The AP French Exam: Your Ultimate Guide (with 15 Study Tips and Test Strategies)
This is your ultimate guide to study and prepare for the AP French Language and Culture Exam.
From detailed information about the exam to 15 study tips and test-taking strategies, you’ll find everything you need to set up your study plan!
- What Is the AP French Exam?
- Study Tips
- Test-taking Tips
What Is the AP French Exam?
AP exams are comprehensive subject-specific exams for accomplished high school students. Having a high AP exam score on your high school transcript can help you stand out to colleges.
If you’re taking an AP French class, it means that you are studying more advanced French material than the average high school French class in preparation for the exam.
Even with class time, this exam is advanced and rigorous, requiring additional individual study time in order to excel.
How will the AP French Exam help in college?
Whether you want to major in French or just want to learn it, a passing score on the AP French Exam will let you test out of introductory classes and save time and money. You might also earn college credits before you start college.
This is especially useful if you have a different major but want to minor in French, because minors often have course loads that can cause scheduling conflicts with your major.
Colleges also sometimes consider AP experience when awarding scholarships.
How is the exam scored?
The exam is scored on a simple 1 (worst) to 5 (best) scale. Usually, a score of 3 and above will qualify you for college credits and/or advanced placement, but each college sets their own requirements.
When and where do I take it?
AP exams are given every year in May. You’ll take the exam in class during a normal school day.
Signing up for the AP exam is as simple as registering for AP classes in high school. Then, you will be provided with a test schedule and pay a fee (which is significantly less than a college course would cost) in order to register officially for the exam.
In many districts, there are subsidies available to offset the exam fee, offering a further incentive to take the test.
How is the exam structured?
The exam is 3 hours long, of which roughly half consists of multiple choice questions and the other half free response.
Section 1: multiple choice (1 hour, 35 minutes)
This section consists of 65 questions that test your passive French reading and listening skills.
- Part A (40 minutes) is 30 questions based on sample texts such as newspaper articles or train schedules.
- Part B (55 minutes) is 35 questions based on audio clips which may or may not be paired with texts. All audio is played twice.
Section 2: free response (1 hour, 28 minutes)
This section consists of four tasks that test your active French writing and speaking skills.
- Part A (1 hour, 10 minutes) is two writing tasks. First, you’re asked to respond to an email. Following that, you’ll write a more formal essay based on an article, table or graph and an audio clip.
You’ll have 40 minutes to write the essay, during which time you can take notes and consult the given media.
- Part B (18 minutes) is two speaking tasks: a conversation and a presentation that demonstrates your knowledge of French and Francophone culture.
1. Start early, study often
As with most tests (especially AP exams), you can’t just study the day before the exam and expect to get a good score.
Start scheduling as far ahead as you can. Consistency is key, and time is your greatest ally.
If you start studying 6 months before your test, you can spend just 15 minutes a day studying and build confidence in your skills.
If you wait until the last minute, you might spend hours and hours cramming in all your studying the week of, only to be unprepared and burned out for your exam.
2. Make the most of your AP class
Remember: your French teacher is already an expert in the language! Take advantage of their knowledge as much as possible while you still can. Something I used to do when learning French was to make a point of asking at least one question in class every day.
Pay extra attention to all the materials your teacher provides for you. They know what the exam will be like, so they know what it’s most important for you to be studying.
Whether it’s simple worksheets, beneficial websites or games, don’t just blow through these activities! Ask yourself what aspect of French these assignments are actually teaching you. Take them to heart.
3. Bring French into your daily life
Immersion is the best way to pick up any language.
While you may get short bits of immersion in your French classes, there is more that you can do outside of school that will immerse you in the language and get you thinking in it.
Try reading in French, setting your Facebook page to French, listening to French music or even finding some cool YouTube videos! You can also watch movies and TV shows or listen to podcasts in French.
Really, anything in your everyday life that’s usually done in English can probably also be done in French.
4. Practice speaking as often as you can
Whether it’s with a classmate, your teacher, a French friend or even yourself, find every possible opportunity to get in that speaking practice.
You might be able to understand written French and know the grammar concepts like the back of your hand, but speaking is a huge part of your test and you need to sound confident while doing it!
5. Practice conversational vs. presentational tone
This one’s very important. Remember, an email isn’t an essay, and a conversation isn’t a presentation.
When you compose your email, write as if you’re a French person casually writing to another French person. Same goes for the conversation.
It’s during the essay and presentation that you want to show off how formal and informative you can be!
6. Use a study guide
A study guide often includes important information on how the test is formatted and how to best approach it, as well as the grammar and vocabulary that you should know.
Be sure to find a study guide that covers all four language skills (speaking, writing, listening and reading).
Here are some of the most popular guides you can try:
- Barron’s – Breaks things down well and includes MP3 audio and two full practice tests.
- REA – Offers mobile and online content and tracks your progress with quizzes.
- College Board – While not technically a study guide, it has lots of relevant study material that is sure to help you since it comes from the creators of the test!
7. Take practice tests
There are plenty of practice AP French exams out there, including in the study guides mentioned above. There are also practice exams online from resources such as Albert. The College Board website AP Central offers examples of past test questions, including writing and audio samples.
Try timing yourself with the actual exam times and keeping track of your progress, then studying the parts you struggle with the most.
Practice tests will have the same instructions as the real exam, so pay attention to them to understand what to expect beforehand.
1. Don’t underestimate simple concepts
While knowing advanced French is a plus, don’t forget what you learned when you were just starting out.
Things like incorrect gender, forgetting to use the subjunctive and improper conjugations are simple mistakes that even advanced speakers can commit. Don’t fall into that trap.
2. Read the entirety of each question
Read carefully to be sure the question you think you’re answering and the question you’re really answering are one and the same.
If you skim through the questions, you may miss important parts that would completely change your answer.
3. Listen and read holistically
The audio section presents the stress of only being able to listen to the audio twice. The key here is to listen holistically.
Don’t try to understand every word; that’s not necessary to answer the questions. If you dwell too long on one word you didn’t understand, you might miss the rest of the audio.
This goes for the reading portions of the exam, too. Especially considering the advanced level of language used in the exam, you are most likely going to come across something you don’t recognize. That’s okay! Just pick out the words you do know and use context clues to fill in the missing pieces.
4. Fuel up
You will be sitting at your exam for a little over three hours.
This means you should make sure to not only eat a big, nutritious breakfast, but also bring along a small snack or two to give you a boost. It’s hard to remember subject-verb agreements when your stomach won’t stop grumbling.
Water is also important.
You have to take care of your body to prepare your mind!
5. Budget your time
With 65 multiple choice questions to answer in 95 minutes, that leaves you about 1.5 minutes to answer each question.
Don’t get caught hemming and hawing over a question for five minutes. You can circle the question, move on, and get back to it if you have time at the end.
Since you’re not penalized for wrong answers—they’re simply not counted—you should try to fill in an answer for every question, even if it’s just a wild guess.
6. Remember to breathe
When it comes to the speaking portion, don’t let nervous jitters jumble your words. Speak slowly and deliberately. Remain calm.
You can even throw in some fillers à la française (in the French style) such as uh and ben (well) to give yourself some time to gather your thoughts, find le mot juste (the right word), and sound elegantly fluent.
7. Smooth out your transitions
In order to make your French sound as smooth and buttery as possible, you’ll need to be sure to have a store of transitions in your arsenal that will allow you to make logical connections and add variety to the structure and length of your sentences.
Think of the free response section as an opportunity to show that you know the difference between words like pour que (so that) and quoi que (no matter what).
8. Mind your register
Register is one of the areas in which you’ll be evaluated on the exam. In part A of the free response section, for example, you’ll be asked to reply to an email.
If the email is addressed to a close friend, you’d use tu. Addressing a professional acquaintance, on the other hand, requires vous. You should have the difference between the formal and informal register down pat.
With ample preparation, not only can you pass the AP French Exam, but you can improve your French enormously in the process.
Take it from a seasoned veteran of AP exams: there’s nothing on the AP French Exam that you can’t do, especially if you’re already a passionate learner.