The AP Psychology Exam: A Test-Taker’s Guide

According to 2019 College Board data, Advanced Placement Psychology is among the most popular AP courses, with more than 300,000 students taking the exam in a typical year.

The AP Psychology exam lasts two hours and this year will be administered on May 11 as a school-based paper test and on May 20 and June 3 as a digital test either from home or at school. Students will receive their exam results in July.

[Read: What to Expect From AP Exams in 2021]

To succeed on this end-of-year exam, AP Psychology students must familiarize themselves with the test’s format and content.

AP Psychology Exam Format

Section I, Multiple-Choice Questions. This section consists of multiple-choice questions only. There are 100 questions total, each with five answer choices marked from A to E. You have 70 minutes for this section, which accounts for 67% of your total test score.

This section covers all nine units of your AP Psychology course, though some units — such as cognitive psychology; clinical psychology; motivation, emotion, and personality; and scientific foundations of psychology — are weighted more heavily than others.

The majority of questions assess knowledge of concepts, with the rest designed to gauge knowledge of scientific investigation and data analysis.

You can browse this official AP Psychology practice exam from the 2012 administration of the test to get a better sense of what content will be covered. However, there is no way around the fact that a comprehensive review of AP Psychology course material is needed for success on this section.

Note that the question stems typically range in length from approximately two to five lines, making careful reading essential. While most questions are strictly textual in nature, you may encounter a handful based on diagrams or graphs provided, such as questions 43, 82 and 85 in the 2021 practice exam.

A helpful strategy to use on this section — or any multiple-choice exam, for that matter — is to come up with your own prediction before looking at the answer choices. That way, you are less likely to fall for purposely tempting but incorrect responses.

[Read: Prepare for AP Exam Season With This One-Month Study Plan.]

Due to the volume of multiple-choice questions on the test, be extremely cautious when filling in answers. Always make sure the question number you are answering matches the question number you are bubbling in. Otherwise, your exam score may suffer significantly because of careless mistakes.

Section II, Free-Response Questions. This section is 50 minutes long and contains two questions that are typically research- or scenario-based. Two questions may not sound like much, but each can consist of multiple parts and the section accounts for 33% of your total score.

You can view the 2019 AP Psychology scoring guidelines for a more specific grading breakdown, as well as these official 2020 AP Psychology free-response sample questions to get a clearer understanding of this section’s format.

Test-takers should read all free-response prompts carefully, noting the verbs used in the prompt. Verbs signal what you are expected to accomplish with your answer.

[Read: 5 Steps to Mastering AP Free-Response Questions.]

For example, in the first half of the first free-response question from these 2017 sample questions, test-takers are asked to explain how four specific factors play a role in eating behavior.

One way to prepare for free-response questions is to review the definitions of commonly used verbs and note similarities and differences. For instance, there is a vast difference between defining and analyzing. Defining is more superficial than analyzing, as it involves stating the meaning of a concept or term. Analyzing requires you to critically dissect a topic.

Remember that the directions for the AP Psychology free-response section stipulates: “It is not enough to answer a question by merely listing facts.” You must move beyond stating the obvious to demonstrate that you are thinking about the questions critically. Understanding what you are being asked is one part of that.

The free-response directions also explicitly ask you to “present a cogent argument based on your critical analysis of the questions posed, using appropriate psychological terminology.” As such, a portion of your grade in this section will depend on whether you include proper jargon.

To demonstrate mastery of the subject matter, be sure to incorporate relevant psychological terminology that you learned throughout the course. When used correctly, terminology demonstrates comprehension. In the sample question related to eating behavior, a word like “stimulus” would be appropriate to include.

Finally, in preparation for the AP Psychology exam, use section-specific study strategies so that you are equally successful on the two highly distinct section types.

More from U.S. News

3 Effective Time Management Strategies for the AP Free Response Section

Don’t Make These 3 Mistakes When Prepping for AP Exams

What to Weigh Before Dropping an AP Class

The AP Psychology Exam: A Test-Taker’s Guide originally appeared on

Related Categories:

Latest News

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up