AP Computer Science A Overview
AP Computer Science A is equivalent to a one semester introductory course in computer science. Students program in Java, and learn problem solving, design strategies, algorithms, data structures, and more. The program teaches both object oriented and imperative programming techniques. Basic english and algebra skills are required for students interested in AP Computer Science.
We’ll cover the course, exams, and our picks for the best AP Computer Science A and Composition books, and Review Guides for test year 2021 below, but if you just can’t wait, here’s the short list:
Getting a jump start on college level studies in Computer Science can be extremely helpful for students interested in software engineering and other fields. Whatever your motivation for studying AP Computer Science A, we’re here to help you succeed!
A full Course Description for AP Computer Science A is available from collegeboard.org.
AP Computer Science A is taught in the Java programming language, and is equivalent to an introductory college Computer Science course. After taking AP Computer Science A, a student should be able to do the following:
- Design and implement solutions to programming problems.
- Use and implement common algorithms.
- Use existing and appropriate algorithms to solve new problems.
- Write solutions using an object oriented paradigm.
- Write, test, run and debug java programs.
- Read and interpret programs containing multiple classes and interacting objects.
- Understand the social and ethical implications of computer use.
AP Computer Science A includes a minimum of 20 hours of lab work in either individual or group setting. In the lab, students are expected to design a solution to a problem, implement it in java and test it, fix any errors that occur, and compare other solutions.
The use of Java is required in AP Computer Science A. Because the language has far more features than can be covered in a single introductory course, a subset of the language is used.
A typical AP Computer Science A course is broken up into 6 topics:
- Object Oriented Program Design
- Program Implementation
- Program Analysis
- Standard Data Structures
- Standard Operations and Algorithms
- Computing in Context
Students taking the AP Computer Science A Exam are responsible for demonstrating knowledge of the above mentioned skills and abilities. The student’s knowledge is assessed through a 3 hour exam containing questions in both multiple choice and free response format. The exam is broken up into 2 parts, with the each accounting for 50% of a final score between 1 and 5.
Section 1: Multiple Choice
- 90 minutes long, 40 questions
- Accounts for 50% of the final score
- Topics including: fundamentals, data structures, logic, algorithms, recursion, and software engineering
Points are awarded for each correct answer, and no points are subtracted for incorrect or unanswered questions.
Section 2: Free Response
- 90 minutes long and contains 4 long form questions
- Accounts for 50% of the final score
- Solve problems in Java using more extended reasoning
All questions should be answered using Java programming language. No points are subtracted for minor syntax errors.
For exam dates, refer to The College Board AP Calendar.
Best AP Computer Science A Books
AP Computer Science A has several strong contenders for the best textbooks and review guides which we’ve ranked for you above. Continue on for detailed information on each one!
5 Steps to a 5: AP Computer Science A
Pros: Strong content and example questions with answers.
Cons: Fewer practice tests than some books on this list.
Best For: Complimenting course assignments and as self assessment leading up to the exam.
Our Rating: 5 / 5
5 Steps to a 5: AP Computer Science A is our top recommendation for best AP Computer Science A review book for the 2020 AP Exam and course. It has perhaps the strongest sample content with very thorough explanations of all answers. The full list of features include:
- 3 full-length practice exams
- Hundreds of practice exercises with thorough answer explanations
- Sections devoted to algorithm writing and two levels of sample questions for each Java concept
- Clear and complete explanations for all multiple-choice questions
With 5 Steps to a 5: AP Computer Science A, you supplement your learnings from the reading and writing assignments you’ve done all year long. The coverage of test format and huge selection of sample questions will help ensure your success on the AP Exam.
Barron’s AP Computer Science A
Pros: Lots of printed and online practice tests.
Cons: Some readers find explanations to be a bit sparse on multiple choice examples.
Best For: Supplementing course assignments and last minute review
Our Rating: 5 / 5
Barron’s AP Computer Science A is another strong contender on this list even though it didn’t quite take the top spot. It has great practice tests (both in print and online), and plenty of sample and self-assessment questions. The full list of features for this book include:
- 6 full length practice exams (3 in book and 3 online)
- Charts detailing the scoring suggestions for each free-response question
- Answers and explanations for every test question
- Detailed overview of key course material
Barron’s AP Computer Science A is a fantastic review guide to supplement your other course textbooks, or as a final review leading up to the test date. Whichever your use case, Barron’s has something to offer everyone.
Decoding AP Computer Science A
Pros: Good information from a unique perspective.
Cons: Some answers are incorrect or lack depth.
Best For: Review and practice leading up to the exam.
Our Rating: 4.0 / 5
Decoding AP Computer Science A is another valid option for students looking to round out their assigned course texts with extra info. It’s written by a High School student with a passion for computer science education, and does a decent job of serving as an introductory guide. Features include:
- 3 full length practice tests and over 250 problems
- Written from the perspective of a high school student
- Pairs with an online course to maximize learning.
If you’re looking for a full-fledged review of AP Computer Science A course materials with extensive samples, this title is a good choice. Generally we recommend going with one of our top 2 picks in this subject, but if you’re looking to add to that or just want a different take on the material, you should check it out.
Cracking the AP Computer Science A Exam
Pros: Narrow focus is easy to get through in a hurry.
Cons: Limited practice test resources, somewhat out of date.
Best For: Last minute review and cramming leading up to the exam..
Our Rating: 4.0 / 5
Cracking the AP Computer Science A Exam from Princeton Review is another reasonable book for preparing to take the AP Computer Science A exam. It’s not our top recommendation, but if you’ve used and enjoyed any of the other Princeton Review series of books, this one is passable. Features include:
- 2 Full length practice exams with detailed answer keys and explanations
- Step-by-step walk-throughs of sample questions
- Comprehensive content review for all Computer Science A topics, including lab requirements
- Comprehension drills in each content review chapter
The test tips and strategies for all the major course topics are well thought out, and useful. There are a limited number of full length practice exams compared to some of the other books on this list.
In our ever changing world, Computer Science knowledge can be helpful across a variety of discipline and careers. Getting a jump start on college level Computer Science courses is a great option for aspiring techies and non-techies alike.
We’ve gone ahead and rounded up our list of top picks for Best AP Computer Science A books. Ultimately, which one suits you best will be a matter of your circumstance and preference. Here’s a recap of our recommendations:
|Top Overall Recommendation||5 Steps to a 5: AP Computer Science A|
|Top Pick For Course Supplement||5 Steps to a 5: AP Computer Science A|
|Top Pick For Last Minute Prep||Barron’s AP Computer Science A|
For students with the goal of supplementing their other assigned course materials in year long study, our top pick (and top pick overall) is 5 Steps to a 5: AP Computer Science A. The book is comprehensive, has a logical layout, and a decent set of practice tests and questions.
If your study timeline is more compressed, the Barron’s AP Computer Science A guide is our best recommendation. It has the best and most complete set of practice tests (online and in print), which will help you prep for the exam day.
Whatever your circumstance, supplemental study and review materials are a key part of ensuring success on the exam. We’ve listed some of the best AP Computer Science A resources available. Good luck, and study hard!