Best AP Psychology Books – May 2020 Exam

Given that AP Psychology introduces students to the study of human behavior, it should come as no surprise that the textbook market is overflowing with less-than-ideal materials and resources masquerading as great study tools.

It is also no surprise that while most students aim for a 4 or 5 only 65.7% of those who took the exam in 2018 scored above 3 -- and yes, the quality of study resources available and the performance of students are not unrelated.

Quite frankly, next to writing the actual exam, the hardest part about AP psychology is choosing the right study materials. But if you are looking to snag a perfect score you cannot simply leave it to chance; after all, success requires precise, conscious effort.

If you are here, then you are right on track! After scouring through expert options, user reviews and complaints we finally arrived at a list of great materials. In this round up, we review the best AP psychology books and offer you some tips and tricks to guarantee the 5 that you truly deserve. 

The Ultimate AP Psychology Prep List

So, what makes for a great AP Psych book?

While organization and an interactive layout is all okay, there is no arguing that what really makes great book is its content.

For AP-focused textbooks, the singular most important factor is that its content is a reflection of the stated curriculum -- and this is especially true for AP psychology.

A great text book should:

  • Explore notable psychologists as well as revolutionary studies that have impacted psychology
  • Explain the application of psychological theories and concepts
  • Examine the interrelation of biology and psychology
  • Feature and suggest methods of employing psychological research
  • Evaluate claims, communicate ideas, and explore the use of scientific methods for doing both.
  • Have an engaging and interactive layout and feature practice exam questions and their answers
  • Be written in a simple and straightforward tone.

And in choosing our recommended texts, we were sure to make sure they checked all the above boxes -- and more:

Barron's AP Psychology is unarguably one of the most popular study resources and for good reason.

It is updated yearly to align with the most recent updates to the curriculum and it includes a diagnostic test which helps students evaluate their abilities and determine what specific areas of focus would be the most ideal for their learning process.

Overall, this book has a multiplicity of winning features; from its in depth coverage of the course overview to a bonus abnormal psychology chapter which has been revised to reflect the DSM-5 changes plus two full-length practice books in hard copy, three full-length online practise tests and fifteen additional practice questions for each preceding module.

And given the quality of information available in the text, any student with the discipline to read through the book, practice and review the quizzes would be all set for a 5.

Pros

  • More than enough practice quizzes and questions -- in the book and online
  • Up-to-date information and thorough coverage of the curriculum
  • Interactive content presentation

Cons

  • More emphasis given to some topics than others

The AP Psych Crash Course is the perfect option for studying during crunch time.

Never mind that it is designed to help users learn a lot in the least possible time, this book provides an in-depth coverage of the course overview and without missing a beat explores everything from notable psychologists and their revolutionary findings to the use of scientific methods to evaluate claims and ideas. And yet, since its a highly focused review, it ensures that users are not bogged down by unnecessary details.

The crash course not only offers access to REAs online practice test, it also provides test-taking strategies for tackling both multiple choice and essay questions. Most importantly, it strategically positions students for self-paced studying and testing -- and when combined with a traditional full-scale textbook?

Well, the results are nothing short of astounding. 

Pros

  • Insightful and straight to the point with bite-sized information
  • Best for crunch time
  • Includes online access to REAs practice test

Cons

  • Must be used with a complete textbook for the best results

Authored by one of psychology's most prestigious names, this book is a lot more than just another prep resource.

In fact, it has been dubbed as the psychology bible by some users. It offers a guided exploration of psychological concepts, the science and its governing principles, allowing users a front-row seat to the experience of psychology in a relatable manner through poignant conversation.

As far as the AP curriculum goes, it is safe to say that this text goes above and beyond. In order to ensure that you are on track with the course overview, we suggest to use this resource in combination with a more main-stream option.

That said, given the extensive nature of the text, its in depth coverage and the experiential knowledge of the author, this is a material that will never become obsolete -- whether it is in the hands of an future AP examinee or just another leisure reader. 

Pros

  • Extensive coverage of psychological concepts
  • Timeless information 
  • Great for any user

Cons

  • There are no practice questions or quizzes.

One look at this book and it is obvious that this curriculum-oriented master-piece is designed to produce practical results. 

The 2020 edition of the book is particularly focused on properly reviewing psychological concepts and topics that are relevant to the course syllabus and providing all information in a clear and easy-to-understand manner that helps students to properly internalize concepts and reproduce them at the right time.

The popular grouse with this textbook is that it provides such a broad and detailed discussion of each topic that it may not be ideal for speedy reading. This aside, it has a great interactive layout with post-chapter quizzes that mimic the exam, it can be used alone or as an accompanying 

It also thoroughly adheres to the curriculum ensuring that all information will be useful for the exam.

Pros

  • Thoroughly detailed chapters
  • Curriculum focused
  • Interactive layout and post-chapter quizzes

Cons

  • Not ideal for quick reviews

With a sterling history for churning out invaluable AP materials and study resources, the 5 steps to a 5 series has a reputation that precedes it.

Like its predecessors, this book promises to build the skills and confidence required to achieve a perfect score. 

It is accessible in both digital and print formats allowing users to choose their preferred method of study.

It also features updated DSM 5 content as well as hundreds of practice quizzes with unrestricted access to the AP Psychology cross-platform prep course.

Between presenting AP concepts in easy-to-tackle day-by-day format and providing access to 6 full-length practice exams, this text essentially guarantees a perfect score.

Pros

  • Exhaustive coverage of the curriculum
  • 6 full-length practice tests
  • Includes updated DSM 5 content

Cons

  • Might be a little pricey for some.

AP Psych Books To Avoid

Kaplan: AP Psychology Prep Plus 2019-2020

Frankly, the AP Psychology Prep Plus 2019-2020 is not absolutely terrible.

However, despite getting praises for its customizable study plans and post-study quizzes, some students insist that it is a tad too complex. This is not a review book you want to be stuck with during crunch time or when you do not already have some information about AP psychology to go on.

That said, with decades of experience under their belt, we can only hope that Kaplan takes the much needed cue with subsequent editions because this number just about misses the mark.

Test Structure

While AP exams have relatively similar structures, the questions and scoring guidelines slightly differs from course to course.

For AP psychology, examinees will be expected to tackle the questions split into two sections.

Section I of the exam will feature 100 multiple choice questions which will require students to provide definitions and explanations for a range of topics as well as apply a variety of concepts analysis and investigative processes. This section will account for 66.7% of the total score and lasts 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Section II on the other hand will feature 2 free response questions which will account for 33.3% of the total score. Examines will be required to answer both questions under 50 minutes, most of which will require them to explain human behavior will practical applications of learned theories and concepts. 

Last Time The AP Psych Exam Was Changed

Beginning in the 2019-20 school year, the AP board clarified the AP psychology course focus in an attempt to simplify the learning process of students.

Naturally, this clarification impacted the exam structure somewhat. But other than some mild changes to reflect the course focus, the scoring guidelines weighting and question types remain fairly the same from year to year.

Additional Tips & Resources For Studying

Barron's AP Psychology Flash Cards

There is nothing quite like a set of good-old flash cards to help you memorize a bunch of random terms.

This set of 500 cards have not only been revised to reflect the most current AP psychology curriculum changes, but all the cards also organised into 14 sections to represent each major category of the syllabus.

Ultimately, these cards do more than just aid a quick review -- they help in topic-focused studies and can be organized to be utilized in order of priority.

AP Psychology Student Page

The AP psychology student page is a handy examinee guide for ensuring that studying is not over generalized but in line with the course program and the examiners expectations.

AP also provides students with unrestricted access to an online library of past questions, personal progress evaluation checks and real-time progress insights.

Take Other Online Courses

Learning never ends -- especially when you are looking to score a 5, but still find yourself struggling with some psychological concepts. If this is the case, it is a great time to begin looking at some online course options to help double down on the learning process.

Apply Psychological Concepts To Real Life Situations

There is nothing better to help a student cement acquired knowledge than hands-on practical examples. It is a great strategy to begin examining your surroundings for real-life situations that are a depiction of learned psychological concepts and theories.

This will be especially invaluable in jogging your memory on the day of exam -- when you can make a real-life association to a concept that might be otherwise abstract, it is a solid memory booster.

Take and Retake Practice Exams

Practice exams are a great tool for evaluating both knowledge and learning progress. So, it is not enough to simply take a test and move on to the one or the next module. It is great practice to retake the mock tests until you achieve a score of 100. Now if you powered through 6 full-length practice exams over and over until answering the questions become second-nature -- what could possibly stop you from earning a 5?

Conclusion

When it comes down to it, all that you learn in AP Psychology can be applied to preparing for any AP exam. And there is no better place to begin evaluation your understanding of human mental processes than through self-analysis.

Consider each resource, tip and trick in the light of what best works for you. Remember that one-size-fits-all methods of learning often prove unreliable in the long run. Not only do people have different speeds of learning, everyone, including students who make be taking the exact same classes, are in a different phase of their learning process. So, now that you have a handy list of reliable materials to work with, find what process best works for you and stick with it.

All the best!