4 Best AP Computer Science Principles Prep Book (2020)

Best AP Computer Science Principles Study Books

AP Computer Science Principles is a slightly different take on computer science. Rather than tackling issues purely from a coding perspective, the Principles course looks at things from a theoretical angle, too.

As such, your methods of study should be slightly different from those of a programming-oriented computer science course. We’ll go over several textbooks in the remainder of this guide to help you accomplish just that.

Best AP Computer Science Principles Exam Prep Books

1. Computer Science Principles: The Foundational Concepts of Computer Science – For AP® Computer Science Principles

While this isn’t an AP study textbook, it works great as a study guide, as it has an encompassing scope of AP Computer Science Principles and related subjects.

Publisher: Yellow Dart Publishing

Year: 2020

Number of pages: 258

Our Final Grade: B

This book is fully updated for 2020, and it contains everything you could possibly need to ace the AP Computer Science Principles exam. While the entire book’s scope might be a bit wide, it still makes a useful study resource.

The problem with this book is that it’s designed to be a textbook used with a class, not a short study guide. It’ll teach you all about Computer Science Principles, but it’s not something that you can finish in a night (or even a week).

If you want to use this book as a resource, you’ll have to start studying from it a while before your exam.

Because the other study resources for the AP Computer Science Principles Test seem to be in disappointingly low (and low-quality) supply, you should consider starting early with this book instead. It may be overkill if you’re not trying to get a five on the exam, but it will definitely help you pass.

Pros

  • Covers all of Computer Science Principles
  • Correct, reliable content
  • Easy to understand; excellent for self-study

Cons

  • Covers much more than necessary
  • It takes a long time to finish

2. AP Computer Science Principles Crash Course: Get a Higher Score in Less Time

This guide is designed to help you review, learn, and rehash confusing or missed concepts in as little time as possible.

Publisher: Research & Education Association (REA)

Year: 2018

Number of pages: 304

Our Final Grade: B

The Crash Course line of study guides is designed to teach you only what’s present on the AP exam, and it does this well. If you don’t have much time to study or feel pretty prepared already, this is a great option.

While this guide is great for narrowing down the scope of what you need to study, it’s not ideal for knowledge of a broader range. For example, if you try to study from this book without a robust preexisting understanding of how programming works, you may end up missing essential concepts.

Do note that these answers can be complicated, as they’re designed to test your existing knowledge – even more complicated than the test itself in some cases. As such, it may be overkill for those who already feel adequately prepared for the exam.

All in all, if you’re a student looking to rehash essential concepts and test your knowledge, this can be a great resource, but it’s not great if you never learned the content in the first place.

Pros

  • Covers the exact content you need for the AP exam
  • Quicker and easier to finish than other guides
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Older than competitors – may not be updated for 2020

3. 5 Steps to a 5 AP Computer Science Principles

This book is designed to teach you everything through an easy-to-follow five-step curriculum, so it’s easy to follow and understand.

Publisher: McGraw-Hill Education

Year: 2018

Number of pages: 208

Our Final Grade: B-

The 5 Steps to a 5 Series is an excellent series for learning new concepts in a logical, step-by-step way. Not only is this book suitable for individuals reviewing for the AP test, but it can be great for those self-teaching themselves, as well.

In particular, this book is excellent for covering both topics that you’ve seen in class and items that your teacher may have missed. While you can end up with a bit of extra knowledge that’s not covered on the AP test this way, it means you’re prepared for whatever questions may come.

This guide comes with three full practice exams for you to use as well as hundreds of exercises. Moreover, this guide uses both free-response and multiple-choice questions, both of which you will see on the AP exam, so you know you’ll be prepared come test day.

Additionally, this book gives you a sneak peek at the Computer Science Principles exam format, and it educates you on logical strategies to use for acing each area of the test. Best of all, the book comes with a “diagnostic exam” that helps you identify where you need to study most.

Pros

  • Full of helpful resources and test-day advantages
  • Encompasses the entire AP exam
  • Great for self-teaching as well as review

Cons

  • May not be fully updated for 2020

4. AP Computer Science Principles: With 4 Practice Tests (Barron’s Test Prep)

This book is focused on comprehensive coverage of Computer Science Principles, including both coding and theoretical work, for beginners and experts alike.

Publisher: Barrons Educational Series

Year: 2019

Number of pages: 432

Our Final Grade: C-

The Barron’s Test Prep line of books is all about reviewing essential concepts from the ground up. Regardless of whether you paid attention during your AP Computer Science Principles class or not, this book will teach you what you need to know.

Unfortunately, while this is good in theory, this book doesn’t measure up to the quality of Barron’s other books. It contains numerous typos, and it’s missing some symbols that are necessary to complete formulas contained within.

Why the quality of this textbook is so much lower than Barron’s others is unknown. You should be aware of this before potentially purchasing this textbook.

While it can still be used as an excellent review resource, especially with the included practice exams, watch for these errors so that you don’t end up reinforcing incorrect material.

That aside, this is one of the most comprehensive books on the subject you’ll find on this list. Because of the hundreds of included review questions, this can be an okay resource, but we don’t recommend using it as your primary one.

Pros

  • Comprehensive and encompassing scope
  • Hundreds of review questions
  • Teaches you essential concepts from the ground up

Cons

  • Full of factual and technical errors

FAQs

If you still have questions, take a look at the frequently asked questions we’ve answered below – we may be able to solve them for you!

Is the AP Computer Science Principles Exam Hard?

The AP Computer Science Principles exam isn’t overly complicated as long as you’ve paid attention in class. Because this is a theoretical class that doesn’t deal with as much programming as AP Computer Science A, people also tend to enjoy it more.

What Do I Need to Know for AP Computer Science Principles?

According to the AP Central website, AP Computer Science Principles looks at the “big ideas” of computer programming, like abstracting, solving and analyzing problems, communicating and collaborating, and connected computing.

Do Colleges Care About AP Computer Science Principles?

Because AP Computer Science Principles is considered to be the more theoretical course between it and AP Computer Science A, it may not receive the same credit as the latter course. You should consider checking whether your prospective college accepts this course before signing up for it.


Conclusion

Ap Computer Science Principles is a relatively new class offering, and as such, resources to study for the exam are few, and not all of them are reliable. However, we’ve sourced the best ones for you to consider in this guide. Two of them rose above the rest as your best options.

First is Computer Science Principles: The Foundational Concepts of Computer Science. While this a full-length textbook, not a study guide, it’s one of the best available resources for studying Computer Science Principles right now.

The above book will teach you what you need to know, but be aware that it’s not optimized for the AP exam like some study guides might be. You’ll need to narrow down the concepts you need to learn on your own.

If you don’t have the time for a full-length textbook, consider taking a look at AP Computer Science Principles Crash Course: Get a Higher Score in Less Time. This is the total opposite of the book above, as this is meant to be a fast crash course only.

This book will only teach you about the topics that are on the AP Computer Science Principles Exam and nothing more. As such, it’s not appropriate for self-study or teaching yourself Computer Science Principles, but it’s excellent for preparing for the exam itself.

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Hannah Young
 

Contributor at ExamCave. Hannah is pursuing a degree in middle school English education at The Ohio State University. Hannah has worked as a writing and math tutor for elementary, middle school, and high school students.