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How to Survive & Thrive: AP Psychology
Monday, January 23, 2017

AP Psychology is an advanced social science course in which students “explore how psychologists use research methods and critical analysis to explore human behavior” (College Board).  It’s a tough but fun course, and it’s considered to be the perfect offering for students who love both social studies and science.

We consulted with teachers, tutors, and recent AP Psychology students to come up with six very useful tips--three “how to survive” tips to help you achieve a score of 3 on the AP exam, and three “how to thrive” tips to help you earn a 4 or even a 5.  Here they are:

How to Survive:

What’s fascinating about psychology is its real-life application. You’ll be able to observe these applications every day—and what’s a better way to study than hands on? My AP Psycho

logy teacher used to play Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” before every test he gave us as a way to calm us down; but due to conditioning, the one day he played the song when we didn’t have a test scheduled, our class dissolved into panic, as we’d associated the song with taking a hard test. But I’ll also never forget what classical conditioning is. Hands-on learning can be an excellent way to obtain and retain knowledge you’ll need for the exam.

You should have a working knowledge of important people, ideas, and their application. There are a lot of terms, but by making flashcards during each unit during the year, you can avoid last minute panicking over concepts from the first unit.

Be able to analyze a given situation by applying various concepts. This doesn’t mean being able to know that Pavlov’s dogs drooled because of classical conditioning (although that is important to know!); it means taking a multi-dimensional scene and being able to break down all of the underlying concepts and their contribution to the situation as a whole.

How to Thrive:

You should have a mastery of important people, ideas, and be able to apply the ideas. Knowing the chronological order of theorists is important, as it contributes to the knowledge of how psychology and the mind were perceived throughout history.


Master the ability to analyze complex situations. Many different factors work together intricately in any given AP Psychology essay situation; being able to parse the given situation and know the roles the individual concepts and ideas play and how they affect the situation as a whole is unbelievably important. Conversely, you should know how to create a highly complex situation given a set of smaller concepts.

Know how to craft a strong essay for the free response section. Taking practice exams is important, as the College Board has specific requirements in its rubric. Make sure to pay attention to the rubric when grading your practice essay for when you take your AP exam, as many of the criteria will be the same. One point I needed to teach myself was to specifically identify a concept before analyzing its use in a larger situation, as is necessary for getting full credit.

Good luck!