1 What You Need to Know About the AP Psychology Exam - STEP 1 Set Up Your Study Plan

5 Steps to a 5: AP Psychology - McGraw Hill 2021

1 What You Need to Know About the AP Psychology Exam
STEP 1 Set Up Your Study Plan


Summary: Learn what topics are tested, how the test is scored, and basic test-taking information.


Key Ideas

Image AP Psychology is equivalent to a college-level introductory psychology course.

Image Most, but not all, colleges will award credit for a score of 4 or 5.

Image Multiple-choice questions account for two-thirds of your final score.

Image There is NO penalty for guessing.

Image Free-response questions account for one-third of your final score.

Image Your composite score on the two test sections is converted to a score on the 1-to-5 scale.

Background Information

The College Board’s Advanced Placement (AP) program enables high school students to study college-level subjects. Most colleges grant credit, placement, or both for qualifying AP exam grades. You may want to check with the colleges of your choice to find out their policies. Enrollment in AP Psychology has increased annually since its inception to become one of the most popular of 35 AP courses and exams offered.

Some Frequently Asked Questions About the AP Psychology Exam

Why Take the AP Psychology Exam?


AP Psychology is an exciting course to take not only because it gives you an opportunity to understand your own behavior and mental processes better but also because it enables you to learn more about other people and animals. Benefits of taking such a challenging course can include strengthening your transcript, proving to yourself that you can do it, and starting college with some credit. Admissions officers from Adelphi University to Yale University have told me that their number one criterion for admissions decisions is the strength of an applicant’s high school program.

Additional benefits are sometimes offered. Some high schools weight or scale AP course grades. Because some colleges charge per credit, you can save money. Getting three or more credits for the price of the exam is a good value.

The College Board reports, “Studies have shown that AP students are more likely to maintain a high grade point average and graduate from college with honors than their college classmates of similar ability. . . .”

“I’m glad I took AP Psychology in high school. It eased my transition to college. I knew the level of work I needed to do to succeed and what studying for a college final is like before enrolling.”

—Kim, college student

What Is the Format of the Exam?

Table 1.1 summarizes the format of the AP Psychology exam.

Table 1.1 AP Psychology


“I knew that as a pre-med I wouldn’t be able to fit psychology into my college program, so I wanted to take it in high school. My knowledge of psychology helps me understand my patients.”

—Dr. Jerry C., former AP student

The exam is 2 hours long. During the first 70 minutes, you have 100 multiple-choice questions to answer. At the end of the 70 minutes, your booklet and answer sheet will be collected. However, no matter how early you finish this first part of the exam, you cannot begin the free-response questions (essays) early. The multiple-choice section counts for two-thirds of your score. If you have time remaining after you complete the questions, you can go back to those you were uncertain about or want to reread. You are limited to 50 minutes to answer two required essay questions.

Who Writes the AP Psychology Exam?

Development of each AP exam is a multiyear effort that involves many education and testing professionals and students. At the heart of the effort is the AP Psychology Development Committee, a group of highly regarded college and AP high school teachers from diverse backgrounds who are typically asked to serve for 3 years. The committee and experienced test-item writers create a large pool of multiple-choice questions. With the help of psychometricians (measurement psychologists) at Educational Testing Service (ETS), these questions are then pretested with college students who are enrolled in introductory psychology at selected colleges and universities. Questions are evaluated for accuracy, appropriateness, clarity, and assurance that there is only one possible answer. Data from pretests allow each question to be categorized by degree of difficulty.

In general, the easiest questions to answer are at the beginning of Section I, and the most difficult questions are at the end. After additional development and refinement, Section I of the exam is ready to be administered.

Numerous free-response questions (essay questions) are written for possible inclusion on the exams. After these questions are edited, discussed by committee members, and pretested with college psychology classes, the committee chooses essay questions for inclusion on a specific AP Psychology exam. They ensure that the free-response questions cut across content areas, are well presented and unambiguous, as well as considerably different from each other. Only free-response questions that will allow for clear and equitable grading by the AP readers (scorers) are selected.

After exams have been scored, the AP Psychology Development Committee and ETS evaluate the test results. The College Board can use the results to further course development in high schools and to plan future exams.

What Is Going to Appear on the Exam?


The College Board periodically surveys colleges/universities throughout the United States and around the world to find out what is being taught in introductory psychology courses in order to ensure that what is being taught in the AP course is comparable. The exam presumes the equivalent of at least one term/semester of college-level work.

Based on the latest information, the AP Psychology Development Committee has updated the course description and point distribution outline for the AP Psychology exam. Content review chapters in this test preparation book conform to their outline. The percentage range in front of each topic represents the number of questions about it that will be asked on the exam. For example, 8 to 10 questions will deal with Biological Bases of Behavior, and 7 to 9 questions will examine Learning.


Typically free-response questions require you to make connections among concepts from multiple topics, or to apply concepts from different theoretical frameworks to design, analyze, or critique an experiment or other type of research study.

Who Grades My AP Psychology Exam?

The multiple-choice questions are scored by computer, but this is not possible for essay questions. These free-response questions are scored by a select group of experienced college professors of introductory psychology and AP Psychology teachers who gather at the AP Reading for several days in June to assess the papers. Each of these faculty consultants spends a day or so getting trained on one question and one question only. Because each Reader becomes an expert on a single question and because each essay booklet is anonymous, this process provides a very consistent (reliable) and unbiased scoring of that question. During a typical day of grading, a random sample of each consultant’s scored papers is selected and cross-checked by other experienced “Table Leaders” to ensure that consistency is maintained across all scorers throughout the Reading. Each Reader’s scores on a given question are also statistically analyzed to make sure that he or she is not giving scores that are significantly higher or lower than the mean scores given by other Readers of that question. All measures are taken to maintain consistency and fairness for your benefit. Your answers to the two questions will be scored by at least two different consultants.

AP Psychology exams are administered to college psychology students at the end of their introductory psychology course so that their performance on the AP Exam can be compared to their performance in the college course (as measured by their test and course grades). This information is used to guide the assignment of the AP exam grades 1 to 5 to raw scores.

Will My Exam Remain Anonymous?

Absolutely. Even if your high school teacher were to randomly rate one of your free-response questions at the Reading, there is virtually no way he or she would recognize that the paper belongs to you. To a faculty consultant, each student is a number, and to the computer, each student is a bar code.

What About That Permission Box on the Back?

The College Board uses some exams to help train high school teachers so that they can help the next generation of psychology students avoid common mistakes. If you check this box, you simply give permission to use your exam in this way. Even if you give permission, your anonymity is still maintained.

How Is My Multiple-Choice Answer Sheet Scored?

The multiple-choice section of the psychology exam is 100 questions and is worth two-thirds of your final score. Your answer sheet is run through the computer, which adds up your correct responses. The total number of right answers is your Section I Raw Score.

How Is My Free-Response Exam Scored?

Your performance on the free-response section is worth one-third of your final score. Two required essays compose this section. Although the two questions are typically given equal weight (25 each), they may be scored on different point scales. As a result, if Essay 1 has nine points that are scored, the number of points earned toward the total exam score for that essay would be Score 1 × 2.778. The multiplier for each free-response question is determined by dividing 25 by the maximum number of points in the scoring rubric or scoring guide. Table 1.2 indicates multipliers for essay questions with different point maximums.

Table 1.2 Points/Multiplier Table


Section II Raw Score = (Score 1 × Correct Multiplier) + (Score 2 × Correct Multiplier)

So How Is My Final Grade Determined, and What Does It Mean?

To determine your Composite Raw Score, add the Section I Raw Score and the Section II Raw Score. Based on the composite scores of all the test takers, the Chief Reader sets four cut points that divide the composite scores into groups. Rather than report your composite score, the College Board reports to you one of five numbers assigned to your composite score based on the cut points:

• 5 indicates you are extremely well qualified.

• 4 indicates you are well qualified.

• 3 indicates you are qualified.

• 2 indicates you are possibly qualified.

• 1 indicates no recommendation.

Table 1.3 shows a rough example of a conversion chart, and as you complete the practice exams, you may use this to give yourself a hypothetical grade. Keep in mind that the conversion changes slightly every year to adjust for the difficulty of the questions. You should receive your grade in early July.

Table 1.3 Grade Guide Table—AP Psychology


“I’m sorry I didn’t take the AP Psychology Exam. The college I chose did not give credit for the exam, so I skipped it. When I transferred to a different college as a sophomore, I found out that I could’ve gotten six credits from my new school. What a loss!”

—Andrea, former AP student


In Section I of Practice Exam 1, if you answered 76 questions correctly, your Section I score would be 76.

In Section II of Practice Exam 1, if you earned 7 out of 10 points on Essay 1 and 6 out of 8 points on Essay 2, your Section II score would be 36.25.


Your composite score would be 76 + 36.25 = 112.25, which would be assigned a 5.

What Should I Bring to the Exam?

On exam day, I suggest bringing the following items:

• Several pencils and an eraser that doesn’t leave smudges.

• Black- or blue-colored pens for the free-response section.

• A watch so that you can monitor your time. You never know if the exam room will have a clock on the wall that keeps accurate time.

• Your school code.

• Your photo identification and social security number.

• Tissues.

• Your quiet confidence that you are prepared.

Avoid bringing electronic data and communications devices and study materials to the testing site.