What Are The Easiest AP Courses For Self-Study?
AP classes are a great way of preparing for college while earning a few credits that you can apply toward your degree. However, some schools offer a few AP courses, and not everyone has equal access to resources for these exams.
This discrepancy paves the way for self-study. Self-study involves students who do not take an AP course at school, but instead learn the material independently and sit for the exam in May. For homeschooled students or students looking to take on AP courses not offered at their school, self-study enables them to learn the material at their own pace.
On the other hand, while many courses are ideal for self-study, some AP courses present challenges for those learning outside the classroom. Here, we’ll break down what to consider before self-studying and which AP courses are easiest for self-study.
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Our Picks for the Easiest Self-Study AP Courses
After sifting through different AP courses and eliminating the ones that don’t work for you, you should make a shortlist of the easiest courses for self-study. We divided some of the easiest AP courses for self-study into three categories: the easiest overall, the easiest to learn with no prior knowledge, and the easiest to master with some basic concepts under your belt.
Easiest to Self-Study Overall
These courses may be unfamiliar because you might not have taken similar courses previously, or only the fundamentals. Because of their exam structure and ease of access to studying resources, however, these are the easiest all-around AP courses for self-studying students.
AP Computer Science A
AP Computer Science A teaches the basics of programming in the Java language. Coding has grown into a skill applicable in multiple college majors and fields, but it’s also a skill that you can learn independently and outside a classroom setting.
Learning to code on your own is feasible because the material itself is based online, with online resources like GitHub available for troubleshooting and viewing others’ code.
Unlike AP Computer Science Principles, this course concludes with one 3-hour exam split into multiple-choice and free-response sections. Overall, AP Computer Science A suits beginners to coding and encourages problem-solving independently, a skill useful in self-study and college.
AP Human Geography
AP Human Geography investigates human populations worldwide in different contexts, starting with building blocks of geography and expanding into how people interact within cities, rural areas, different religions, and cultures.
Since the course starts with the basics and expands into fields like sociology, it takes seemingly broad concepts and focuses on specific aspects of humans and human behavior.
For students with limited exposure to these fields or just physical geography, this course lays a clear path for self-study with specific units and chapters to work through linearly. The exam is also comparatively short at 2 hours and 15 minutes, and the essays do not require the same rigid structure as other courses’ essays.
Easiest to Self-Study from Scratch
These AP courses match well with students with limited or no knowledge of the subject before the class, but who have an interest in the material.
AP Environmental Science
AP Environmental Science goes over aspects of biology, ecology, and math to explain how populations function and interact. While fieldwork may be challenging to do when self-studying, the course combines a variety of disciplines starting from the basics.
Even if you have little experience with ecology or biology, the course outlines relationships between different species straightforwardly, along with the effects of these interactions on Earth, such as different types of pollution.
Because of its real-world applications, this course works well for self-studying due to an abundant number of examples and case studies to examine. Additionally, like AP Human Geography, the exam is under three hours.
Psychology is a very popular college major, and AP Psychology lays the foundations for it by examining human behavior.
While the concepts in psychology do not often appear in classes before taking a psychology class, self-studying through the drilling of vocabulary and analysis of experiments about sensation, learning, disorders, and more.
Additionally, the exam is just two hours long and is one of the shortest AP exams offered. Through its blend of data and real-world cases, psychology makes for an ideal self-study AP course for people with no background in the subject.
Easiest to Self-Study with Some Background Knowledge
These courses cater to students with background knowledge in the subject beforehand, and chances are you have learned basics in these subjects in previous classes.
AP United States Government and Politics
While AP United States Government and Politics dives deep into the three branches of government and the political behavior of politicians and voters, the building blocks of this course frequently come up in previous school years and classes.
Since concepts like the three branches of government and the fundamentals of the Constitution appear early on in American classrooms, this course expands upon familiar concepts to create a more well-rounded understanding of politics and government in the U.S.
Something to keep in mind about the exam is the presence of four free-response questions, which make up half of the three-hour exam. While writing is a considerable aspect of the exam, the material lends itself to essays and analysis that is perfect for self-studying students interested in expanding their knowledge of this subject.
AP United States History
Like AP U.S. Government and Politics, AP United States History’s writing-intensive exam and basis in familiar historical events like the American Revolution and Civil War orient the course toward students with some recollection of American history and an interest in broadening this knowledge.
While specific dates and details make up a sizable portion of the course, the course’s linear structure with time periods and connections formed between these periods is ideal for students who like structured self-study and analyzing changes over time.
Additionally, the three-section exam subdivides the material into multiple choice questions, short answers, and essays that require different levels of depth. For students who wish to learn the context of historical events in the U.S., this course is an excellent self-study option.
Background on AP Courses and Exams
Before selecting courses to self-study, it’s essential to understand how AP exams work and the resources available for studying independently.
Exam Structures and Lengths
The College Board lists 36 specific courses along with two broader courses, AP Research and AP Seminar, that make up the AP Capstone Diploma Program. For the other 36 courses, each test varies in length and structure but average around 2-3 hours in length. Some exams include a significant writing portion, while others focus more on multiple-choice questions or short answers.
When selecting courses to self-study, make sure you check out the exam format and familiarize yourself with the test’s requirements.
Since you will be studying outside of a traditional classroom setting, using the right study tools will help you master the material before the exam date.
Review books are a popular tool to prepare for exams, and the companies that produce these books typically release new editions every year as the tests change over time. Textbook brands include Princeton Review, Kaplan, Barron’s, and more.
Additionally, new versions, along with older and used versions of these texts are frequently available on Amazon for more affordable prices.
Forming in-person or virtual study groups aids in studying for the exams as well, especially for students who do not go to school in a typical classroom setting. Comparing notes and working through essay prompts or practice problems with other students is a great way to brush up on the material before the exam.
Additionally, previous exams released online make for excellent exam practice.
Selecting the right courses for self-study requires some introspection about your interests and goals with each course. When making these selections, ask yourself some questions:
- Why do you want to take this course? Is it just to knock out a college requirement, or is this a subject you want to study further down the line?
- What do you already know about this subject? Are you starting from nothing, or have you taken similar courses in the past?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses as a student? Are you a skilled writer but poor at math, or a logical thinker with no interest in more creative fields?
Choosing courses you find interesting helps you when self-studying since it will be easier to stay motivated and engaged. Beyond curiosity, though, picking courses that support your academic strengths sets you on a path to success rather than topics you find tedious or difficult to grasp.
Courses that do not require a lot of collaboration with other students may also be advantageous for self-study. It’s best to choose AP courses where you can work independently.
Historically, math and science AP courses such as AP Biology, AP Chemistry, and AP Calculus BC make up some of the most challenging AP exams. Unless you are highly skilled in math and science or firmly set on a STEM career, these courses are not the best selections for self-study due to their level of difficulty.
Background knowledge on a course is another factor to consider when selecting AP courses to self-study. The more you already know, the easier it may be to learn the information and perform well on it. However, some courses require more extensive background knowledge to accommodate self-studiers.
In this vein, AP language courses toe the line between manageable and overwhelming. For native speakers of these languages, the courses may feel like a walk in the park with only a few new concepts to master.
Novice speakers, on the other hand, may struggle without instruction from someone who knows the inner-workings of the language and cultural concepts. It might be best to skip these AP courses for self-study.
Ultimately, picking courses for self-study depends heavily on your course load and the breadth of the material you have the time and patience to learn. With these guides and class recommendations, we hope to have simplified the process of picking AP courses for self-study.