It’s no well-kept secret that CollegeBoard writes both the SAT IIs and the AP tests. It’s also not a secret that most people want to work smarter, and not harder.

Yes, the SAT IIs are more than just a little similar to the multiple choice sections on their corresponding AP exams. In fact, some SAT II question sets can easily pass for AP exam practice questions and vice versa. So in theory, it’s totally possible to study for just one test and completely be prepared for two. Keep reading, and we’ll show you how to pull this off really well in practice.


Timing the tests

AP exams are famously held in the first two weeks of May (excluding weekends), and SAT IIs are offered once each month in May, June, October, November, December, and January.

You’ll notice that there’s an intersection here in May, and yes — it’s completely possible to take the APs and still make the May SAT II testing date, because the SAT II testing date usually occurs in the weekend between the two weeks of the AP tests. But just because you could, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should, for these reasons

It’s stressful and can distract you from your second-week AP tests.

Even if the SAT IIs are pretty similar to the AP tests, the fact remains that they still are tests that you have to take which yield scores that may end up on your college applications. That in itself is a pretty heavy psychological burden for most people, and it especially doesn’t help things if you already know that you have more AP tests to take after the weekend is over. This compounded stress can end up negatively affecting both your AP and SAT II scores.

Plus, the act of going to a testing site and taking time out of your day to sit in a room and bubble scantrons consumes valuable time that you could have been using to be better prepared for your second-week AP tests, if you have any. Remember — while you get six shots at the SAT IIs every academic year, the AP exams are only held once per year. It’s simply not worth possibly ruining your one and only shot at an exam for another exam that you get six shots at.

Error recovery.

You’ve done practice problems upon practice problems — balanced the reactions, identified the rhetorical devices, traced the causes of the Great Depression, what have you. Your AP teacher’s gone over the testing rules a million times — number two pencil, no calculator, phones on silent, et cetera. You’ve combed through online forums with your AP comrades, making predictions, sharing prep techniques, encouraging each other — that’s all good.

But you haven’t taken the test. Yet.

It might sound cliche, but really — there’s nothing quite like the real thing. There’s no way of knowing ahead of time if CollegeBoard will decide to revive a “dead” topic that your AP teacher said they haven’t tested in three years during your year. There’s no way of knowing ahead of time if the actual test will require you to manipulate a formula in some obscure way that you’ve never expected. There’s no way of knowing ahead of time how you’ll actually perform with this subject matter under the pressure of actual testing conditions.

The key advantage to spacing out the AP exam and your SAT IIs is that you can use your experience with the AP exams to help your studying and prep for your SAT IIs; you’ll essentially be getting two chances at the same test.

Since the tests and testing procedures are relatively similar, you can treat the AP exam as a diagnostic test that can to highlight your weaknesses in the subject matter and help you do better on the SAT II. If you take the SAT IIs in May, you won’t have this time to go back and thoroughly patch up the holes in your knowledge.

A caveat: this method doesn’t correct for concepts that you think you understand on the AP exam, but don’t actually (since you don’t get your scores back until months later). But hey, it’s really good at catching things that you drew blanks on in the actual AP test and giving you a second chance at those.

So when do we recommend taking the SAT IIs? June is typically the most ideal time. There’s roughly two weeks between the end of the AP exam testing period and the SAT II June test date — which is enough time for you to go back and re-learn the things that you were weaker on in the APs, but not too long so that you’d forget all the information that you’ve studied for the AP exams. Any later, and you’ll probably have forgotten most of the AP material you’ve learned, as the next SAT II test date after June is October.


Study Techniques

So the good news here is that studying for something that you’ve already studied for is a lot easier, but don’t underestimate the amount of prep you have to do between the APs and the SAT IIs. There’s a lot that you can lose in two weeks if you completely don’t work at keeping the knowledge relevant in your head.

Focus on more application-based studying

Since you’ve already done most of the grunt work of memorization before the AP test, this post-AP phase of studying won’t require you to do all of that that again. In this phase, you should focus on more external methods of studying where you can put your knowledge to use. Practice problems are a must, and if you can tutor or teach the information that you’ve studied for the AP tests, that’s also a good way to keep things fresh in your mind. If you can’t find a willing student, another application-based study method is to write out a concept works (like in an expository essay) and then pass it off to someone who might not be familiar with the topic, and to write until they can understand it.

You should practice your knowledge often; never go more than a few days without rehearsing it in some way, shape, or form. It’s hard to gain new knowledge, but it’s really, really easy to lose.

However, the exception to more application-based “rehearsals” is if you realized that you completely didn’t understand something while you were taking the AP test. For those topics in this post-AP phase, you should work hard at mastering them from scratch. You can devote more time to understanding these topics in-depth since you’ve already identified your strengths and won’t need to re-learn those.

Use SAT II Prep Books

This might sound a little repetitive, but it’s for a good reason: the SAT IIs do not have free-response questions, and most of the AP exams do. So a lot of the times, the material that’s usually reserved for the free-response section of the AP exam shows up in the SAT II as multiple-choice questions. To better prepare yourself for this type of question format, it’s better to err on the side of caution and use a prep book for the SAT IIs, just so nothing will come completely out of left field for you on test day. There’s also more practice problems in the SAT II books, so there’s really nothing to lose.


AP to SAT II Pairings

There are 20 SAT II exams and 38 AP courses, so it makes sense that there’s not a direct one-to-one ratio of SAT to AP. There are some SATs that don’t map onto an APs, and there are also some seemingly matching pairs that don’t actually cover the same material. In the table below, we’ve listed our pairings of SAT IIs and APs that you can study for in one go:


AP Exam Corresponding SAT II Exam
AP Biology Biology (Molecular)
AP Chemistry Chemistry
AP English Literature Literature
AP Environmental Science Biology (Ecological)
Note: Biology E still tests for some concepts that are exclusive to AP Biology, so we’d suggest studying more from a prep book for Biology E if you’re going this route
AP French French
Note: we don’t recommend French with Listening since that SAT II is only offered in November
AP German German
Note: we don’t recommend German with Listening since that SAT II is only offered in November
AP Italian Italian
AP Latin Latin
AP Spanish (Language or Literature) Spanish
Note: we don’t recommend Spanish with Listening since that SAT II is only offered in November
AP U.S. History U.S. History
AP World History World History


Jeanette Si

Jeanette Si

Jeanette is a junior at Cornell University double majoring in Information Science and China and Asia-Pacific Studies. As someone who’s received a lot of help from mentors during her personal admissions process, she’s looking to give back now that her own admissions season is behind her. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found singing show tunes (terribly), playing MOBAs (passably), or quoting Jane Austen (expertly).
Jeanette Si