AP Psychology Exam – Student Guide

Nov 12, 2021 | Turito Team USA

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When it comes to other AP exams, they can be a bit overwhelming. However, the AP Psychology exam is one such exam that is a bit less challenging as compared to others. Sure, some of its material is a bit tough, but the rest of the materials are easy to manage. That being said, you need to be focused and prepared to ace the exam. 

Also, you need to be familiar with the exam’s pattern, scoring system, syllabus, and a lot more. In this post today, we are here to help you learn about the same. Keep reading to find out all these details about the exam. By the end of the post, you will also find a bonus AP Psychology exam study guide for a perfect score. 

Let the scrolling begin! 

The Structure of The AP Psychology Exam 

Before all other details about the exam, let us tell you about the AP Psychology exam format. This test has two sections like all other AP exams out there – the multiple-choice section and the free-response section. While the sections are similar, the AP Psych test is shorter than most other AP exams – it takes only two hours. 

AP Psychology Structure Overview 

Below, you can find an overview of the structure of the AP Psych exam: 

Section 1 

  • Question Type: Multiple Choice 
  • Time: 70 mins 
  • Number of Questions: 100 
  • Percentage Score: 66.7% (2/3 of your final AP Psych score) 

Section 2 

  • Question Type: Free Response 
  • Time: 50 mins 
  • Number of Questions: 2 
  • Percentage Score: 33.3% (1/3 of your final AP Psych score) 

This makes the total time of the exam 2 hours, during which you have to solve 102 total questions.  

Detailed Analysis of The AP Psychology Exam Structure 

Now, let us look at both sections of the exam in detail. Have a look: 

Section 1: Multiple-Choice Questions 

Be it the AP Psychology exam 2021 or future exams, as of now, they comprise only two major sections. One of them is the multiple-choice section that has a total of 100 questions that carry 2/3 of your final AP Psych score. Students need to solve these questions within 70 minutes. Further, all these questions have five possible answer choices (A-E). 

As per the College Board, here is what these questions may ask you to do: 

  • For this section, the questions may ask you to define and explain things about certain topics. 
  • You may have to apply skills of scientific investigation to solve the sections. 
  • Other skills that you need to apply to the questions include concept application and data analysis. 

Section 2: Free-Response Questions 

Like any other AP exam, this exam has a second section of free-response questions. For it, these are two in number and carry 1/3 of your final AP Psych score. You need to solve both of these questions in 50 minutes. Further, out of the two questions, the first one is a concept application question. Alternatively, the second question focuses on research design. 

As per the College Board, here is what these questions may ask you to do: 

  • From all the theoretical frameworks or subdomains you have studied for the exam, you need to apply concepts here and explain behavior. 
  • The section may also require you to analyze psychological research studies. This will also include examining and understanding quantitative data. 

Scoring of The AP Psychology Exam 

When you prepare for your AP Psych exam, it is quite common to take up the AP Psychology practice exam during it. However, before you do so, make sure you understand the scoring system of the exam. From the data about the structure of the exam given above, it is clear that the multiple-choice sections and the free-response sections carry 66.7% and 33.3% of your final Psych score. 

This is 2/3 and 1/3 of your final AP Psych score, respectively. Now, let us break down the scoring system as per sections. For the first section (multiple-choice), scoring is simple. For every question you answer correctly, you will get one point each. Further, there is no negative marking. It means that even if your answer is wrong or left blank, no points are deducted. 

This states that for the first section, the maximum points you can earn are 100. Now, moving on to the next section (free-response), its scoring system is a bit complicated. Rather than being graded by AI, it is reviewed by AP graders. Also, both of the questions in the section carry seven marks each. Once the teacher gives you a score, it is multiplied by 3.57. 

This score is then compared with the College Board calculated curve. It is done to determine your score on the 1-5 scale that is used for the AP exams. Below, you can find the estimated raw-to-AP-score conversions. 

  • 113-150 Raw Composite Score = 5 AP Score 
  • 93-112 Raw Composite Score = 4 AP Score 
  • 77-92 Raw Composite Score = 3 AP Score 
  • 65-76 Raw Composite Score = 2 AP Score 
  • 0-64 Raw Composite Score = 1 AP Score 

Further, for the AP Psychology exam 2020, the percentage of students who got these scores were as follows: 

  • 5 AP Score: 22.4% of Students 
  • 4 AP Score: 25.4% of Students 
  • 3 AP Score: 23.5% of Students 
  • 2 AP Score: 9.6% of Students 
  • 1 AP Score: 19.1% of Students 

Note: The source of this data is the College Board. Also, please keep in mind that each year the curve is slightly different. Therefore, all of this data will only determine a rough estimate of your score. It cannot predict it exactly. 

AP Psychology Exam – Course Description 

After the scoring system, we will give you a unit-wise breakdown of the AP Psych exam syllabus. Here is a brief overview of the same: 

  • Unit 1: Scientific Foundations of Psychology 
  • Unit 2: Biological Bases of Behavior 
  • Unit 3: Sensation and Perception 
  • Unit 4: Learning 
  • Unit 5: Cognitive Psychology 
  • Unit 6: Developmental Psychology 
  • Unit 7: Motivation, Emotion, and Personality 
  • Unit 8: Clinical Psychology 
  • Unit 9: Social Psychology 

Now, let us give you a detailed analysis of all these units one by one. Have a look:  

Unit 1: Scientific Foundations of Psychology (10-14% of Multiple-Choice Questions) 

For the AP Psych exam, the unit 1 Scientific Foundations of Psychology revolves around the basis of psychological theory. It comprises animal and human behavior and mental process. Here are the topics covered under the unit: 

  • Different Branches of psychology 
  • Important historical figures in psychology 
  • Theoretical approaches to behavior 
  • Various research methods used by psychologists 
  • Application of research design and statistical analysis 
  • Ethical guidelines 
Unit 2: Biological Bases of Behavior (8-10% of Multiple-Choice Questions) 

In unit 2, students will learn about behaviors and mental processes. Also, there will be information about the effects of the interaction between human biology and the environment. Here are the topics covered under the unit: 

  • Interaction of hereditary traits, environment, and evolution for behavior 
  • The study of the brain 
  • Research techniques for studying brain structure and function 
  • Brain function 
  • Neural firing 
  • Influence of medication 
  • Addiction and drug dependence 
  • States of consciousness 
  • Structures and functions of biological systems 
Unit 3: Sensation and Perception (6-8% of Multiple-Choice Questions) 

This unit covers senses and how we perceive and process our environment through them. In this unit, students will learn how to convert their observations to determine how they think and behave. All the topics under this unit are: 

  • Basic principles of response to stimuli by humans 
  • Experience and culture, and their role in the perception 
  • Mechanisms of the five senses in humans 
  • Sensory disorders 
Unit 4: Learning (7-9% of Multiple-Choice Questions) 

The fourth unit of the AP Psychology course focuses majorly on the field of psychology that studies the learning pattern of humans and other animals and how it changes over a lifetime. Also, there are details about how they can adjust their learning process. Here are all the topics that the unit covers for this exam: 

  • Theories of learning 
  • Famous learning experiments and their results 
  • Different types of learning 
  • Types of conditioning and their effects 
  • Social and cognitive factors in learning 
Unit 5: Cognitive Psychology (13-17% of Multiple-Choice Questions) 

For this unit, you will learn a lot about various mental processes. It focuses on the complex nature and working of these processes like memory and intelligence. Also, there are details about how this impacts human behavior. Here are some topics covered under this unit: 

  • The Processes that makeup memory – cognitive and physiological 
  • Forgetting and other memory errors 
  • Biases and errors in thinking 
  • Short & long-term memory and its biological basis 
  • Creative thinking  
  • Problem-solving strategies 
  • Defining and measuring intelligence 
  • The processes of learning 
  • The use of language 
Unit 6: Developmental Psychology (7-9% of Multiple-Choice Questions) 

The next unit for the AP Psychology exam is about developmental psychology. Here, you will learn how physical and social changes influence behavior and mental processes in human beings at various stages in their lives. Here are some topics covered under this unit: 

  • Physical development in childhood 
  • Social development in childhood 
  • Cognitive development in childhood 
  • Adolescent development 
  • Challenges of adolescent development 
  • Adulthood and aging 
  • Moral development and its theories 
  • Gender and sexual orientation 
Unit 7: Motivation, Emotion, and Personality (11-15% of Multiple-Choice Questions) 

This unit is all about the study of personality through behavior and mental processes. Also, it includes theories about motivation, stress, and emotion. Here are the topics you will study in this unit: 

  • Conceptions of personality 
  • Behaviorist, humanistic, social cognitive, and trait theories 
  • Theories of the motivation 
  • The effects of stress 
  • Major theories of emotion 
  • Research and assessments for personality determination 
Unit 8: Clinical Psychology (12-16% of Multiple-Choice Questions) 

The next unit focuses on the process of evaluating, studying, and treating various psychological disorders. The topics you will study here include: 

  • Psychological disorders 
  • Standards for diagnosing and explaining them 
  • Bipolar and obsessive-compulsive disorders 
  • Depressive and anxiety 
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders 
  • Schizophrenic spectrum disorders 
  • Dissociative and somatic disorders 
  • Trauma and stress-related disorders 
  • Eating disorder 
  • Substance abuse disorder 
  • Personality disorders and related conditions 
  • Historical developments in psychological treatment 
  • Modern treatment options and methods for various disorders 
Unit 9: Social Psychology (8-10% of Multiple-Choice Questions) 

The final unit of the AP Psychology exam syllabus is all about humans and their interaction in groups and social situations. The topics you will study here include: 

  • Role of social and cultural categories on self-concept and behavior 
  • Factors behind formation and change of attitudes in people 
  • Types of behavior due to the presence of others 
  • The variables that contribute to the attraction 
  • Group dynamics in humans 
  • Conformity, compliance, and obedience to authority 
  • Bias, prejudice, and discrimination 
  • Altruism and aggression 
AP Psychology Exam Fee 
  • Regular Exam Fee: 94 USD 
  • Fee for eligible students: 32 USD 
  • Late Order Fee: 40 USD 
  • Cancellation Fee: 40 USD 
  • Late Testing Fee: 40 USD 

AP Psychology Exam – Who Can Apply? 

Students can check out the criteria of eligibility for the exam at the College Board’s official website. Typically, they need to apply for the exam during high school, and they must be less than 21 years old at the time of the test. Also, they need to have valid ID proof to appear for the exam. They need to carry it to their test center.  

AP Psychology Exam – Score Report 

Just like all other AP exams, this exam, too, is scored on a scale of 1 to 5. If you have a score of 3 or above in the exam, you qualify for university credit or advanced placement. Also, you may be considered for admissions. All of this depends on the policy that your desired college or university has for AP exams. 

Most universities and colleges offer either of the three – admissions, credit, or advanced placement. Further, the result for the exam will come out with the rest of the exam, and students can only check it on the official College Board website. Once out, these scores will be sent to the schools mentioned in the paper by you. If you want, you can either withhold or cancel your AP Psychology exam scores. 

AP Psychology Exam Study Guide 

Now that you know all about the exam let us tell you how to prepare for it. Here are some of the tips that will help you prep for the exam and ace it: 

Always Make Sure to Plan Out Your Time 

The biggest mistake any student can make in their AP exam preparation is not planning to put their time properly. To ensure you do not do so, start your preparation early. Begin with determining how much time you have before your AP Psychology exam. Formulate a study plan according to it and stick to the plan. 

Here is what all you can do during the time you devote to your AP Psych exam: 

  • Complete all the concepts once 
  • Take up an AP Psychology practice exam 
  • Go over your mistakes in the test 
  • Work on your weak areas 
  • Test and update your test-taking strategies 
  • Revise all the concepts once again 
  • Take up some more practice tests 
  • Practice time management during these 
  • Review your performance and see if you need improvements 

In case you have some time left even after the above, take up more practice tests and go more in-depth with your mistakes. 

Get Review Materials and Choose Them Wisely 

If you follow the above step consistently, you will be fully prepared for your AP Psychology exam by the time it arrives. However, for this kind of preparation, you will need reliable review materials, as well. These should ensure that you get the most out of your study time. You can get a review book for this that covers just the information you will need for the exam. 

Along with this, you will also need to focus on the resources you were given in your AP Psychology class. Referring to these notes is important because they may contain unique methods for remembering concepts and terms. You may not find these in review books. Also, your textbooks are important. 

It is because the diagrams in them are usually better than the ones in the review books. In simple words, your material for the AP Psychology exam preparation should be a combination of review books, your textbook, and the notes and resources shared with you in the class the whole year. Avoid relying on only one of them if you want a good score. 

Pay Special Attention Towards Memorizing Terms 

This exam has a lot of psychological terms and theories that are important. Almost all content of the course is focused around these, and they can be hard to tell apart. To get through the confusing part, you must learn these terms and concepts as early as possible. Once you have a solid grasp of all of these, you can readily solve both multiple-choice and free-response questions. 

Particularly for the free-response questions, memorizing these terms and concepts is important. It is because these questions usually require you to elucidate the relation of an ambiguous psychology term to a hypothetical scenario. If you are not clear with the terms, you can’t answer them correctly and earn points. 

For the memorization of these, one thing that you can rely on is flashcards. These are extremely helpful for this and can be used on the go. Further, you can either download any application for these flashcards or make them yourself. Either way, these will help you to a great extent when it comes to learning definitions of complex terms. 

Have Strategies for Each Section Ready 

When you prepare for the AP Psychology exam, another thing that you must focus on is your test strategy for both the sections – multiple-choice and free-response. Also, you need to check these strategies when you solve practice tests to avoid pitfalls on the test day. Depending on their working in the practice tests, you can reform your strategies, as well. 

Here are some strategies that we suggest for both sections of the exam. Make sure to try them out. 

AP Psychology Exam Strategy for Multiple-Choice Questions 

  • Do not spend more than 30-40 seconds on each question. You can temporarily skip a few questions during this if you do not know the answer to any question or are unsure about it. 
  • Once you are done, go back to the skipped questions and try solving them. Make sure to put something down. 
  • Again, solve each question even if you are unsure about the answers, as there is no penalty for incorrect answers. 
  • If you are running out of time, you can even randomly guess a question you don’t know the answer to. 
  • Even if you get around 20 to 30 multiple-choice questions wrong, you can get a five on the AP Psychology test. So, do not worry much. 
  • Never overthink the multiple-choice questions, and avoid changing your answer due to this. If you are sure about your concepts, even the questions that look complex are simple to solve. 
  • While solving a question, visualize it. You can underline the most important parts of the questions to avoid distractions and second-guess yourself. 
  • If you are unsure about a question, use the elimination method, especially if you have a little idea about the concept behind it. You can eliminate all answers that do not make sense. 

AP Psychology Exam Strategy for Free-Response Questions 

  • For the free-response questions of the AP Psychology exam, keep in mind that it is not an English exam. 
  • Do not waste time on the introduction and conclusion. Instead, simply go straight to the answer to the question asked. 
  • Along with this, keep in mind that while your answers need to be direct, you have to write in complete sentences with correct grammar.  
  • Come up with your strategies for certain types of questions. For instance, some require you to work backward by putting yourself in the position of the person in question. 
  • Make sure that your answers are well presented and represent the point you are trying to put across clearly. 
  • You need to make your answer easy for grading. For it, write in points and form suitable heading wherever necessary. 
  • Here too, underline the important words in the questions to focus on what is asked in the question and not write useless stuff in the way. 

This is all you need to know about the AP Psychology exam and how to prepare for it. Follow this guide, keep revising your exam-day strategies, and we are sure you will ace the test. Good luck!


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