Andrew Stoughton

Apr 26, 2021

2 min read

AP Exam Coming Up? Be Sure to Read the Rubric

When most students study for their Advanced Placement Exams, they focus on learning the material that will be on the test. To get a 5 on the AP Chem Exam, you have to understand molecular geometry. To get a 5 on the AP Euro exam, you have to know about the Peace of Westphalia, the Enclosure Acts, among countless other events and concepts.

But there’s more to excelling on an AP Exam than knowing the material. When AP U.S. History students answer Document Based Questions, they have to do more than demonstrate their knowledge of a given historical period. Among other things, they need to identify the point of view or purpose of at least three documents. They need to provide “contextualization,” by connecting the period in question to a preceding period, or a parallel set of conditions in another era of U.S. History. Though the guidelines for long form responses are given on all AP Exams, students who want to get 5’s shouldn’t solely memorize these guidelines. They should also be intimately familiar with the rubrics graders will use when evaluating their exams.

The College Board releases sample responses, sample questions, and, most importantly, rubrics, for all 38 AP Exams. These give students models for how to compose long form responses and free responses for subjects of all kinds. They also help students become more familiar with how the College Board writes exam questions. While companies like Princeton Review, Barron’s, and Kaplan all write useful practice exams, no company can produce College Board questions better than the College Board itself.

Learning more about the rubrics for their exams helps students better understand how to formulate their responses on tests, but it also can make studying itself much easier. Rather than relying on rote memorization, students can tailor their approaches towards their exam rubrics. By contextualizing material in the terms of an exam’s expectations, students can more easily internalize and organize information. Students enter their exams with the established habits necessary to mold their knowledge into answers that will satisfy graders.

Students can find rubrics, sample questions, sample responses, and more by visiting:, clicking on the name of the course they are taking, and then clicking “The Exam.”

Far too many talented, hardworking students have found themselves unhappy with their AP scores because they don’t know what graders are looking for. Fortunately, understanding rubrics and grading criteria is easy to do. Though it can at times be tedious, wading through the sample materials the College Board provides is a must for students who want to ensure their scores reflect the hard work they have done all year.