Your New Favorite Guide to Scoring High on the AP Chinese Exam

In need of AP Chinese practice tests to prepare for the big day?

Or perhaps you’re looking to get a head start. After all, it’s never too early to get a little studying done.

Whatever the case, we have all the tips and strategies to help you conquer this exam with flying colors!


All About the Chinese AP Exam: Overview, Tips and Strategies

What Is the AP Chinese Exam?

The AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam is one of many Advanced Placement exams (AP) offered by the College Board.

The AP Chinese Language and Culture exam is comparable to fourth semester college or university Mandarin Chinese levels. According to the College Board, the exam tests students’ “interpersonal, interpretive and presentational communication skills in Mandarin Chinese, as well as knowledge of Chinese culture.”

Should I Take the AP Chinese Exam?

AP courses and their accompanying AP exams mimic college-level requirements in that particular subject.

By taking AP exams and achieving a high score, you may be able to receive college credits. Different colleges have different policies regarding AP courses and exams, but generally speaking, a good AP exam score gives you one “free pass” for an introductory-level college course in the exam subject.

Depending on your college program requirements, this earned credit could save you time and tuition money. Again, each college and program is different, so do check with your school about how taking an AP course or exam can benefit your academic goals.

If you’re set on taking an AP exam, going through the AP course is an excellent way to prepare. But you can also challenge the AP exam without going through the course. Conversely, you can take an AP course and not go through with the exam. Check with your college to find out whether they require AP exam scores, or if the AP course score is sufficient.

In the case of the AP Chinese exam, for example, it’s possible to self-study and then challenge the exam. 

Doing practice exams is another way, and on this blog we have another article that walks you through an AP Chinese practice exam.

But first, let’s look at the format of the AP Chinese exam, as well as some strategies for studying.

What to Expect from the Exam Format

The AP Chinese exam is computer-based. As a test-taker, you’ll be reading text off of a screen, listening to recordings through headphones, typing Chinese on a keyboard and speaking Chinese into a microphone.

You have a choice of traditional Chinese or simplified Chinese for reading and writing. You also get a choice of two systems for typing Chinese: Microsoft Pinyin IME (MSPY) or Microsoft New Phonetic IME. This may be good news for some students! Typing Chinese using pinyin is considerably easier than writing characters by hand.

Even though you’re typing, however, you still need to know your Chinese characters very well, as many characters share the same sounds and pinyin spellings. Typing in a wrong character with the same pinyin would still be considered wrong and result in marks counted against you. So, watch out for those homophones!

The length of the exam is approximately two hours. It consists of two main sections, with each section having two subsections.

Section 1: Multiple Choice

  • This section has 70 questions
  • Approximately 1.5 hours long
  • Contributes to 50% of exam score
Part A of Multiple Choice
  • Skill focus: Listening
  • 2 sections, 10 minutes each (Total time: 20 minutes)
  • Each section has 10-20 questions
Part B of Multiple Choice
  • Skill focus: Reading
  • 60 minutes long
  • 35-40 questions

Section 2: Free Response

  • This section consists of 2 parts
  • Approximately 45 minutes long
  • Contributes to 50% of exam score
Part A of Free Response
  • This part has 2 sections
    • 1. Write the narration of a story based on a series of pictures (15 minutes)
    • 2. Write a response to a given email (15 minutes)
  • Total time: 30 minutes
  • Skill focus: Writing
Part B of Free Response
  • This part has 2 sections
    • 1. Speak in response to conversation prompts (4 minutes)
    • 2. Give a cultural presentation speech based on a given topic (4 minutes to prepare, 2-3 minutes to speak)
  • Total time: 11 minutes
  • Skill focus: Speaking

The above breakdown gives you a good idea of the format of the exam.

There are lots more details we can discover about this exam. Below we’ll list some helpful links where you can find out everything you’ve wanted to know about the AP Chinese exam and more.

Helpful Resources for More Information on the AP Chinese Exam

  • AP Exam Calendar

    This link shows the annual flow of AP exam preparation and the exam schedule. According to this page, the last AP Chinese exam dates were May 2016. Upcoming AP exams will be in the spring of 2017.

  • 2015 Free Response Sample Questions

    This is a link to a PDF of the 2015 AP Chinese exam Free Response questions. Here’s your free guide to studying for this section!

  • 2015 Scoring Guidelines

    Here, you can read up on how your AP Chinese exam will be graded. Pay attention to the metrics that examiners are looking for. Check out what it takes to hit a high score of 5!

  • 2015 Scoring Statistics

    Not to give you pressure or anything, but here you can see the average scores of past test-takers.

  • 2015 Sample Answers

    That’s right! Sample exam answers that model a high level of performance. Something for you to aspire to:

Free Response Narration Question Sample Answer
It’s a study gold mine. First, this link lists grading criteria. Then, scroll down to see three sample answers for part one of the Free Response writing section, which is narrating a story. Next, scroll down further to see what grade each response merits, and why.

Free Response Email Question Sample Answer
Another extremely helpful study resource—three sample answers to part two of the Free Response writing section, replying to an email, along with the scores merited by each response and why. Now you’ll know how to avoid creating an answer that gets a low score!

Free Response Conversation Question Sample Answer
It doesn’t get any better than this. Not one, but six sample Conversations with three student answers for each one. Every student answer is accompanied by examiner commentary on whether the student did well or not.

Test-taking Tips and Strategies for the AP Chinese Exam

Armed with the above exam details and study resources, we’re now ready to dive into some serious academic work. Here are the best tips to keep in mind as you get started.

1. Prepare early

The AP Chinese exam isn’t an exam you can prepare for in a week. Depending on your level, it can take six months to a year or more to really master all the skills necessary to do well.

The exam tests all aspects of Chinese knowledge. It requires aptitude in listening, writing and speaking, but also general cultural knowledge. None of these capacities are acquired overnight.

Giving yourself plenty of time allows you to learn progressively and in an effective, systematic manner. Cramming everything into a short time frame will likely result in stress, and a less-than-ideal test score.

2. Take advantage of past tests

The best part about studying for the AP Chinese exam is that all the past tests are available online. You can review every single exam dating back to 2007. You can even see sample answers, scoring guides and score distributions.

If you make use of all these resources, the exam should present very little surprise. You can go into the exam confidently, with a very good idea of what type of questions you’ll encounter.

3. Focus on developing one skill at a time

When studying for the exam, it will be very overwhelming to tackle all sections and skill types at once.

Instead, choose one skill or knowledge area—for example, Chinese reading—and focus on that for a week or month. If your focus this week is reading, during the week work on increasing your vocabulary, memorizing new terms and practicing recognizing vocabulary in context.

When you’ve had enough practice in one area, move onto another skill set, like speaking or listening, for the next week.

4. Make use of online tools

There’s a wealth of resources available online to help you increase your language skills and prepare for the AP Chinese exam. From learning tools such as language apps and sites to unconventional resources such as movie and music streaming services, the internet’s full of opportunities for you to top up your reading, writing, listening and speaking skills.

It’s always helpful picking tools that allow you to practice multiple skills at once. For example, watching subtitled Chinese movies challenge both your listening and reading abilities.

Mandarin learning apps typically target at least three language skills. FluentU, for instance, lets you work on your speaking, listening and reading abilities through authentic audio and video clips. All the videos come with interactive subtitles that let you read while listening to native speakers, as well as supply you with grammar info, pronunciation guides and memorable graphics.

There are also multimedia flashcards and word lists for vocab practice. And if you’re up for it, you can take the app’s personalized quizzes that test your typing and speaking capabilities.

5. Find a speaking partner

Find someone with higher-level Chinese, like a teacher or native speaker, to help you with speaking practice. Make good use of your time together! Practice based on the past exam speaking prompts instead of having random conversation or small talk.

Get your speaking partner to give you strong, constructive feedback. Make sure they don’t let you off too easy with mispronunciations and awkward sentence structure. Consider recording your speaking sessions for future review.

6. Time yourself during practice

One other important tip for exam practice is to try to complete practice test sections in the time allotted. Since the challenge of the exam isn’t only to answer all the questions well but to do so within a certain time frame, it’s important that you learn to perform well under pressure and complete all tasks within time constraints.

An easy way to train yourself in this area is to take a section of the practice exam and force yourself to complete it within the actual allotted time span. Once you have practiced more, you can even take a full version of the exam with the timer running.

And with that, we wish you happy studying!

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