The Complete Guide to Acing your AP Computer Science (A) Test

Preface

I hear you—you’re a high school student preparing for your AP tests, and you’re going to take your test soon. It’s important for you to get a 5, to prove to colleges that you’re prepared for their Computer Science courses. Well, have no fear! Here’s a complete guide—from when you first start coding at your school to your test day.

Getting into Computer Science

You may think this section is redundant, but I still strongly believe it’s worth noting. Computer Science isn’t for everyone. Many people simply don’t enjoy it—whether or not they are Math geniuses or chess Olympiads. If you are taking a Computer Science course at your school, and you simply hate it—don’t kill yourself. Dropping out of the course is a completely fine option. If you’re having a tough time but still really want some background information in Computer Science, you’re in luck! The collegeboard recently announced their AP Computer Science Principles test, designed specifically for people like you.

A love for programming will make success in your test much easier! You can get a 5 in the test whether or not you enjoy the subject, but again, I’d highly recommend the other APCS test. Moral of the story is—don’t pursue Computer Science past an introduction course if you don’t enjoy it (don’t succumb to peer/parental pressure!!!).

What to do While Learning

So you’re currently enrolled in a CS course, and you want to have your future APCS test be a breeze. You’re in luck—there are several things you can do now that will practically guarantee you a 5!

Programming Outside of School

You’ve all heard it before—practice makes perfect—and surprise surprise, it applies for CS as well. CS is different, however, in that it can be very easy to enjoy yourself while practicing. Here is where enjoying the subject shines brightest—if you like programming, you’ll love practicing when done right. There is a different method of practice for anyone, and I’d recommend trying each if possible. The big 3 are:

  1. You all heard of them before—Hackathons—where you can competitively code against others in a fun environment. While these aren’t for everyone (especially those that like sleep), it doesn’t hurt to try, just search for one near you.

  2. Alright, so you might like your sleep. Challenge yourself to program something on your own time! If you’re pondering a problem, code it! If you just did a simulation in your science class and you’re interested in it, code it! You’re a coder now, the sky’s the limit! If nothing comes up, don’t worry—nothing is more satisfying than watching others use a program that you coded. I would recommend thinking of old retro games where the GUIs aren’t too hard (like Tron, Old Snakey, Pong, Tanks, etc), or tools like maze generators and such.

  3. If you can get your hands on an internship, paid or unpaid, take it! This isn’t as necessary as the previous ones, but if you are lucky enough to get a software engineer internship, your 5 is (don’t sue me) guaranteed.

This point is very important, so follow it—stop hardcoding as soon as possible! No matter what you code, code it well. Whether it’s an annoying school assignment, your game, or a hackathon speed-coding project, soft code!

The Secret to Learning Well

Whether it be off-by-one errors, array management errors, or random errors in loops, someone in your class is going to run into it. Work together with others. Now before you run off to your friends and reveal to them how to do your assigned project, understand that I don’t mean to cheat. Don’t tell them how to code their program, just help them fix any errors or problems they are experiencing. Always avoid touching their keyboard, they won’t learn well that way. By constantly helping your classmates and friends with any of the errors they are experiencing, and understanding how they solved them, you will be much better equipped to not only fix these errors when they pop up, but also to outright avoid them from ever happening. Note that this goes both ways—ask your friends (or teacher) for help and make sure you understand their solution.

The Test is Coming Up

The test is coming up, and you want to make sure to cover all the topics so you will be fully prepared for the test. If only there was a convenient easy way to do that…

Be Prepared for the AP Computer Science Exam in Java. That’s right, there’s a book just for that. Simply select the most recent book in that amazon search. There may be other good books, but the Litvin’s book was simply wonderful. It gives everything from basic study material to test taking tips to 6 full sample tests! The best way to study with it is the simplest:

  1. Complete the first practice test fully. If it’s your book, write on it! Don’t check the answers until you finish!!!
  2. Check your answers with the back of the book. Keep note at your score on the test, and in what subjects you lost the most points in.
  3. Go over all your mistakes, one by one. If you fully understand why you made it, move on. If you don’t—I’d highly recommend programming the problem and playing with it, so you can see why you were wrong.
  4. If you still don’t fully understand the problem, don’t leave it behind! It will come back and haunt you. Play around with whatever the problem was about (code it and test things out). If that doesn’t help, ask your friends, or ask Google and Stack Overflow.
  5. When you feel like you are on top of all your mistakes, take another test and repeat the process!

After you take a few tests, you will have no surprises on the AP exam! In fact, most consider the actual exam as slightly easier than the practice tests.

Test Day

You followed the above guide and/or practiced well for this test? Great! Relax, take a chill pill, and prepare to ace your test!

Ofek Gila