How Can I Get a 5 in AP Research?

6 min readseptember 30, 2021

Brandon Wu

Brandon Wu

AP Research 🔍

28 resources
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Hey! So you completed AP Seminar, and now you're in the second half of the class: AP Research. While you wrote multiple research papers last year and assembled plenty of evidence to build your argument, you face a more difficult task this year: completing your independent research.
Unlike Seminar, there will be no "mock" writing; rather, your work on Day 1 will accumulate until you have your presentation/oral defense and submit your 4,000-5,000 word research paper. ✍️
To get a 5 in AP Research, the most important thing to know is to have a holistic understanding of the exam format.

How to get a 5

1. Understand the format of the exam. not necessarily the best representation of your AP score you'll receive in July. Unlike AP Seminar, you will only turn in your research paper while your teacher submits your presentation and oral defense score. There is no tested portion of AP Research!

TFW you realize there's no exam day for Research! Image Courtesy of Pixabay

Here is how the exam breaks down:
  • Academic Paper [75%]
    • 4,000 - 5,000 words (10% over acceptable)
  • Presentation and Oral Defense (POD) [25%]
    • 15-20 minute presentation with 3-4 questions asked from a panel
The academic paper is graded on a six-row holistic rubric. However, the presentation and oral defense use a separate, seven-row analytical rubric. The academic paper's holistic rubric means that graders can determine whether your paper "overall" is a 3, 4, or a 5; on the other hand, the POD's analytical rubric is graded on a "points" scale, with the possibility of scoring up to 24 points.
One of the best things to do before you begin your own writing is to look at multiple example papers!

2. Read sample papers to understand the expectations.

To understand how you should structure your paper, you can and should analyze past papers. What's incredibly important is that you read papers at multiple levels - don't just read the best or worst published academic papers. 🖊️
As one former AP Research student notes:
"Read sample papers to get a gauge of what is expected of the paper (most people come in too ambitious)"
By reading practice papers, you can set a benchmark of the expectations for your academic paper. However, this shouldn't be something that you do at the beginning of AP Research. Make sure that you're taking a look at a variety of research papers throughout August and May.
Your teacher may have asked past Research students for papers to use as examples; in addition, College Board has published 2019 sample papers and papers from 2016-2018 (some of which may have had different rubrics). One thing to do that may help you is to "be an AP reader" and grade the practice papers you read - that way, you can see the differences in you and the real AP Readers' reasoning.
In addition to looking at practice papers, you should watch some practice presentations!

3. Watch previous AP Research presentations.

Your teacher should have access to past PODs, from their training or in their AP Classroom. These are incredibly helpful, as they serve as a model for your presentations. Similar to practice papers, you should check these out throughout the year!
You can also practice be a panelist and grade students during their presentation; this way, you'll understand what to do and what not to do during your POD.

Image Courtesy of Pixabay

If you want some more inspiration or assistance with your presentations, YouTube has an excellent library of AP Research presentations from past years. 🗣️

4. Think long term with your work.

As another former AP Research student excellently notes:
"You need to think LONG TERM with all your work--how your literature creates a framework and where the gap is, and be good at communicating it! Our teacher told a story from the AP reading about how one of his students got a 4 because she left out a single statement that created a gap in her logic. The readers are looking for high level communication and you need to be clear about your assumptions, your theories, and your gap in the literature."
This is a very important piece of advice for AP Research! Often times, you will write the beginning of your paper in August and then conclude in March. As a result, you need to think about what you'll be writing in six months at the beginning of the research process! ↩️
Another critical aspect of the paper that you will be writing and editing, later on, is the literature review. 📚

5. Constantly conduct a review of the literature.

One of the most important parts of the research paper is the literature review, where you basically look at existing published research and find the gap to begin your research.
Many AP Research students will write their literature review section before November; make sure that you continually survey the literature (check databases and journals in your field) throughout the year!

Image Courtesy of Unsplash

Speaking of the different sections of the research paper, it's important that you stay organized (both internally and externally) while writing the paper.

6. Have a clear structure and time schedule to keep yourself on track 📆

There is really one nightmare scenario for AP Research students: it's April 30, a few hours before the deadline, and you're desperately trying to add words to get to the 4,000-5,000 word limit.
Thankfully, many teachers try to prevent this by giving you multiple deadlines to submit each section of the research paper. Yet, I highly recommend you download a time management and/or to-do list app to plan out what days and times you'll write. I currently use Toggl and Todoist - both free and offered on all platforms!
If your teacher does not give you deadlines, make sure you give yourself time to write and receive edits for each section of the paper. Setting word goals is also helpful for different sections of the essay - a good person to ask about how long each of your sections should be is an expert advisor!

7. Try to find an expert advisor.

AP Research is, by definition, an independent study course, meaning that you will not have peers to work together with on your paper or presentation. However, you should obtain an advisor to help you with the process. After figuring out what topic you want to pursue, try asking teachers at your school who have degrees in the field or even contacting professors from local community colleges or universities.

Your experts don't have to wear suits - but many do! Image Courtesy of Unsplash

Expert advisors are extremely helpful, as they can assist you with any questions you have about prior research in the field or your analysis. While they can't write portions of your paper, they can give you feedback and advice to help you score a coveted 5.
Even with an expert advisor, another great group of people can immensely help you in AP Research: your peers. 🎒

8. Get feedback from your peers.

Your classmates who are also taking AP Research will likely be conducting inquiries into topics that may wildly differ from you; however, that doesn't mean you can't ask them for help!
For instance, I researched whether the lack of milk competitors in elementary schools was due to Congressional lobbying by corporations. I sought feedback from someone researching whether companies should compensate people for using their data! 💻
They will be able to answer any quick questions you have about your research question, citations, a gap in research, and more!


Ultimately, AP Research's independence may feel like a double-edged sword at first, but with these eight tips, you can succeed and score a 5️⃣ !
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