By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.
If you’re taking AP courses as a junior or senior in high school, you’ll likely have AP summer coursework to complete before your school year begins in September. This blog post outlines how to complete AP summer coursework in 3 steps so that you don’t become overwhelmed with assignments at the end of August.
How to complete AP summer coursework
For many AP classes, the quantity of summer coursework is significant. This means you can’t wait until the last week of summer to dig into your assignments, especially if you are registered for more than one AP course in the fall. Complete all 3 of the steps below, and then read the bonus tips at the end of this post.
Before we begin, if you’re looking for tips for taking full summer courses, you want these 8 tips. If you’re looking for summer reading strategies, you want these tips.
1. Get absolute clarity.
You have to know what you’re doing before you can do it. Therefore, the very first step to complete AP summer coursework is to figure out exactly what your assignments are.
This may seem like a silly and obvious step, but I’m always amazed at how many students skip it. Getting total clarity about your assignments lets you know the scope of your AP work, which is critical for making sure you have enough time to complete it all.
How to get clarity about your AP summer coursework:
- Check the source where your AP teachers are posting assignments.
- Check your school email to see if your AP teachers have sent assignments via email.
- If you still can’t find your assignments, email your teacher using the instructions and template here.
- On paper (yes, good ol’ paper), write down all your assignments for each of your AP courses. It’s important to consolidate this information all in one place (hence the paper) because that’s what gives you clarity.
2. Plan when you’ll do what.
You have to make a plan to complete your AP summer coursework. As in, an actual plan. If you’re taking more than one AP course (or even if you’re only taking one), making a real plan – yes, on paper – is the key to not getting overwhelmed at the end of summer.
Here’s how this works: You need to find a day and chunk of time to work on each of your assignments. Saying “I’ll do it next week” is terrible. First of all, what is “it”? Second of all, what is next week? Instead of being vague, take out an actual calendar and find pockets of time each week to work on your coursework.
Let’s look at an example. Let’s say that your AP Government summer assignment is to read the full US Constitution and summarize each of the 27 amendments. Knowing that is step one (clarity). Step two (plan) might be to read and summarize three amendments at a time. That would mean that you would need to find 9 pockets of time on your calendar when you would work on your summaries. No more “I’ll do it next week” nonsense.
3. Execute the plan.
You know the nitty gritty of what your assignments are (clarity), you know what days and times you will work on each task (plan), and now it’s time to do the work.
If you’re at the level where you’re capable of AP courses, you’re at the level where you can make some sacrifices here and there to get the work done. Maybe you have to say no to a night out with friends, or take your computer to the beach house your parents are renting. This is what non-overwhelmed AP-students do.
I also have a few other tips to help you get in the zone when it’s time to work on your summer coursework. The following strategies can help improve your focus and motivation when you’re struggling to execute your plan.
Tips for improving your focus and motivation when doing your AP summer coursework
1. Prime your environment. Our external environment has a massive impact on our motivation and focus. When you sit down to do your AP summer coursework, make sure you’re sitting somewhere that encourages concentration. Maybe you need to go to a library a few times this summer – even better if it’s a library you haven’t been to before (this adds novelty).
2. Get rid of distractions. The most important tip in this entire blog post is to work without distractions. It’s time to get real about the impact of distractions on our productivity. Yes, I’m talking about your phone – obviously – but I’m also talking about your adorable cat who keeps climbing onto your keyboard, your well-meaning parent who keeps checking in to see how you’re doing … all of these are distractions and they destroy your ability to focus.
3. Use timers and clocks. Don’t underestimate the power of a ticking timer. When we give ourselves clear beginnings and ends to our work sessions, our brains free up space to concentrate because they’re not focusing on when will this be over? If you truly follow my 3-step plan, then you’ll have created clear beginnings and endings in step 2. Also, consider using the Pomodoro Technique or the Power Hour, two of my favorite clock-based time management strategies.
4. Add accountability. Tell someone what your plan is, and give them permission to hold you accountable if you don’t follow through. When picking an accountability partner, choose one who has similar goals to you; otherwise they could undermine your efforts. In other words, this isn’t the time to pick your coolest friend over your most motivated friend.
5. Try parallel work. Parallel work is when you work alongside someone else who is doing work, although you may be working on entirely different tasks. If you have a friend taking AP Literature and you’re taking AP Physics, you could both head to a coffee shop for 90 minutes once a week to complete your AP summer coursework – even though you’re doing different things. When we work parallel to someone else (with similar goals), social pressure kicks in, and this is a good thing for motivation.
Bonus tips for completing AP summer coursework
1. Don’t deny not knowing things.
When we don’t know how to do something, it feels good not to do it. This is natural human behavior. However, it’s also harmful human behavior. If your AP summer assignments are challenging, or you don’t know exactly what they are, you need to figure it out. Seriously, the longer you deny that you’re confused, the more stressed out you’ll be at the end of summer. In step 1, when I advise that you get total clarity, I’m not just talking about getting clear on what to do, but also how to do it. Here are my best tips for figuring things out when you feel stuck.
2. Ignore the voice in your head that says you can do it the week before school starts.
Yes, I know this voice is loud and persistent, but you have to ignore it. This is resistance talking to you, and its job is to make you justify your procrastination. First, this voice untrue: no, you cannot wait to complete your AP work until the week before school starts. Second, it is a terrible mindset to begin the school year with. If you can’t bring yourself to do what’s expected of you before your AP course even begins, how do you think you’ll do once the course starts? AP summer coursework is your chance to practice doing hard things when you don’t want to do them. Nobody wants to do homework assignments over the summer, but do them anyway.