AP Psychology Exam: Your Questions Answered

November 2, 2020
By AdmissionSight

AP Psychology Exam: Your Questions Answered

The AP Psychology Exam is a favorite of the various AP Exams among students who have completed the course and those that elect to study on their own. While most of the students who take the exam choose to enroll in the AP Psychology Course, the format and material covered on the test are conducive to self-studying as well.

The AP Psychology Exam places a heavy emphasis on highly specific theory and vocabulary, making it easier for students to prepare when compared to other AP Exams. If you opt to take the AP Psychology Exam without the course, it’s advisable that you have access to course-quality materials to study on your own time.

No matter your previous experience with the subject matter, you’ll need to have an in-depth understanding of the major topics covered in the related AP course to succeed on the exam. The AdmissionSight team has compiled the following guide to answer any questions you might have about the AP Psychology Exam. You’ll learn why the exam is important, what you’ll be required to know, and how you can successfully prepare.

a human and the brain

When is the AP Psychology Exam?

While some exams are administered several times over the course of the year out of convenience, all AP Exams are restricted to one date. This makes it critical that students double and triple-check to ensure the correct date and time is written on their schedule. In 2021, the AP Psychology Exam will be held on Tuesday, May 11 at 12:00 pm. Whenever searching online for information regarding the date and time of any AP Exam, always make sure you’re looking at the correct year since the exams aren’t always held on the same calendar days each year. For an official and accurate AP Exam Schedule for 20201, you can visit this page. Don’t forget to give yourself more than enough time to get to the exam location.

What does the AP Psychology Exam contain?

Like all AP Exams, the AP Psychology Exam covers the main ideas covered in the related AP Course. Therefore, reviewing what’s covered in the course, especially if you’re a self-studier, is a great way to get a better understanding of what’s covered on the AP Psychology Exam. Both the course and exam explore behaviors, theories, and major concepts within the field of psychology and related research areas.

Successful test-takers will need to be well-versed in the history of the subject, current and past research methods, and the emotional and biological causes of behavior. Like all constantly-changing fields, it’s important that students only prepare with the most up-to-date and relevant studying materials. Checking the date of the resource you’re using is a good way to make sure the content reflects the most current changes in the field.

The AP Psychology Exam assesses students’ mastery of concepts and skills. Throughout the AP Psychology Course, you’ll learn to master three critical skills necessary for passing the exam. Understanding what these skills are and how much weight they hold on the exam can make it easier to prioritize your studying. Below, we’ve broken down these three course-skills, elaborated on their significance, and identify how much of the exam they represent.





% of Exam score(only the multiple-choice question
Data Analysis Interpret and analyze quantitative data. 8%-12%
Scientific Investigation Analyze psychology-oriented research studies. 12%-16%
Understanding Concepts Apply, explain, and define, perspectives, theories, behavior, and concepts.



How is the AP Psychology Exam broken down?

While the aforementioned skills inform the types of questions asked on the test, there are a total of nine units that further elucidate what students can expect to find on the exam. These nine units focus on the primary processes, theories, and principles of the discipline. We’ve provided the breakdown below to give you a better idea of what these nine units are and what weight they take up on the AP Psychology Exam.


% of Exam Score (only the multiple-choice section)

Sensation and Perception 6%–8%
Developmental Psychology 7%-9%
Learning 7%-9%
Biological Bases of Behavior 8%-10%
Social Psychology 8%-10%
Scientific Foundations of Psychology 10%-14%
Motivation, Emotion, and Personality 11%–15%
Clinical Psychology 12%–16%
Cognitive Psychology 13%-17%

What is the format of the AP Psychology Exam?

You’ll be pleased to hear that the AP Psychology Exam clocks in at just shy of two hours, making it one of the shortest of the AP Exams. There are two separate sections: the first features multiple-choice questions while the latter portion is comprised of free-response questions. Let’s take a closer look at what you can expect to find in both sections:

Section 1: Multiple Choice

Like all AP Exams, the first section consists solely of multiple-choice questions. There are 100 of these questions on the AP Psychology Exam, and students have an hour and 10 minutes to complete the section.

Due to the sheer number of questions, the multiple-choice section makes up for 66.7 of your overall score. Students will be faced with two different types of MC questions. You’ll either have to identify and explain certain topics or apply particular skills of scientific investigation, data analysis, and concept understanding.

Section 2: Free Response

The remaining 50 minutes of the AP Psychology Exam is dedicated to the second section of the exam which features two free-response questions. Your responses to these questions comprise 33.3% of your overall exam score.

The initial free-response questions assess your grasp of concept understanding – the first course-skill – and require you to explain certain behavior by applying certain perspectives and theories to real-life situations.

The second free-response question asks you to illustrate an understanding of three course-skills that underscore scientific investigation. You’ll have to analyze various research studies and interpret and review quantitative data.

What are the passing rates of the AP Psychology Exam?

Exam 1 2 3 4 5
AP Psychology 22% 13.5% 18.7% 25.3% 20.5%

The straight-forward nature of the AP Psychology Exam’s subject matter bodes well for both self-studiers and AP Psych course students as is illustrated by the exam’s high pass rate. In fact, 64.5% of all the students who participated in the AP Psychology Exam passed by receiving a score of 3 or more. Over one-fifth of students scored the highest at 5. 22% received the lowest possible score at 1.

It’s important to keep in mind that the credit you receive from passing the AP Psychology Exam is wholly dependent upon the policies of the college to which you’re applying. Although a 3 is widely considered to be a passing grade, you might have to receive a 4 or even a 5 in order to receive credit at some colleges. Even still, some universities don’t offer credit at all and choose to rely on AP exams for placement solely. Students should conduct research regarding their ideal colleges’ policies on this topic. You can visit this website for specific information about how specific colleges view AP Exams.

What are the best ways to prepare for the AP Psychology Exam?

Test your skills: While you might be tempted to jump right into studying for the AP Psychology Exam, it’s best to start by assessing your current skills. It’s important to know what the test covers but that’s only half of the battle. You also have to know where you stand in terms of familiarity with those topics. This makes it easier to determine which areas you need to study more than others – greatly improving the efficiency of your preparation.

Taking practice tests is an effective way to assess your knowledge of the exam’s material at the onset. The College Board site provides some helpful sample questions but not a complete test. For an even more comprehensive understanding of your skills, you can take one of the following four complete sample tests that you can find online.

There’s one from each of the following years – 1994, 1999, 2012, and 2016. Be sure to take note of how you perform on these sample questions and tests by comparing your responses to the correct answers. This will give you an accurate idea of what areas of the material you should focus on when preparing for the real AP Psychology Exam.

A girl studying in a room

Study the unit material: As we referenced before, acing this exam requires an in-depth understanding of the concepts and material covered in the clearly stated course units. Both AP course students and self-studiers alike need to review the relevant theory of this discipline in order to secure an excellent grade on the AP Psychology Exam. Investing in some reliable studying materials will be a necessary step in this process.

The Myers’ Psychology For AP book is often cited as the most thorough and accurate guide for both the course and exam. If the density of this textbook or its pricing is enough to turn you away, there are other sources you can use.

For example, Barron’s AP Psychology 8th Edition presents the same ideas and concepts in a more concise way. You can also purchase psychology flashcards to further support your preparation. For alternative resources, look no further than the content-rich internet. There are nearly limitless studying materials from study guides and sample tests to flashcards and instructional videos out there in the internet ether. This 40-episode series on YouTube focuses specifically on the AP Psychology Exam.

Rehearse multiple-choice questions: When you’re comfortable with the theory portion of the exam, you can focus on rehearsing the types of questions you’ll encounter. Since multiple-choice questions make up a significant portion of the test’s overall score and time-limit, it’s not a bad idea to start here.

You’ll be able to find sample MC questions online and in most AP Psychology Exam study guides. Practice exams are also a good source for finding sample MC questions. You can find some examples on the College Board’s official AP Psychology Exam page. Study.com also has a free practice test with 50 MC questions. Like we mentioned before, you’ll want to keep track of the vocab and concepts that you still struggle with to rehearse later.

a zoomed-in picture of an exam sheet

Practice free-response questions: While MC questions are fairly straight forward, the free-response questions on the AP Psychology Exam are a little more subjective. This makes double-checking your answers to this section slightly trickier.

However, rehearsing your answer to these free-response questions is still a critical part of preparing for the exam. These questions assess your ability to put the theory into practical use. You should become familiar with the method of applying some common psychology principles and be comfortable with evaluating or designing a research study.

Having a grasp of the task verbs you might encounter on the free-response portion of the exam is critical to successfully answering these questions. After all, this is the exact skill that the free-response questions are designed to test. Here are some important definitions to keep in mind when making sense of these questions:

  • Explain, relate, or discuss: These words require students to make coherent and logical connections between psychological concepts and the given prompt and questions.
  • Show or describe: These terms request that students outline specific examples or the essential characteristics of a certain phenomenon, theory, or concept.
  • Identify: This word asks for students to point out or name particular psychological concepts that relate to the question.

Before tackling these free-response questions, it’s a good strategy to outline your main thoughts. This can make it easier to organize your ideas to make your answer more coherent and succinct. Including specific examples related to your studying can really drive home your points. You can lead into these references with phrases such as “for example”, “for instance”, or “one example of that is…”.

You can find free-response questions that were previously administered on the College Board site from 2018 and all the way back to 1999 – giving you plenty of material to work with while studying. Don’t forget to study the examples of scoring provided as well to get a better idea of what will be expected from you on the real AP Psychology Exam.

These genuine student answers with actual scoring explanations offer you an excellent window into how the people scoring your test will think through their assessment.

Mimic the test settings: Perhaps the most effective way to prepare for the AP Psychology Exam is to take a full-length sample test while mimicking the actual test settings. This means no notes, cheat-sheets, textbooks, or Google searches.

You’ll need to find a quiet place with few to no distractions. You should use a complete sample test that has both the multiple-choice and free-response sections to most accurately assess your capabilities. Don’t forget to add a timer. It’s best to save this preparation step towards the end of your studying stretch in order to see how far you’ve come since you started studying. Recreating the actual test environment will give you a better idea of how you’ll perform on the real exam.

two people studying

AdmissionSight is your college admission specialist

The college admission landscape is a constant source of frustration, confusion, and anxiety for students who are eager to make the most of their college experience. The AdmissionSight team is a specialist in the field that’s helped hundreds of students achieve their academic goals by getting into the universities of their dreams.

Whether you want help editing essays, preparing your application, choosing a relevant program, or need one-on-one counseling, we’ve got your back. Our decades of experience in the world of college admissions puts us in a unique position to help college students in the pursuit of a successful higher education.

Feel free to contact us today to learn more about what services we offer and how we can help you personally. Our consultations are completely free.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up now to receive insights on
how to navigate the college admissions process.