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The AP Computer Science A 2020 Exam
As the AP Exam approaches this May 15th, College Board recently announced that there will be some unique changes to this year's test in response to school closures and the impacts of COVID-19. Watch our video overview of the new test to learn about these changes.
In this article, Juni AP CS Instructor Gabriel will be sharing his best strategy tips and tricks for the new 2020 exam. You can also find more of our 2020 APCS A Exam Resources below.
How to Approach the Test: Question Strategies
When reading questions for the first time and thinking about how to solve the problem, these key tips may help you work through problems!
1. Look for keywords (00:14)
Methods are there for a reason - their descriptions will often contain clues to solve problems later on. Try to make a mental note of these keywords so that when a question asks to solve a specific problem, you know where to start looking.
2. Think about what functions are related to one another (00:54)
As you're reading the problem, thinking about how problems might be used in conjunction with one another, or used to solve a larger problem, might lead you to the solution.
3. Think about the Java quick reference guide (1:51)
This year, you can use the Java Quick Reference guide on College Board’s website.
This reference contains functions that you can use during your test – e.g. if you need a random number, use
Math.random(). Getting familiar with how to use this quick reference guide to solve a problem will serve as a “sanity check” to make sure that your syntax is correct.
If you forget the syntax, such as how to get the length of a string, you can use this guide to quickly check that it is
General Cautions to Keep in Mind
1. Don't dwell on syntax or logic accuracy for one question (3:38)
Exam problems must be solved in a certain time limit. If you find it hard to solve problems within time limits during practice problems, strategically spend your time.
Following the 2019 APCS A Scoring Guide on College Board’s website, errors have corresponding deductions. But if you have almost perfect code, you will not lose many points. If rushed for time, it may be better to move to the next problem, and get as many points as possible on it. Then later come back and check your work if you have time.
However, this is not a universal rule - if you think better by devoting time just to one problem, stick to that!
2. Maximize credit for each problem
Review rubrics such as the 2019 APCS A Scoring Guide on College Board’s website and understand what results in deductions. For example, mixing up
get() on arrays and ArrayLists will result in a deduction, but “missing ; where structure clearly conveys intent” will not result in a deduction.
3. Address every part of the question (5:48)
When reading through the problem, make sure that everything is accounted for, and all the requirements are met by the solution you are thinking of.
Clearly understanding what the problem is asking for, and thinking of a solution that fulfills all the requirements will ensure you do not lose points for overlooking a requirement or have to rewrite a new solution to fulfill a requirement.
4. Analyze specifics & test cases to ensure understanding (6:53)
Make sure that if there are test cases provided, they match what you think should happen when a method is called.
For example, make sure that a method you think returns a string really returns a string, or that a question that asks you to count something really returns an integer count.
These details are important to ensure that your solution properly addresses the problem and uses other methods properly.
5. Check your work
With the time you have remaining, make sure that you spend it wisely. Go back over your solution and make sure your code reflects what you are thinking, and that it satisfies the problem.
- College Board: Official Coronavirus Updates and APCSA Exam Guide
- 2020 AP Computer Science A Sample Exam
- College Board: Java Quick Reference Guide
- College Board: AP Computer Science A 2019 Scoring Guidelines
Practice these Tips on Sample Questions
To see how Gabriel solves AP exam questions he's never seen before using the above strategies, check out his walkthroughs of the 2020 APCS A Example Test for both Question 1 and Question 2. In these videos, he approaches problems for the first time under the exam time limit - all while talking through his thinking, approach, and code.
More AP CS Exam Prep Resources
To help students better understand the new exam format and best prepare for their 2020 AP Computer Science A Exam, our our Juni AP CS Instructors have put together several tutorial lessons:
- AP Computer Science A: 2020 Exam Overview
- 2020 Sample Test FRQ #1 Walkthrough: Arrays/Array Lists
- 2020 Sample Test FRQ #2 Walkthrough: Methods & Control Structures
Visit our previous blog post for more AP Computer Science A information on:
- Curriculum Goals
- Transfer Units & Courses for Top Schools
- Advice from Previous AP CS Students
Our final and best tip is to get plenty of rest leading up to the test. You got this!
Is AP Computer Science right for me?
The official prerequisite for AP Computer Science A is first-year high school algebra, including function notation and other algebraic problem solving skills. Overall, the course recommends a solid foundation in mathematical reasoning. At Juni, we offer an AP Computer Science A Course to help students succeed in both their course and Exam.
However, having worked with many students taking this course, we have found that some prior coding experience really helps students be successful in this course. At Juni, we recommend students who are new to programming start with our Python Level 1 and sometimes our Python Level 2 course before moving into Java.
At Juni Learning, we offer online coding classes for kids, and many of our highly qualified instructors are pursuing a Computer Science major at UC Berkeley or other similar top universities. Learn more on our CS curriculum page, or get started with our Admissions Team to find the course best for your child.