Best AP Computer Science A Books- May 2020 Exam

Computer Science A is the bedrock of one of the worlds fastest growing interests -- computer technology. It is aimed at introducing students to college-level computer science by cultivating their understanding of hardware and algorithms as it applies to real-world problem solving.

It is worth noting that Computer Science A is not quite as complicated as it comes off. The college board records up a 70% success rate among candidates who take the exam, making it one of the most passed exams. That said, high pass percentages pose a different kind of challenge; and in order to stand out, examinees must aim to outperform the majority. 

Nothing better guarantees a great performance than the right study materials. And if you can't quite decide what AP computer science A books are best suited for the task, you have come to the right place.

Our round-up will take you through the best AP computer science A books for the 2020 exam as well as a few bonus tips for exam taking, studying in crunch time, and so on.

The Ultimate AP Computer Science A Prep List

A great AP computer science book is a lot of things including interactive, stimulating and easy to understand. But more importantly, it is any book that best reflects the learning objectives indicated by the College Board curriculum.

In this light, every great AP computer science textbook should be one that encompasses the framework of the course such that it:

  • Explores all 10 units of the course framework
  • Introduces students to the basics of advanced college-level course-work and STEM-related fields
  • Elaborately discusses program design, code logic, implementation and testing
  • Integrates necessary aspects of computational thinking practices into its content with a view to allowing students explore all computer science concepts.
  • Incorporates end-of-chapter reviews and mini-tests
  • Provides online access to reading and practice resources for go-everywhere use

Prepared by M.S degree holder and seasoned author, Roselyn Teukolsky, this book lives up to the sterling reputation of other publications by Barron's. It is considered one of the best AP computer science review books with a holistic approach to the course curriculum, featuring an interactive layout that keeps students engaged. 

The book opens with a diagnostic test which is especially useful for pinpointing concern areas and contains chapters on variables, import statements, binary algorithms, arrays and slew of other curriculum based topics. 

This edition specifically reflects the most recent updates to the course overview including downcasting from the AP Java subset and the removal of the ClassCastException.

It finishes with two full-length mock tests and includes bonus access to three additional practice tests online plus detailed answers and scoring charts for all featured free-response questions.

Pros

  • A complete overview of the course curriculum
  • Features updates to the course overview
  • Includes access to online practice tests
  • Features scoring charts and answer explanations to free-response questions

Cons

  • Could use a few more multiple choice examples
  • Some of the practice tests are much harder than the real test and nearly undoable

It is not particularly hard to figure out why we are won over by this book: it was written by a highschooler. 

Of course this calls to question the experience of the author, but if it helps to ease your skepticism, then yes, he got some help from the adults. That said, this books biggest win is that it was written from the perspective of a highschooler which is a solid guarantee for maximizing learning.

It features engaging life examples, includes an online course for go-everywhere learning, it offers a great means of solidifying your knowledge of basic Java and it includes 250 problems and 3 full-length practice exams. 

There are some typos and errors within the book, but we think the solid examples outweigh the problems.

And to top things off, the author, the author plans to invest all of the books proceeds towards making the luxury of technology available to everyone.

Pros

  • Covers all needed Java topics
  • Written from the perspective of a high schooler
  • Includes a slew of practice exams

Cons

  • Some answers lack in depth
  • There are some typos and errors in the code
  • Should be used with accompanying material

5 Steps to a 5 has a long history of providing strong review content, so we cannot say we are surprised at the quality of this book

Let's start with its customizable study guide that allows students to design a study plan that best suits them; it is the perfect way to incorporate reliable strategies that will strengthen your study pace, assimilation and retention. It also features a diagnostic test which is especially useful for evaluating your ability before each study session.

The content review section of this book is an absolute winner. It touches on virtually every part of the college board curriculum and features a separate section entirely devoted to algorithm writing. It also features post-chapter quizzes plus three full-length practice tests to ensure that you get all the practice you need for the big day.

To top things off, it comes at a pocket friendly price especially considering its quality and the track record of its publishers.

Pros

  • Thorough coverage of the course curriculum
  • Pocket friendly price
  • Features a section dedicated to algorithm writing.

Cons

  • Multiple choice examples are sparse

Regardless of the latest advancements in computer technology, Java is not likely to become obsolete any time soon, and this best-selling Java focused prep book is a sure way to strengthen your knowledge of the core-topic in preparation for the AP exam.

We especially love that it is authored by a computer science and mathematics expert who has first-hand experience as a one-time consultant for the College Board.

It thoroughly explores all the AP CS material, with a special focus on Java, and it includes five full-length practice exams along with suggestions and code for 20 labs all of which are based on the free response questions in the practice exams.

Given its special focus on Java, this is best used as an accompanied to a general textbook, however, it is a sufficient stand-alone resource for intermediate-level algorithm writing/ programming.

Pros

  • Includes plenty of sample code
  • Features five full-length practice questions
  • Java focused content

Cons

  • Not recommended for beginner programmers
  • Must be used as an accompaniment to a main textbook.

While computer science principles has a different focus than computer science A, their learning objectives sometimes overlap or intersect. Thus, having some insight into computer science principles will help ease the study process of computer science A in many ways.

For one, this course often incorporates JavaScript coding and other focal points of computing such as cyber security, the global implications of computer technology, ethics, solution analysis and so on.

The Fundamental Concepts for AP computer science principles does an incredible job of exploring these concepts, taking students through the intricacies of the foundational computer science as well as other complex discussions.

It should be noted however, that is not sufficient material with which to prepare for computer science A or computer science principles for that matter.

AP Computer Science A Books To Avoid

Princeton Review: Cracking The AP Computer Science A Exam

Our problem with this book is not that it is absolutely unusable, it is that, with years of experience under their belts, this book does not reflect the reputation of its publishers. More than 40% of its users complain about glaring errors in the book with practice questions that are vague and unanswerable while others have incorrect declarations. Between featuring vague practice questions, and comically wrong answers it is hardly suitable for self-studying. Admittedly, it has a good review of key concepts and intermediate Java programmers may be able to spot and ignore the errors easily without fatality. However, the same cannot be said for beginner programmers. 

Test Structure

The AP computer science exam is designed to assess students' skills developed in line with the course framework and learning objectives of AP computer science. The three hour long exam is structured with similar question types and scoring guidelines as previous years, and is also aimed at evaluating the real-life problem solving skills and time management abilities of each examinee.

Section 1 of the test accounts for 50% of the exam score and runs for 1 hour and 30 minutes of the total time. The section typically features 40 multiple choice questions drawn from computational thinking practices.

On the other hand, section 2 of the exam lasts 90 minutes and accounts for 50% of the exam score as well. Its four featured questions are focused on methods and controlled structures, coding and program writing using method specifications and expressions.

Last Time The AP CSA Exam Was Changed

In recent years, no significant changes have been made to the AP computer science exam. However, there have been slight tweaks to the course layout in the bid to better align students experience with the learning objectives of the course.

Additional Tips & Resources For Studying

Understand The Learning Objectives:

This is essentially what the entire course is all about.

Every examinee with a full grasp on the course description and learning objective of AP computer science will be properly equipped to tackle any and all questions.

Summarily, every AP computer science should have an understanding of algorithm development, ethical computing, code logic testing and implementation as well as program design.

Don't Be Afraid to Splurge on Materials

When it comes to finding the right study materials, the truth is, you are more likely than not to get exactly what you pay for. The truth is that the quality of a study material, tool or text book is reflected in its price tag which is often commiserate with how much effort went into its compilation and production. If you skimp on anything else, then it certainly shouldn't be your chance at getting a perfect score.

Of course you might be lucky to score a few materials for a steal, but those are mostly an exception to the rule than the norm.

Use Online Materials

Online study tools and materials are great for their ease-of-use and flexibility. They will prove especially invaluable for students or intending examinees who are constantly on the move. Also, there are a plethora of online courses and public access practice materials that are absolutely free. So, if you are working with a tight budget, it might be time to hit the web.

Get Familiar with AP Computer Science Lingo

This is a great way to leave a lasting impression on your examiner. Students who are especially fluent in computer science lingo will better navigate the test-taking progress, even if they are met with challenging problems.

Practice, Practice, Practice

There is no such thing as too much practice.

Practice exams, mini tests and post-chapter exercises are the life-blood of any study session. Be sure to keep an eye out for mock exams that mimic the structure of the real test and also includes scoring tools with which to evaluate performance. It is also important to use materials that offer detailed answer explanations to ease the learning process. Pro-tip: if you take a test at the beginning of the study session and retake it after the session, you can better evaluate progress.

Conclusion

Despite being the more technical of the two, AP computer science A has recorded more success among students than AP computer science principles. But while this suggests that it might be a little easier to pass, there are no guarantees -- especially for the unprepared.

That said, computer science is proven to be an invaluable tool across various disciplines; so, studying for this course will offer you so much more than a pass mark. This is a great time to throw yourself into studying and practicing with mock exams. Armed with one of our highly recommended texts and a determination to succeed there aren't many things that can stand in the way of landing your 5.