Surviving May: Advice from a Veteran Exam-Taker

Clara Albacete '19, Editor-In-Chief

AP Week. Finals Week. Tests. They’re not very fun, are they? As a senior, I have taken 3 AP tests, 1 CE final, and, oh, about 18 final exams. And that’s not counting what I’m going to have to take this year (yippee for 5 AP tests, 1 CE final, and 1 normal exam—can’t wait!). As a seasoned exam-taker, I’m ripe with advice to impart on all the underclassmen, whether taking your first AP tests, or simply battling 7 finals.


First, AP testing. So, you’re about to take a 3 hour test on everything you spent the past year learning. It’s intimidating, but completely manageable. The key is to take your time reviewing. This is not an exam you can cram for the night before and expect to do well; to get a five you have to put in the effort and start studying at least a week before test day.

To make this intimidating task a little more manageable, make sure you have your ~AP survival kit~

For me, that was:

  • Oreos
  • Peanut butter
  • Crackers
  • A nicely curated Spotify playlist
  • A tall glass of water so cold it make the sides fog up in that very satisfying way
  • A blank notebook just waiting to be filled with review notes
  • Lots of pens. Lots and lots of pens.


  1. Remember that if you’re taking any exams that involve essay writing, you’re going to need to do that writing in pen so, while I know your teachers have been requiring that you write all year in pen, make sure you review in pen so you’re used to the feel of using it for many hours. Writing for forty minutes is quite different from writing for two hours.
  2. Have a study plan—depending on the subject, divide up everything you learned into sections and plan which one you will study each day. If you’re taking more than one exam, pair easier sections from one test with harder sections from the other test so you don’t end up having one day with many difficult sections to review.
  3. Identify your weaknesses. By now you should know where your strengths and weaknesses lie in the assessment types. For example, I knew in APUSH that I struggled more with short answers than LEQs, so I put together a bunch of political cartoons for potential short answers and practiced maybe 15 of them, while for the LEQ I only did one outline for an example prompt. This can also be applied to Math, for example doing more free response than multiple choice because you struggle more with those. You know yourself best as a student, so you should shape your study plan to strengthening the areas where you fall short.
  4. Decide whether to study with friends or on your own. For me, studying for AP tests was something I had to do alone because of my very personalized study plan. I knew what I had to study, and I knew that studying with friends would throw me off and, honestly, probably distract me from my work, too. However, that is not the case for everyone, and if bouncing ideas with your friends is an effective way to study for you, go for it!
  5. Get a good night’s sleep! You want to be well-rested and well-hydrated for exam day, so make sure you go to sleep early the night before and get all the hours you need.AP tests are like no other exam you will take in high school—just remember to put forth your best effort and take whatever comes in stride. These tests, while they may seem like life or death right now, will not hinder your ability to achieve success in the future, no matter your score.
    Normal Finals. You gotta love ‘em, having six or seven tests all in the span of four days. While generally not as material-heavy as AP exams, you can still take a similar approach to preparing for your finals.

    1. Start studying for your finals a few days beforehand. Again, this is a big test and waiting for the last minute to study is going to hurt you. Take your time, divide up the material into doable sections.
    2. Use your friends and teachers as a resource. Since your teachers made these exams, they might be able to point you in the right direction for how to approach your studying and what to expect when you get to the test. Discuss ideas and work out problems with your friends. Sometimes saying ideas outloud can help you understand them better. Like I said previously, I couldn’t study with friends for APs. However, for normal finals, studying with friends was very helpful because there was a bit less material to study, so we were all focusing on the same things.
    3. Do not pull an all-nighter. It’s not cool, it doesn’t make you seem more “tough,” and it’s only going to hurt you. Remember, this is not a competition to see who’s more stressed out and who sleeps the least. Getting a good night’s sleep actually helps you retain more of the information you studied that day, so get in your zzz’s!
    4. Study hard, do your best, and what will be, will be. Don’t sweat the small stuff—if you did all you could to prepare, then you should be very proud of yourself, no matter the outcome.


    Good luck!