I just finished the Computer Science AP A exam last week at Downtown Magnet High School with a cumulative hour extra by the time I finished. Because I have experience in programming, it wasn't difficult for me.
The Original Plan
- Buy study guides.
- Study the guides and compile some code.
- Register for the exam as self-taught.
- Take the test and dominate.
The plan worked well until phase three: our high school couldn't provide us with a room or proctor for the exam, Arcadia High School refused to allow us to take the exam at their school, and many other schools did not offer the exam or the course. Here comes David Bernier to the rescue from the ECS team. David helped us connect with various other high schools around our area and eventually we registered with Downtown High School for the Computer Science AP A exam.
Self-Studying with a Buddy
The CS AP (Calculus AP A) exam isn't offered at my dear high school, West High; thus, my good friend William Ingold and I took the initiative to do an intensive self-study on the topic with a Barrons study guide. Fortunately for us, we've been programming in languages including C/C++, Python, and PHP for nearly four years. It wasn't very difficult at all. The study guide was just another, lighter book to carry on top of William's brick: C++ Primer Plus.
The Calculus exam didn't require me to self-study because I enrolled for the course and we prepared for the test during the entire month of April. We prepared for the Calculus exam much better than the CS AP exam; however, I applied the same study tactics from Calculus exam while studying for CS AP: printed free response questions wrapped into a packet and a review of all vocabulary, definitions, and interfaces through index cards.
Although William and I were experienced with programming, preparing for a test is much more different than preparing for a program. The are two parts to the CS AP exam: multiple choice and free response which both account for fifty-percent of the overall score. The practice tests on the Barrons AP A book focused on debugging and interpreting code that already exists like reading comprehension in the SATs.
William came knocking at my door at 6 AM while I lay in my bed barely awake. I get up, get dressed, and grab all the test essential items including my student ID, a pencil, and my AP Pack. William's dad, who is also a programmer for LA's water systems, was driving the car and we passed by Starbucks to buy some coffee before the exam.
When we arrived to the school, we were thirty minutes early and decided to study in a room with many other kids that were preparing for AP exams. We lounged around until the AP coordinator came by and directed us to the room where the AP test was held. I quickly finished my coffee and found myself with fifteen other kids; some stared at the us as foreign students. The exam started and I realized five minutes later that I shouldn't have drank coffee before the test.
First was the multiple choice section that I'm unable to discuss the actual problems because of the non-disclosure contract. All I can say is that Barrons definitely covered the multiple choice sections well with problems that exceeded the difficulty of those on the actual exam but this could be subjective. I finished thirty minutes earlier than the time limit and immediately asked to go to the bathroom. The proctor smiled and probably noticed the torture I've been going through during the entire test. I was more relieved by the bathroom than finishing the exam.
The free response section where we wrote code by hand was the pons asinorum for real programmers. William and I completed this section with ease because we already had experience in programming practical applications. Others held their head low in frustration and while interfacing on the Grid World case study and also implementing an encryption algorithm which I believed was far too difficult for the level of this exam (but I solved it). Again, I finished this earlier by approximately fourty minutes.
At the end of the exam, we rode out into LA's polluted streets with William's dad again and ate out at Phillip's for some beefy sandwiches. Yes, we all ordered beef (and I still don't know what the french dipping is).
From my experience, anyone can take up the Computer Science AP A exam and pass with flying colors as long as you have a study guide for it.