402 next year. I'd like to take the AP German Langauge exam at the end of my senior year. </p>

<p>How should I go about self-studying for an AP foreign langauge test?</p>

<p>Keeping in mind, I will still be learning more grammar, vocabulary, and culture throughout the year.</p>

<p>@ Milki - If you already come from a school with a lot of APs, I'm not saying that self-studying wouldn't help you, it just won't be as impressive as starting out from scratch in a school with very few AP exams. But I don't think that's a big issue. When I say it won't help as much in big schools, I meant that if you could already take 6-8 APs in a year at your school, it doesn't really matter how much you self-study at home. Self-studying does help to emphasize and project passion, IMO. Even though I'm a science major, I took six humanities APs to show the colleges that I'm also competent in that area, even though my school may not have those courses available. Never let your school's course offerings define your level of achievement. If you come from an IB school, I don't think you need to worry that much about self-studying APs. IB is generally more difficult than AP (this is debatable, though) but I do think IB is more comprehensive than AP. If you're aiming for an IB diploma, I think your dedication and initiative pays off there, already.</p>

<p>@you'llsee - Taking US Gov alongside APUSH is a good idea. This year they had an essay question on the War Powers Act - which I remembered the basics to, but not the details of, during my studies in APUSH last year. I think information in one course can be readily applied to the other. As for Physics B, it really depends on what you want to do and whether you think you can do it on your own. If you think you can manage just through doing a prep book or working your way through your Physics textbook, then go ahead. If you need help, then seek out a teacher. I'd recommend starting before January if you can help it. I put January as starting date for the self-study APs above because most of the ones that can be self-studied are relatively straightforward and does not require as much time. For more time-consuming courses like Physics, you should start early, by all means.</p>

<p>@ FarrCT - Sorry, I don't know too much about biology majors and what courses you should take. You probably should check with your college's Bio department. I think they'll send you a listing of the courses required to graduate. Self-studying AP courses in your senior year doesn't really do much to your application, since you're done with them already. However, you can make a note in your application that you are currently self-studying x number of AP courses during senior year (if you don't say it, the colleges won't know!). But regardless, self-studying comes in handy in senior year if you still need credits.</p>

<p>@ Piccolojunior - I suggested that Chemistry should not be self-studied not because it's hard to get a 5 (it's not hard to get a 5 in chem with good chemistry knowledge), but rather, from the things that you should glean from it. Although reading a book like Cliff Notes or going through a textbook would teach you the chemical concepts, I believe it's equally valuable to have actual laboratory experience. The labs in AP Bio have very little do with actual chemistry, nor do the labs in AP Physics correlate. Getting hands-on experience in the lab is something you cannot get through self-studying, and this is the reason I'd recommend doing AP Chemistry at school - just for the lab time.</p>

<p>@ Quesce - Exactly. You are very right in noting that. People generally take easy APs not for college credit, but basically just to "look good" with another 5 on the score report. Other times, people are aiming for National AP Scholar or other distinctions and they use easy APs as filler exams to boost up their total number of exams taken. That's all, basically.</p>

<p>@ Zivalicha - I don't know too much about self-studying languages - but I think if you are taking the fourth year of language at school, you should be okay if you just review the content that you have been covering through your German courses. Languages are generally more frustrating to prep for because there isn't any "prep books," but you can go online and read through the Course Description they have at and try some of the sample questions. The sample questions generally reflect the difficulty of the exam (I thought the Chinese sample questions were very similar to the actual questions I got in the Chinese test). Otherwise, just work on listening and speaking - I think those are the hardest portions for a non-native speaker. You have to speak rather rapidly in the speaking part, so maybe honing up on that is a good idea.</p>

<p>Where do you tell colleges you self studied on applications and how would you go about writing that?</p>

<p>Great post btw, it REALLY helped me out.</p>

<p>Thanks oasis, one more thing. Is self studying APs to get the AP Scholar awards a good idea? Right now I might get AP Scholar with Honor, studying 1 more will be AP Scholar with Distinction (I personally think AP National Scholar is an overkill). Are the awards impressive? Thanks a LOT</p>

<p>I loved self studying APs. There was no homework, no tests, no quizes, no pressure to get things done, just learning for the sake of learning, until the last couple weeks before the tests where you got out your prep book and worked it.</p>

<p>It was all the look of an AP class, without that constant buzy work that most high school teachers employ.</p>

<p>Oh and oasis, I'm interested in Comp Gov. Do you think that's a good AP to self study? I was also wondering hwo I should study for that class, textbook + prep book or just prep book?</p>


<p>Something in my mind keeps bugging me whether self studying for AP exams is worth it. </p>

<p>Here is my background of my school and my situation.</p>

<p>I attend a NONcompetitive school of about 95% hispanics, basically sort of a ghetto school in south texas close to the border in the rio grande valley. </p>

<p>I took AP English Comp beginning of my of junior year just to have an AP class. I hated it and I ended up dropping out of that class into a lower level class in time for 2nd semester. I didn't have much thought about the importance of AP classes until near the end of my junior year.</p>

<p>So I now conentrate on classes I actually like instead of ones just to look good. Since I was taking Physics PreAP, it was one of my favorite classes so I signed up for AP Physics C but at the end only 5 people (including me) signed up for the course so the class didn't get approved because the enrollment size was too small :(</p>

<p>Also I planned on taking AP Calculus by taking a Pre-Calc course at a nearby university during the summer so that I would be able to fulfill the prerequisites to take the AP course my senior year, but despite meeting the requirement to take pre-calc at the university for the summer, they denied to sign me up for the course. I felt upset about this since even though I was qualified to take the course, the math department had the final say in the decision disregarding me being qualified to take the course. </p>

<p>In conclusion, I feel bad about not taking two of my planned AP courses my senior year and left with only AP Stats to take and thats it.</p>

<p>Basically these are my choices on what to self study
A. Physics C and Calc AB (My two desired APs I wanted to take)
B. Physics C and Computer Science A (I'm planning on majoring in CS)
C. Physics C only (Probably since im taking Pre-Calc PreAP)
D. Don't self study and just have only 1 AP for my entire school career (would rather avoid this unless the other choices would have no effect in admissions)</p>

<p>Basically my purpose is to show to colleges that I challenge myself in courses I LOVE and not in courses that I hate solely to fake an impression in the admissions process. I am aiming for reach schools.</p>

<p>I am wondering what would be the best option for me to take since senior year is just around the corner and I want to know if my choices are worth self studying. I am open to other suggestions and I want a clear explanation on the effects of my possible choices to see if either self studying my senior year would be beneficial or just a lost cause?</p>

<p>bump again love this topic</p>