Published February 16, 2024

Everything You Need to get a 5 on AP Computer Science A

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Natasha Potter

MSU Alumni, Creative Advertising Major, Marketing Associate at Knowt 😃

This guide will break down all of our AP Computer Science A exam tips to get a 5.  In today’s world, pretty much everything we do is centered around technology. The skills you’ll learn in AP Computer Science A will definitely set you up for success if you plan to pursue the STEM route. Acing AP Computer Science A is all about getting the right practice in and understanding the fundamentals of Java. 

Free AP Computer Science A Resources

Doing well on the AP Computer Science A exam is pretty straightforward as long as you take the time to understand the six core concepts. These ap study guides do a good job of outlining exactly what you need to know for each of the six core concepts. 

Should I Take AP CSA or AP CSP?

The one question pretty much every AP student has when it comes to deciding between AP Computer Science A and AP Computer Science Principles. Let’s break down AP CSA vs AP CSP today and help you figure out which one you should be taking.

To start off, AP Computer Science Principles is a super beginner computer science course and means to analyze the high level concepts of computer science and the impacts of technology on our society. Whereas, AP Computer Science A is a big more of an advanced course that focuses on teaching you Java, software design and development. If you’re looking for a course that will teach you how to code, then AP Computer Science is more than likely the course for you. I went on to major in Computer Science in college and I would personally recommend AP Computer Science Principles first to get familiar with the concepts and then take Computer Science A!

What is on the AP Computer Science A Exam?

The AP CSA exam is a bit more advanced compared to the AP Computer Science Principles exam and goes more in depth on coding and programming. One of my biggest AP Computer Science A exam tips is to make sure you understand what’s on the actual exam. The central focus of the entire exam is Java, primarily aimed to give you hands-on practice with Java best practices, problem solving, computational thinking and object oriented programming. There’s 10 total units on the AP Computer Science exam that you'll be expected to be familiar with.

Computer Science A Exam Unit

Weight

Unit 1: Primitive Types 

2.5–5%

Unit 2: Using Objects 

5–7.5%

Unit 3: Boolean Expressions and if Statements 

15–17.5%

Unit 4: Iteration 

17.5–22.5%

Unit 5: Writing Classes 

5–7.5%

Unit 6: Array 

10–15%

Unit 7: ArrayList

2.5–7.5%

Unit 8: 2D Array 

7.5–10%

Unit 9: Inheritance 

5–10%

Unit 10: Recursion 

5–7.5%

AP Computer Science A Exam Format

The total AP Computer Science A exam lasts for 3 hours and has two parts: multiple-choice and free-response. Here’s how it’s broken down

How many Multiple Choice Questions are on AP Computer Science A?

The multiple choice section of the AP CSA exam is 50% of your total score and you’re given an hour and thirty minutes to answer the 4 questions. The most commonly tested units on the multiple choice are Boolean Expressions, If Statements, iterations and arrays.

Section 

Sec. I Multiple Choice Questions 

Sec. II Free Response Questions

# of Questions 

40

4

Exam Weight 

50%

50%

Time Allotted 

90 Minutes 

90 Minutes 

How should I prepare for the MCQ section of AP Computer Science A?

  • Keep track of the variables!! Reading other people’s code is a common thing that the AP CSA exam asks for. Create a margin on the right side of the paper and as you read through the code, go one line at a time and write down the variable values. This will help you keep track of each variable and do the calculations without getting confused.

  • Become a master at reading code. This is the key to getting a 5 on this exam! You should be able to read a block of code, understand what that code is doing, keep track of the different variables, figure out any errors and edge cases that might break the code. The best way to get good at this is PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE!

What does the AP Computer Science A FRQ look like?

The free-response section is gonna make up another 50% of your score, and you've got an hour and 30 minutes to tackle these 4 questions. For each of the free response questions, you’ll need to write code. This is what you can expect for each of the free response questions:


What types of questions are on the AP Computer Science A FRQ?

  • FRQ #1 : Methods and Control Structures - You'll be asked to write code that creates objects of a class, calls methods, and  making sure it meets specifications using expressions, conditional statements, and loops.

  • FRQ #2 : Classes - You’ll be asked to write code that defines a new type by creating a class and making sure it meets method specifications using expressions, conditional statements, and loops.

  • FRQ #3 : Arrays and Array Lists - You’ll be asked to write code that creates, traverses and manipulates 1D arrays or arraylist objects. As with the other questions, you must meet method specifications using expressions, conditional statements, and loops.

  • FRQ #4 : 2D Arrays - You’ll be asked to write code that creates, traverses through and manipulates 2D arrays meeting method specifications using expressions, conditional statements, and loops


AP Computer Science A FRQ Tips

  1. Even if you don’t know how to solve one part of an FRQ, you should attempt the other parts. On the AP CSA exam, you don’t need the answer from one section of the FRQ to get full points in another section.

  2. Your code doesn’t need to be perfect for you to score all the FRQ points! College board knows you’re working in a timed setting so they don't penalize you too much for syntax mistakes like forgetting a semicolon. To avoid confusion, make sure all your variables’ names are different enough from each other.

  3. Prioritize correctness over optimizations. If you’re more confident about your less efficient code, stick to the one that’s more correct because you aren’t going to get extra points for efficiency, unless the question specifies as such.

When do AP Computer Science A scores come out?

AP exam scores taken in May are typically released in early to mid-July of the same year. The exact date may vary, but historically, scores are made available during the second week of July. The release is usually staggered over a few days, with scores being distributed by geographic region. Students receive all their test scores together, and the order of score releases may follow a regional pattern, with some areas receiving scores earlier than others

Is AP Computer Science A Hard?

The AP Computer Science A curriculum covers a total of 10 different units and requires a lot of hands-on learning. With a 20 hour lab completion requirement, this AP class is more ideal for people who learn by doing hands-on work rather than theory. Overall, I would not consider AP Computer Science A an “easy 5” if that’s the main reason you’re taking, because coding had a steeper learning curve than many of the other AP subjects. Due to the steeper learning curve, you’ll have a much easier time learning the material if you are actually interested. For that reason, I would recommend AP CSA to students who are already interested in Computer Science or would consider pursuing it as a major. Once you learn the basics, the rest of the course is pretty straightforward and mostly relies on getting in your practice. 

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