The AP French Exam: Your Ultimate Study Guide With Study Tips, Strategies and Resources

Thinking about taking the AP French Exam?

Not sure what you might be getting yourself into or how to prepare?

Well, this is your ultimate guide to study and prepare for the AP French Language and Culture exam. 

From good information about the exam to study tips and resources, you will find everything you need to set up your study plan!


What is the AP French Exam?

AP exams are comprehensive subject-specific exams for accomplished students.

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 is the exam scored?

The exam is scored on a simple 1 (worst) to 5 (best) scale. Usually, a passing score is 3 or 4, but there’s no set limit.

When and where do I take it?

Taking 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. You’ll take the exam in class during a normal school day.

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.

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 structured?

The exam is 3 hours long, of which roughly half consists of multiple choice questions and the other half free response.

In the multiple choice section, your passive French (reading and listening) is tested.

The first group of multiple choice questions are based on sample texts such as newspaper articles or train schedules.

The second set of multiple choice questions are based on audio clips which may or may not be paired with texts. All audio is played twice.

In the free response portion of the exam, your active (written and spoken) French is tested.

First, you’re asked to respond to an email. Following that, you’ll write a more formal essay based on an article, a table or graph and audio clip.

You’ll have 40 minutes to write the essay, during which time you can take notes and consult the given media.

The last portion of the exam tests your spoken French through a conversation as well as a presentation that demonstrates your knowledge of French and Francophone culture.

Your AP French Study Guide

Here are some of the best tips for preparing for the AP French exam as well as tips for actually taking it.

Study Tips

Start early, study often

As with most tests (especially AP exams), you can’t just study everything you’ve learned the day before the exam and get a good score.

Think ahead and 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.

Make the most of your AP class

You may have noticed language classes in high school feature a lot of games and simple worksheets, but don’t just blow through these activities!

Take them to heart. Ask yourself what aspect of French these assignments are actually teaching you. Soon you’ll realize what you need to study to learn a language generally.

Something I used to do when learning French was to make a point of asking at least one question in class every day.

Also take advantage of that time you have in French class to only speak in French. Talk to your peers and teacher in French and participate as much as you can.

Take full advantage of the resources available to you

Your French teacher is a teacher for a reason— they know French! So take advantage of their knowledge as much as possible while you still can. 

You can’t raise your hand in the middle of the exam to ask a question… so get all of them out of your system with your teacher before the exam!

Also take advantage of all the materials your teacher provides for you. They know what the exam will be like, so they will know the right things you should study. 

Whether it’s handouts or a beneficial website, listen to what your teacher suggests you check out for studying!

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 write your email, write as if you’re a French person casually writing to another French person. Same with the conversation.

It’s during the essay and presentation where you want to show off how formal and informative you can be!

Use a study guide

A study guide often includes important information on how the test is formatted, 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 — It’s not technically a study guide but has lots of relevant study material that is definitely sure to help you since it comes from the creators of the test!

Take practice tests

The best way to practice for the test is, well… a practice test!

There are plenty of practice AP French exams out there, including in one of the study guides mentioned or online resources like the College Board website or this link.

Try timing yourself with the actual exam times and keeping track of your progress then studying the parts you struggle with the most.

Practice speaking as often as you can

Whether it’s with a classmate, with your teacher, a French friend or even yourself, find any and all ways 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!

Immerse yourself in French

Immersion is the best way to pick up on 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 find some cool YouTube videos!

You can also watch movies and TV shows or listen to podcasts in French. 

Really anything that you would do in your everyday life that’s usually done in English can probably also be done in French. 

Test-taking Tips

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 (or native) speakers can commit. Don’t fall into that trap.

Make sure you read things thoroughly and really think about your response, no matter how simple it may seem.

Listen 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 on a word you didn’t understand, you’ll miss the rest of the audio.

Rather, just pick out words you do know and use context clues to fill in the missing pieces.

To best practice for this session, it’s best to listen to audio clips similar to those on the exam and listen carefully.

Don’t get bogged down by instructions

You should pay attention to the instructions, but don’t spend too much time on them since that will take valuable time you could be using to answer questions. 

Practice tests will have the same instructions as the real exam, so pay attention to those to understand what to expect beforehand. 

This way, you can just skim the instructions on the real exam.

Don’t get discouraged by words you don’t know

You likely won’t know every single word in any French text, so the exam is no different. 

Especially considering the advanced level of language used in the exam, you are most likely going to come across something that you don’t recognize. That’s okay!

Just because you don’t know a few words doesn’t mean you don’t know anything. Look at context clues and try to use that to put yourself on the right track.

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 you should 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 the mind!

Read the entirety of each question

While the instructions of the exam may stay the same, questions, on the other hand, change.

Read carefully to be sure that the question you think you’re answering and the question you are answering are one and the same.

If you skim through the questions, you may miss an important part of the question that would completely change your answer.

Answer every question

On the AP French Language and Culture exam, it really doesn’t hurt to guess on the multiple choice section because you’re not penalized for wrong answers—they’re simply not counted.

This means that you should try and fill in the answer for every single multiple-choice question, even if it’s just a wild guess. 

So if you know you only have one minute left and you have 10 unanswered questions, go ahead and fill in the rest of them without reading the question or answers.

Odds are that you would at least get a few right purely by chance.

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 either guess or circle the question, move on, and get back to it if you have time at the end. 

Slow and steady wins the race

When it comes to the speaking portion, don’t let nervous jitters get to you and jumble your words.

Speak slowly and deliberately. Have no fear.

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.

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).

Register your register

Register is one of the areas in which you’ll be evaluated on the exam. In part one 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 down pat.


With ample preparation, not only can you pass the AP French Exam, but you can improve your French hugely in the process.

Take it from a seasoned veteran of AP exams and standardized testing in general.

There’s nothing on the AP French Exam that you can’t do, especially if you’re already a passionate learner.

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