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AP Exam Game Theory

By: n^2
Jul 06, 2009

AP exam season, like the common cold and hay fever, is a defining part of spring. When you see streets deserted after school and desk lamps still on into the wee hours of the morning, it’s obvious why: as soon as spring break is over, erstwhile AP students across the country have begun cramming in earnest for their May exams.

While their peers are finally beginning to enjoy the sunshine and cool breeze after a long, dreary winter, these students are sitting down and really, honestly studying in pursuit of the perfect 5 on their exams. This year, I myself began studying during spring break, buckling down for 5 exams in 5 days come May.

This is a stressful time of year. Possibly even more stressful than semester finals. Studying for a series of exams that are spread over two weeks, and which cover an entire year’s worth of material (and even, in the case of the AP Calculus BC exam, two year’s material) is no easy task.

Many students go off their normal diets around this time of year; fueled by caffeine, ramen, and candy, they study hard into the night and brag to their friends in the day about how hard they studied the night before.


Stress management during AP exam season consists of a very basic, very common-sense approach:

1. Eat healthy: junk food, soda, and caffeine will do nothing for your memory. When you’re so strung out on caffeine that you’re starting to see double, there’s no way you’ll memorize all those hormones for the AP Biology exam. Even though it may be tempting to stress-eat, it’s smarter to eat fruit instead of chocolate when you need to stay healthy.

2. Exercise: this is important. Exercising regularly—even if it’s just a 15 minute jog—between studying gets more blood flowing into your brain, energizes you, and helps you retain information more effectively. While it may feel like you’re wasting precious time that could go towards studying, the payoff here is much greater than the marginal cost of a quarter-hour that, to be honest, would translate into 20 pages of study material at best.

3. Get enough sleep: sleep is important. Some studies suggest that the brain processes information
during sleep, thus making sleep an integral part of the learning process. Whether that is true or not,it is obvious that getting enough sleep is a key part of maintaining your focus during the day. While it’s great to read an extra 20 pages of the AP Chemistry study guide, it’s even better to read those extra 20 pages when you’re well-rested and ready to learn.

At the same time, though, it’s important to remember that studying for the AP exams is really like playing a giant game: your objective, of course, is to beat ETS and, by doing so, get fives on your exams.

So, like any good video game, there are a few ways to pick up bonus points in the game of AP exam prep. Taking vitamin C pills or immune supplements isn’t a bad idea at this point; many a student has fallen ill at this crucial time, only to rant and rage at abysmal, illness-lowered scores in July. Don’t let yourself be one of them.

Going to bed early the night before your exams is also a good idea—the power of a well-rested mind is phenomenal, and you should harness that power for your personal benefit.

Most importantly of all, though, remember to STAY CALM during your exams. The truth is, the exams aren’t your worst enemy: you are. Students psych themselves out during AP exams, and personal lack of confidence is the kiss of death for an examinee’s dreams of fives.

Good luck, and happy 5-hunting come next May!

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