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6 Tips for Succeeding in Your First AP/IB Class

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Once you enter high school, you will have the opportunity to start taking more advanced courses under the Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) system. These classes are meant to assess your readiness and prepare you for the fast pace and challenging material of college classes. College Admissions Officers love to see students take these courses because it shows them that the student has challenged themselves and has been actively been preparing themselves to succeed in college.


However, these advanced courses are no joke. In order to do well in these classes, students have to develop a more disciplined work ethic and sometimes study in a completely different way. What exactly does it take to succeed in one of these classes? We at CollegeVine have compiled our top six tips to help you tackle your first AP/IB class.


A Brief Introduction to the AP and IB systems


The Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate systems offer college-level courses at the high school level for students who want to challenge themselves with rigorous coursework and earn college credit. We at CollegeVine have covered both of these types of classes in detail. Feel free to review these previous blog posts for some more detailed information about AP and IB classes and exams:


The CollegeVine Guides to the AP Program

To IB or not to IB: Is International Baccalaureate Right For You?

How to Earn an IB Diploma

The Beginner’s Guide to the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program

Should I Take an AP/IB/Honors Class?


Benefits of Taking an AP/IB Class:


As a student, you can gain a lot by taking one of these advanced, challenging courses. Some of these benefits include:


  • Showing colleges that you can handle college-level coursework: The grades you get in these classes along with your scores on the AP/IB exams can be sent to college to show them that you not only learned this material but mastered it in an advanced classroom setting.


  • Learning college material at a cheaper price than a college class: Most of the material you learn in an AP/IB class is the same material that you would learn in an introductory class in college. The difference is that an AP/IB class has minimal fees, whereas a college class costs a few hundred dollars minimum. Thus, the financial benefits of going through this system are large.


  • Earning College Credit: By passing the IB/AP exams, you can earn academic credit that can be transferred to your college. With this credit, you could possibly opt out of some college introductory courses or start college with enough academic credit to be considered a sophomore or junior.


  • Challenging Yourself: These classes are not like the ones you may have taken before. You are going to have to quickly learn new study strategies so that you can study more efficiently and effectively in a smaller amount of time. These study skills will be extremely helpful in college and the future.


Especially if you’re taking more than one AP/IB class at the same time, you may feel overwhelmed at the sudden increase in standards and workload. We at CollegeVine want you to succeed in your first AP/IB course so that you can impress colleges with your coursework and earn valuable academic credit for college. Here are our best tips for success in these advanced courses.


6 Tips for Success


1. Organize


The time of teachers telling you exactly what school supplies you need for a class (a folder, a notebook, a binder?) are over. While some AP/IB teachers may require you to have certain things like a notebook to turn in assignments or a pen for exams, most teachers of these advanced courses do not care how or if you organize your materials. It’s up to you to do that on your own.


We at CollegeVine highly recommend having a binder, a notebook, or at least a folder for each AP/IB course you are taking. Organize each notebook, folder, or binder based on how each course is organized. For example, if the course is taught based on chapters, have a tab or a separate folder for each chapter. If the course is organized into geographic regions or time periods (as with most history courses), you can compartmentalize your materials that way. Either way, find a way to organize your work so that you know where all of your notes, handouts, and other study materials are at all times.


This way, you’ll always have all of your classwork ready to go. This is essential because unlike some of your previous courses, you will probably need to know the information on most, if not all, of the handouts and lectures that are presented to you in your AP/IB classes. If you lose a page of notes or a worksheet, you may miss valuable material and unnecessarily lose points on an exam.


2. Take Notes


DO NOT fall into the trap of thinking that you will remember everything that a teacher is talking about during a lecture. While you may be able to remember the surface-level concepts presented in class, you will be almost always be tested on the finer details that are less easy to retain in your brain. Thus, it’s important to take notes during class so that you can have the material to review later.


While you’re taking notes, don’t just write down a few keywords here and there. Make sure to make a detailed summary of what the teacher is saying. Bullet points are fine, and you shouldn’t try to transcribe the whole lecture, but you should definitely write down enough to where you could completely forget the material, come back and look at your notes, and have a decent understanding of what was said.


Some teachers nowadays are letting students take notes on their laptops, and while this is certainly a fast way to note down a lot of material,  just know that it has been scientifically proven that students retain more information when they use hand-written notes instead of typing their notes.  An article in Scientific American explains this phenomenon.

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3. Complete Work on Time


It can sometimes be detrimental to fall behind in an AP/IB course. The material moves so quickly that if you fall behind for even a few days, it can be difficult to catch up. Thus, you need to make sure that you are staying on top of the material and completing your assignments on time so that you can manage the fast pace of the course.


Also, a lot of the times in AP and IB classes, the work you submit will count as your final grade. Especially if it’s a simple homework assignment or an easy worksheet, you really want to utilize these points because they can boost your grade and possibly offset a lower test grade from a challenging exam or project. Thus, you should do your best to submit all of your assignments by the due date.


4. Find Test Prep Materials


The great thing about AP and IB classes is that there are already a ton of resources out there to help you learn the material and do well on the exams such as test prep books, flashcards, and Khan Academy videos. There are even apps nowadays that can give you good practice questions and quizzes as the exams get closer. Check out some of these apps in our previous post about apps to organize your college planning.


It may be beneficial to purchase these prep materials sooner rather than later. You can use them to help you learn and understand the material as it is being taught to you, which will make it more familiar when you go back and review the prep materials in the spring as the exam gets closer.


5. Do the Readings


In regular high school courses, it isn’t always necessary to read the textbook to understand the material, and sometimes there won’t even be assigned readings for a course. Whatever the teacher talks about in class is usually what is on the exam, so as long as you listen in class, you should be fine.


In AP/IB courses, you will probably be assigned readings on a nightly or weekly basis, and the material that is covered in lecture will not always correspond with what was in the reading. Nevertheless, you will be responsible for knowing both sets of material for the exams.


Thus, if you don’t do the readings for an AP/IB course, you may be missing half of the material that you are going to need for both the class exams and the final AP/IB exam. Make sure to carve out some time to read the material that was assigned to you, and don’t just skim. You’ll retain more of the material if you read the text closely.


6. Be Confident


Just because you have never taken an advanced course before does not mean that you are destined to do worse in the class than someone who has taken other AP/IB courses. For most AP/IB classes, you will do just fine as long as you do everything the teacher tells you to, keep up with the material, and ask questions when necessary.


No matter how overwhelming these advanced classes may seem, remember that there is no reason to stress about an AP/IB course. They are just like the courses you’ve taken in high school. The only difference is that they are a little faster-paced. If you go in with the right mindset–that you are confident, smart, and ready to work hard– you’ll do just fine.


For More Information


For some more information about advanced courses along with some of our best study tips, see the following blog posts:


10 Ways that College Classes Differ From High School

10 Real World Study Tips to Improve Processing and Retention

Going Beyond Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic: How to Leverage Your Learning Types

5 Habits of the Successful High School Student

CollegeVine’s Top Six Study Tips for High School Students


Looking for help navigating the road to college as a high school student? Download our free guide for 9th graders and our free guide for 10th graders. Our guides go in-depth about subjects ranging from academicschoosing coursesstandardized testsextracurricular activitiesand much more!


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Sadhvi Mathur
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Sadhvi is a recent graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, where she double majored in Economics and Media Studies. Having applied to over 8 universities, each with different application platforms and requirements, she is eager to share her knowledge now that her application process is over. Other than writing, Sadhvi's interests include dancing, playing the piano, and trying not to burn her apartment down when she cooks!