Self Studying AP Courses: Beneficial or Brutal?



Some students choose to take AP exams without taking the AP classes, so they have to study the material themselves.

MEHER MEHTA '25, People Editor

This year, 1,018 Advanced Placement (AP) exams were administered at Edison High, with 537 students taking one or more exams.  But how many of those students chose to challenge themselves with rigorous coursework in the comfort of their own homes or the din of their study hall periods?

Ninety-eight AP exams were self-studied AP exams at EHS, meaning that students learned and reviewed the material on their own before taking the exam in May alongside students who enrolled in the class. 

The two most popular exams self-studied this year were AP Psychology and AP Computer Science A.  All eighteen students who took the AP Psychology exam self-studied, and nineteen students out of forty-six self-studied AP Computer Science A.

Archana Maryada ‘25, for example, chose to self-study AP Psychology in addition to taking traditional in-school courses, AP US History and AP Chemistry.  

“I knew I wanted to self-study something this year and I was debating on which AP to take,” Maryada recalled. “AP Psychology is a general class that is beneficial and applicable to all majors, and I was also interested in the content.” 

Students may pick classes to self study for a variety of reasons.  For instance, many students like Maryada often choose to learn the course material of classes not offered at EHS.  

AP Psychology, for example, is typically self-studied for this reason. Moreover, students who choose to self study AP Psychology often do so due to it largely being categorized as one of the “easiest” AP classes to take.  According to the College Board, a rough 71.4% of the population who took the test in 2022 earned a passing score of 3 or above.

Although AP Psychology may be one of the “lighter” courses, Maryada and other students admit that there were downsides to their learning experience.

“I was pretty lethargic about self-studying AP Psychology, but it was probably because it was an easy subject,” said Srinidhi Ramachandran ‘23. “If it had been a harder one, I know I would have been stressed and insecure.” 

Indeed, students who studied AP Psychology admitted that procrastination was one of the biggest problems during their self-studying experience.

“I planned to start over winter break, then January, then February, then March, but I ultimately started really focusing on it during spring break,” said Maryada. “Start with a schedule and plan out the next few weeks. I did not do that and had to cram the information.”

Both Maryada and Ramachandran noted that much of their procrastination was due to their other AP classes, which are considered to be among the “harder” AP subjects.  Needing to put more time into these classes, students had less time to self-study.  Such scheduling conflicts can ultimately lead to cramming within the final few weeks prior to exams.

AP Psychology was not the only exam where students faced the repercussions of procrastination.  Sushanth Balaraman ‘24 chose to self study AP Computer Science A along with his other AP classes due to his inability to take the course as a STEM student.  

“The main downside to self-studying, as I see it, is how the brunt of studying falls more often than not on the final month or few weeks of the AP school year,” said Balaraman.

Most students agree that the effects of ignoring course material for most of the school year are fully felt when AP exams are just around the corner, making it harder to perform well.  The urge to procrastinate may be a major factor when choosing to self study an exam, but what else should AP students take into consideration?

AP teachers Ms. Leanne Rubiano and Mr. Patrick McCaffery both hold strong beliefs regarding self-studying AP exams.  Rubiano teaches AP US History while McCaffery teaches AP Language & Composition, two courses that students often regard as some of the more challenging AP classes.

“Self-studying for an AP exam, any AP exam, implies that the value of the AP class is solely in the potential for college credit and not, therefore, in the course itself,” said McCaffery. “That, I think, is problematic. Every AP class has two very different goals/objectives. One is certainly to prepare the students for success on the AP exam and to get the associated college credit.” 

While this implies that self-studying AP classes simply for benefits in college or university is a beneficial choice, McCaffery believes this is not always the case.  

“The other goal is to replace a college-level class,” said McCaffery. “The courses should not just be test-prep then, because the classes they substitute for are not test-prep. The real value in the AP class is in the process and the discourse.”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to take courses that are known for being ‘easy,’” added Rubiano.  “I think you should take courses that are applicable to your life and what you have interest in, not a course that you’re just going to try to earn AP credit for. I think you get more of an experience if you take the class.  You’re going to be with your peers, and you’re going to be helped by a teacher who knows the exam and the subject material rather than just studying to get a high score on the exam.”

As McCaffery and Rubiano suggest, self-studying AP courses may not be a wise decision in the long run, especially when the main goal is earning college credit.  Combined with student insight, this suggests that one could disrupt their academic life for a course that holds no real value to them or their education.

One may think that there is no point in self-studying exams if there are so many negative factors at play.  However, what about the positives that can come out of self-studying?

“Self-studying requires a lot of self-motivation, time-management skills, and a willingness to learn independently,” said Maryada. “I personally studied the content in units, using a textbook, and then found numerous online tools to review everything. AP Classroom, YouTube videos, practice questions, and online reviews are great tools. As long as you manage your time, you will be fine.”

“Take advantage of online tools sooner,” added Weidi Chen ‘25, who self-studied AP Statistics.  “Many, if not all of the APs have their own niche online communities that have created helpful tools for their specific exam.”

This suggests that self-studying is not detrimental to a student’s academic success as long as they set themselves up for success from the start. Students claim that using resources and creating and following a fixed schedule are both imperative to succeed on exam day.  

The real value in the AP class is in the process and the discourse.

— Mr. Patrick McCaffery

Additionally, although college credit may not be the sole factor when choosing to self study an exam, it proves to be an important one. 

“Economically, getting as many college credits for less cost makes a lot of sense,” said McCaffery. “If a student can maximize their credits by self-studying, and if they see college as primarily an economic transaction, then self-studying makes sense.”

While the decision to self-study is ultimately up to the student and their personal needs, factors such as procrastination, determination, and college credit are important to consider, as they play a major role in making or breaking the self-studying experience.