What Is AP Self-Study? | Top 7+ Exams to Self-Study For

Everything you need to know about AP self study
April 26, 2024
6 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/26/24

AP self-study allows students to take AP exams their school does not offer. Read more to find out about the top 7 AP exams for self-study!

Have you ever looked at the AP exam schedule on the College Board’s website and noticed a class that your high school does not offer? For example, you may be able to take Spanish as a standard high school class, but your school may not offer AP Spanish, despite the class and exam existing. AP self-study may bridge that gap.

High schools tend to offer the most-attended AP courses, such as US History, AP Calculus, and AP Psychology. However, these popular AP courses may not be available at your school, depending on where you study.  

If you find yourself in this pickle, you might consider the option of self-studying for an AP course without a teacher and taking the test at another high school or venue for credit. This article will break down everything you need to know about AP self-study and the top seven most accessible AP courses and exams you can take. 

What is AP Self-Study?

AP self-study is what it sounds like: students find the required material, usually a textbook or a prep guide made by the College Board and use their spare time to prepare for the exam. 

On exam day, students will find a testing location, typically another nearby high school, to take the exam. If you have a specific test you want to take to boost your college application, self-study may be your only option.

Before you start self-studying for AP, ensure you have an exam session picked out and that you’ve talked to the local coordinator ahead of time. Some schools may not let outside students take the exam. 

Keep in mind that you may not get the chance to retake the exam. The College Board tries to keep one day for the exam to reduce any cheating. 

Once you’re starting the self-study process, ensure your resources are up-to-date and accurate for your exam. The course material updates over time, especially for history and science courses. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help; a tutor could make a big difference in your final score. Just remember that you don’t earn a grade for self-studying. AP exams only give college credit.

The 7+ Best and  Easiest AP Exams to Self-Study For

AP exams vary significantly in difficulty. The more challenging courses with lower averages and percentiles typically fall into English, math, science, statistics, and history. While some of the averages may seem strangely high for more advanced courses, this may be because fewer students take these tests. 

Below is a list of the most straightforward AP exams for self-study. If you’re looking for easy AP credit or have interests in relevant fields of study, you’ll probably do well in these. As a rule, AP foreign languages tend to rank out easier, partially because most schools require students to take them as a graduation requirement.

Note that the pass rates in the College Board reports include exams from students who sat through the exam but did not take it. This fact explains why some courses with more participants have a lower average. The more challenging exams have fewer yet more prepared students. 

Though a score of three or above is passing, most colleges want a four or higher before awarding credit. 

1. AP Art and Design

Fortunately, the AP Art and Design class focuses on more creation than theory. This course requires students to work on a portfolio that is scored at the end of the course. If you’re skilled at art and are known for your creativity, achieving a high score will not only be highly possible but fun too!

2. AP Drawing

Similar to AP Art and Design, in AP Drawing, students are required to submit a portfolio for evaluation. As such, there isn’t any traditional studying involved. However, it's essential to note that achieving a score of 4 or higher in this course demands strong drawing skills. 

If this artistic medium is not your strength, it might not be the most suitable course for you.

3. AP Chinese Language and Culture

As one of the two highest rates for a score of five in AP, Chinese language and Culture must be both an easy A and the most straightforward AP exams to self-study. Using the current annual AP guides or a language learning lap is a great way to learn the language. 

If you’re a Chinese American student, you may already know everything on the exam without studying! 

4. AP Government

Most students take AP Government as a freshman in high school. Suppose you’re looking to take the exam later through AP self-study. Consider that, as an American student, you’ll likely know how the American government works already. 

AP Gov has a relatively higher pass rate compared to the other more challenging AP classes that older students take. 

5. AP French

Where AP Chinese and Japanese require learning an entirely new alphabet and way of writing, AP French offers a language course remarkably like English. French and German influenced English’s development the most, after all. 

French is generally more accessible to Native English speakers, placing them among the easiest AP exams to self-study.

6. AP Spanish 

Where French tends to be slightly easier, Spanish proves to be more accessible, as it is the second most spoken language in the United States. 

Many students may already understand the language from their family life, like AP Chinese and Japanese. For students who know Spanish, you’ll likely polish up on your grammar and spelling through self-study for this easier AP exam. 

7. AP Japanese Language and Culture

Like AP Chinese, AP. Japanese has a high rate of five scores because of students taking the course from that cultural background. 

If you’re looking to learn Japanese without taking a class, self-study might make good use of your time. Self-studiers, be aware; students take the AP Japanese and Chinese courses on a device that records their oral exams to test fluency. 

8. AP Computer Science A

As the introductory computer science course, AP Comp. Sci. A focuses on learning the basics of programming and the functions you can do with it. Programming functions as the foreign language that computers use, containing grammar and vocabulary. 

Computer Science is more hands-on as a self-study course, so having some personal experience will be helpful!

9. AP Psychology 

One of the more accessible courses and exams, AP psychology, makes for both a fun and easy source of AP credit. While you may not end up using that credit depending on that major, if you want an easy AP 5 that looks good to a college, Psych may be that choice. 

If you’re self-studying for Psych, you’ll need to read the material, study the terms, and prepare for the essays.

Should You Self-Study for AP Exams?

AP self-study can be worth it for students who want to earn college credit but don't have access to the specific AP course they want to take. Since not every American high school offers all or even any AP courses, self-studying for AP exams may be the only option. 

If you have access to the class at your high school, you should prioritize taking it over self-studying. An AP teacher will better prepare you for an exam, as they will have an expert grasp on the material and have an idea of what topics the College Board might include on the exam. If you can, you may even consider hiring a tutor if you end up self-studying. 

Try not to force yourself to do AP self-study if your heart’s not in it. If a parent or teacher wants you to take the exam, ensure you have the time and ability. You don't want to lower your GPA or stress yourself out. 

Self-studying for an AP exam will be especially worth it if you already have a working knowledge of the subject you’re hoping to study. Remember that you’ll want to aim for a score of four or higher. Most colleges won't give credit for a lower score. 

5 Essential Self-Studying Tips for the AP Exams

If you decide self-studying is the right route for you, consider these five tips for success:

1. Create a Realistic Study Schedule

Optimal self-study requires organization and consistency. Creating a study schedule that takes your other courses and obligations into account can keep you on track and ensure you know exactly what to study each week.

Remember, this schedule isn’t fixed! Adapt it as you go through it to better suit your learning style.

2. Be Disciplined

When it comes to self-studying, it’s all too easy to procrastinate, get distracted, or cram material at the last minute. If you choose the self-study route, you have to be willing to put in the effort to make it work. Achieving a 4 or higher will require discipline and dedication. Push yourself to keep up with the material and your study schedule.

3. Use Practice Tests

Aside from knowing and memorizing material when necessary, using practice tests will help you become more familiar with your exam, the time restraints, and the types of questions you’ll be asked.

4. Prioritize Active Learning

While memorization is sometimes necessary, shift your focus toward truly understanding concepts through active learning strategies. Engage in activities like concept mapping and teaching the material to someone else. 

Take the time to thoroughly review your practice test results and errors, aiming to pinpoint where you went wrong rather than solely concentrating on the correct answers.

5. Use the Resources Available to You

There are a variety of resources at your fingertips that can make self-studying more simple. Use the ones that suit your learning style best! Take advantage of official AP resources provided by the College Board. This includes practice exams, sample questions, and scoring guidelines.

Explore supplementary study materials like review books, online courses, podcasts, YouTube videos, and educational websites. Use a variety of sources to gain different perspectives on the subjects.

FAQs: Self-Studying for AP Exams

Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about AP exam self-study.

1. Can I Self-Study for an AP Exam?

Yes, you can AP self-study for an AP exam! Although it can be more challenging than having an AP teacher guide you through the course, it’s completely possible to do so. When the exam date comes around, ensure you've paid to take the exam and have found a venue with permission from whoever is in charge. 

Note that not every school accepts outside students. You can take an AP exam offered at your school and self-study. 

2. Which AP Is the Easiest to Self-Study?

The AP art courses stand out as the easiest AP courses for self-study. If you have a knack for art, these should come easily to you. 

3. Do Colleges Like Self-Study for AP?

While it varies school by school, colleges generally don't recommend AP self-study. While admissions staff often see it as going the extra mile beyond what you need to do, it will be challenging to go out of your way and study for an exam that isn’t mandatory. 

4. Is Self-Studying for an AP Worth It?

Self-studying for AP works best in a few scenarios. If you don't have a way to take the AP class, you may have to self-study. Alternatively, your daily schedule may be too cramped to fit an extra class, so self-study would be a great way to take an additional exam. Remember that AP exams only earn that coveted college credit with a score of 4 or higher, so try not to overwork yourself! 

5. What AP Exams Should You Avoid for Self-Study?

You should self-study for AP exams that you can't take otherwise. However, avoid AP tests with lower pass rates or that are considered more rigid course material.

For example, Calculus BC may have a higher pass rate than AB, but more students took AB and consistently bombed the exam. Take the AP courses you can manage rather than pushing yourself too hard.

Final Thoughts

Self-studying for AP exams enables students to take AP tests that they would not be able to take otherwise. Most public and private high schools in America do not offer every single AP exam because teachers for those classes vary widely in availability. 

To that end, AP self-study bridges the gap and lets students take exams that they know will help them in college. Remember that self-studying does not need to be done by everyone. By and large, it's better to take the AP class as part of your high school education. A formal course will best prepare you for whatever exam you want to take. 

If you end up taking on an AP self-study, make sure you’ve spent plenty of time reviewing the course material. Depending on the exam, a tutor may be a good investment. While AP self-study may be challenging for those who take it on, the benefits may be worth your time! 

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