2021 AP Psychology Exam Guide

10 min readfebruary 25, 2021


Your guide to the 2021 AP Psychology exam

We know that studying for your AP exams can be stressful, but Fiveable has your back! We have created a study plan that will help you crush your AP Psychology exam. We will continue to update this guide with more information about the 2021 exams, as well as helpful resources to help you score that 5. Create a Fiveable account and join our Discord to stay involved in all things AP exams! 😁

Format of the 2021 AP Psychology exam

This year, all AP exams will cover all units and essay types. The 2021 exam format will be:
Section 1: Multiple Choice
  • You will have 70 minutes to answer 100 questions. 
  • This section counts as 66.7% of your total exam score.
Section II: Free Response
  • You will have 50 minutes to answer two FRQs.
  • This section counts as the remaining 33.3% of your total exam score.
Note that the format stays the same regardless of if you take the exam on paper or digitally! Check out our study plan below to find resources and tools to prepare for your AP Psychology exam.

When is the 2021 AP Psychology exam and how do I take it?

The 2021 exam schedule provides three testing dates for each subject between early May and mid-June. Paper or digital exams are offered, depending on the subject and exam date. The tests will be taken in person at your school unless your AP Coordinator has indicated otherwise.
  • Administration 1 of the AP Psychology exam is on May 11, 2021, 12 pm your local time—this will be a paper test at your school.
  • Administration 2 of the AP Psychology exam is on May 20, 2021, at 4 pm EDT—this will be digital, in school, or at home.
  • Administration 3 of the AP Psychology exam is on June 3, at 4 pm EDT—this will be digital, in school, and at home.
Create a Fiveable account to get updates on the latest 2021 exam news. You will have 2 hours to take the exam.

How should I prepare for the exam?

  • First, download the AP Psychology Cram Chart PDF - a single sheet that covers everything you need to know at a high level. Take note of your strengths and weaknesses! 
  • Review every unit and question type, and focus on the areas that need the most improvement and practice. We’ve put together this plan to help you study between now and May. This will cover all of the units and essay types to prepare you for your exam
    • Study vocab! The exam (especially the multiple-choice) is very vocabulary and terminology heavy, so make flashcards, quizlets...whatever you have to do.
  • Join our Discord channel to talk to real students just like you studying for this exam! We have TAs in each subject channel to support you this Spring. 
  • Finally, check out our live Cram events so that you can review for the AP Psych exam with a rockstar teacher and study socially among other students! 🤓

Pre-work: set up your study environment

Before we begin, take some time to get organized. Remote learning can be great, but it also means you’ll need to hold yourself accountable more than usual. 
🖥 Create a study space.
Make sure you have a designated place at home to study. Somewhere you can keep all of your materials, where you can focus on learning, and where you are comfortable. Spend some time prepping the space with everything you need and you can even let others in the family know that this is your study space. 
📚 Organize your study materials.
Get your notebook, textbook, prep books, or whatever other physical materials you have. Also create a space for you to keep track of review. Start a new section in your notebook to take notes or start a Google Doc to keep track of your notes. Get yourself set up!
📅 Plan designated times for studying.
The hardest part about studying from home is sticking to a routine. Decide on one hour every day that you can dedicate to studying. This can be any time of the day, whatever works best for you. Set a timer on your phone for that time and really try to stick to it. The routine will help you stay on track.
🏆 Decide on an accountability plan.
How will you hold yourself accountable to this study plan? You may or may not have a teacher or rules set up to help you stay on track, so you need to set some for yourself. First set your goal. This could be studying for x number of hours or getting through a unit. Then, create a reward for yourself. If you reach your goal, then x. This will help stay focused!
🤝 Get support from your peers. 
There are thousands of students all over the world who are preparing for their AP exams just like you! Join our Discord channel to chat, ask questions, and meet other students who are also studying for the spring exams. You can even build study groups and review material together!

AP Psych 2021 study plan

🔎Unit 1: Scientific Foundations of Psychology

According to the College Board, Unit 1 is about the basis of psychological theory as the study of human and animal behavior and mental processes and how psychologists design and conduct research. 
Topics that are included in this unit are:
  • Major historical figures in psychology
  • Theoretical approaches to describing the behavior
  • Branches of psychology
  • A variety of research methods used by psychologists
  • The application of research design and statistical analysis in psychology
  • Ethical guidelines

Definitely check these out:

📚 Read these study guides:
If you have more time or want to dig deeper:
💻 Learn about the best resources so you can start studying early:

🧠Unit 2: Biological Bases of Behavior

Unit 2 of the AP Psychology exam covers behaviors and mental processes from a biological perspective and the effects of the interaction between human biology and our environment. This has to do with the large nature vs nurture debate! 
Topics that are included in this unit are:
  • The interaction of inherited traits, environment, and evolution in shaping behavior
  • Structures and functions of biological systems, including the endocrine system and nervous system
  • Brain function, neural firing, and the influence of medication
  • The study of the brain and research techniques for studying its structure and function
  • States of consciousness, including sleeping and dreaming
  • Addiction and drug dependence

Definitely check these out:

📚 Read these study guides:
If you have more time or want to dig deeper:
💻 Here are the best AP Psych Quizlet Decks!

👀Unit 3: Sensation and Perception

Unit three is all about how we perceive and process our environment on a daily basis through our senses. You will learn all about how we convert those observations into perceptions that influence how we think and behave.
Topics that are included in this unit are:
  • Basic principles of how humans experience and process stimuli
  • The role of experience and culture in perception
  • The mechanisms of the 5 senses and sensory disorders

Definitely check these out:

📚 Read these study guides:
If you have more time or want to dig deeper:
💻 Here are some AP Psych Self-Studying and Homeschooling tips to check out:

📚Unit 4: Learning

Unit 4 of AP Psych is all about the field of psychology that studies how humans and other animals learn as well as how learning changes over a lifetime. You will learn all about classical and operant conditioning and how incentives affect our learning! You’ll probably even learn a thing or two that could help you adjust your studying habits!
Topics that are included in this unit are:
  • Influential researchers and theories of learning
  • Results of famous learning experiments
  • Types of learning
  • Types of conditioning and their effects
  • Social and cognitive factors in learning

Definitely check these out:

📚 Read these study guides:

🤔Unit 5: Cognitive Psychology

According to the College Board, in this unit, you will examine the complex nature of how memory, intelligence, and other mental processes impact human behavior.
Topics that are included in this unit are:
  • The cognitive and physiological processes that make up memory
  • Forgetting and typical memory errors
  • The biological basis of short- and long-term memory
  • Creative thinking and problem-solving strategies
  • Biases and errors in thinking
  • Defining and measuring intelligence
  • The processes of learning and using language

Definitely check these out:

📚 Read these study guides:
If you have more time or want to dig deeper:
💻 Here are some steps to succeed on the AP Psych Multiple Choice Questions!

👶Unit 6: Developmental Psychology

This unit is all about developmental psychology, which studies how physical and social changes over humans’ lifespans can influence behavior and mental processes. You will learn about several theories in this unit regarding our development in childhood, as teenagers, and as adults.
Topics that are included in this unit are:
  • Physical and social development in childhood
  • Theories of cognitive development in childhood
  • Adolescent development and challenges
  • Adulthood and aging
  • Theories of moral development
  • Gender and sexual orientation

Definitely check these out:

📚 Read these study guides:
If you have more time or want to dig deeper:
💻 Here are some tips on how to succeed on the AP Psych FRQ Questions!

🤪Unit 7: Motivation, Emotion, and Personality

According to the College Board, in this unit, you will study personality through the lens of behavior and mental processes and how these processes interact to produce an individual’s personality. You will also dive deep into the different theories of motivation and why we, as humans, do certain things. Additionally, you will study stress and emotion in this unit and several theories regarding them as well.
Topics that are in this unit:
  • Theories of the motivation behind human and animal behavior
  • Major theories of emotion
  • The effects of stress
  • Conceptions of personality, including behaviorist, social cognitive, humanistic, and trait theories
  • Research and assessments to measure personality

Definitely check these out:

📚 Read these study guides:
If you have more time or want to dig deeper:
💻 Here are some AP Psych note taking tips!

🤪Unit 8: Clinical Psychology

Unit 8 is all about how psychologists evaluate, study, and treat a range of psychological disorders.
Topics that are in this unit:
  • Standards for diagnosing and approaches to explaining psychological disorders
  • Neurodevelopmental and schizophrenic spectrum disorders
  • Bipolar, depressive, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorders
  • Dissociative, somatic, and trauma- and stress-related disorders
  • Substance abuse, eating disorders, personality disorders, and related conditions
  • Historical developments in psychological treatment
  • Modern treatment options and methods

Definitely check these out:

📚 Read these study guides:
If you have more time or want to dig deeper:
💻 Here are some common misconceptions in psychology that are good to review for May!

👫Unit 9: Social Psychology

Congrats, you made it to the final AP Psychology unit! In this last unit, you’ll study how humans interact in groups and social situations, as well as how others can affect an individual’s behavior and mental processes. You will probably learn a lot of the psychology behind some historical events in this unit too.
Topics that are in this unit include:
  • How social and cultural categories like gender and race can impact self-concept and behavior
  • The factors that lead people to form and change attitudes
  • Group dynamics, including conformity, compliance, and obedience to authority
  • Types of behavior caused by the presence of others
  • Bias, prejudice, and discrimination
  • Altruism and aggression
  • The variables that contribute to attraction

Definitely check these out:

📚 Read these study guides:
If you have more time or want to dig deeper:
💻 Here are some time management and study tips! Time Management and Study Skills

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Unit 1: Scientific Foundations of Psychology
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Unit 2: Biological Bases of Behavior
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Unit 3: Sensation and Perception
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Unit 4: Learning
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Unit 5: Cognitive Psychology
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Unit 6: Developmental Psychology
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Unit 7: Motivation, Emotion, & Personality
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Unit 8: Clinical Psychology
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Unit 9: Social Psychology
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