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The 3 Best AP Computer Science Principles Review Books [2020-2021]

Article by Jane Newsom. Last Updated: Monday, Aug 24, 2020.

AP Computer Science Principles Overview

AP Computer Science Principles is an introductory course which instills the ideas and practice of computational thinking, and helps students understand how computing has changed the world. It’s meant to be the equivalent of a first semester introductory college computing course. It helps students develop effective communication and collaboration skills through group and individual problem solving. It’s recommended that students have a foundation in first year high school algebra, with understanding of linear functions.

We’ll cover the course, exams, and our picks for the best AP Computer Science Principles and Composition books, and Review Guides for test year 2021 below, but if you just can’t wait, here’s the short list:

Learning to think computationally about problems can be a tremendous boon in many fields in addition to computer science. Getting a head start on the study of introductory concepts is a great idea that can pay off in the long run. Whatever your motivation for studying AP Computer Science Principles, we’re here to help you succeed!

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Course Summary

A full Course Description for AP Computer Science Principles is available from collegeboard.org.

AP Computer Science Principles doesn’t have a single standard language, and leaves the choice largely up to the teacher. There are 7 “Big Ideas”, which are the core themes around which the AP Computer Science Principles course is built.

Big Idea 1: Creativity

Computing is a creative activity. Innovations which arise from computing combine creative and technical qualities to have broad impact. Students taking the course will learn to use the tools and techniques of computer science to create interesting and innovative artifacts.

Big Idea 2: Abstraction

Abstractions reduce information and detail to help focus on relevant concepts. This course uses abstraction to model the world and communicate with people and machines to solve problems.

Big Idea 3: Data and Information

Data and information facilitate the creation of knowledge. Computing empowers and enables new methods of information processing. Students will work with data using a variety of tools and techniques.

Big Idea 4: Algorithms

Algorithms are used to develop and express solutions to computational problems, and form one of the most fundamental aspects of computing. In the course, students will develop and express original algorithms to solve problems.

Big Idea 5: Programming

Programming enables problem solving, human expression and the creation of knowledge. AP Computer Science Principles introduces students to the concepts and and techniques used to write, develop, and use computer programs.

Big Idea 6: The Internet

The internet is pervasive in modern computing. Computer networks support communication and collaboration across the globe, and the course introduces students to the principles of networks cybersecurity.

Big Idea 7: Global Impact

Computing has come to influence the way people think, learn, work, and play around the world. Potential benefits and harmful effects of pervasive computing are examined in the course.

Exam Summary

Students taking the AP Computer Science Principles Exam are responsible for demonstrating knowledge of the above mentioned skills and abilities. The student’s knowledge is assessed through a 3 different types of assessments, including 2 performance tasks (projects) and an end of year exam.

Explore Performance Task

The Explore Performance Task examines the impact of computing. Students select a and investigate a single computing innovation in-depth. It accounts for 16% of the overall course grade. It requires a minimum of 8 hours of class time. Students will produce a computing artifact and a written response.

Create Performance Task

Students develop a program of their choosing, and are strongly encouraged to work in pairs with another student in the class. The performance task accounts for 24% of the final score. Students will produce the program code, a video of the program running, and a written response about the program and development.

End of Year Exam

The exam accounts for 60% of the final course score. The exam is all multiple choice, broken up into 2 sections and lasting 2 hours in total. There are 2 types of questions, Single select multiple choice and multi-select multiple choice. The breakdown of topic weights is as follows:

  • Abstraction - 19%
  • Data and Information - 18%
  • Algorithms - 20%
  • Programming - 20%
  • The internet - 13%
  • Global Impact - 10%

For exam dates, refer to The College Board AP Calendar.

Best AP Computer Science Principles Books

AP Computer Science Principles 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 Principles

5 Steps to a 5 AP Computer Science Principles
2nd Edition
by Julie Sway

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 Principles is our top recommendation for best AP Computer Science Principles 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
  • Proven strategies for each test section

With 5 Steps to a 5: AP Computer Science Principles, 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.

AP Computer Science Principles Crash Course

AP Computer Science Principles Crash Course
2018 Edition
by Jacqueline Corricelli

Pros: Focused material cuts out the fluff.
Cons: Few practice questions and full length tests.
Best For: Last minute review before the exam.
Our Rating: 4.5 / 5

AP Computer Science Principles Crash Course is a targeted review of the specific material you need to succeed on the exam. It cuts out all the fluff to get straight to the heart of the course content. The full list of features for this book include:

  • Targeted review of relevant exam topics and questions
  • Full length online practice exam
  • Expert test taking strategies and advice

If you’re looking for a complimentary book for assisting your studies throughout the course, consider one of the full-length review guides. On the other hand, if you’re in the final days leading up to your exam - this is a great last minute resource.

AP Computer Science Principles Student Solutions Manual

AP Computer Science Principles Student Solutions Manual
2018 Edition
by Leon Schram

Pros: Lots of practice questions.
Cons: Answers aren't detailed.
Best For: Drilling on questions leading up to the exam.
Our Rating: 3.0 / 5

AP Computer Science Principles Student Solutions Manual is a question and answer guide for students taking AP Computer Science Principles. It’s not a full-fledged review, but students can find some use in the practice questions. The answers aren’t particularly detailed, so some extra research may be required.

Wrapping Up

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 Principles 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 Recommendation5 Steps to a 5: AP Computer Science Principles
Top Pick For Course Supplement5 Steps to a 5: AP Computer Science Principles
Top Pick For Last Minute PrepAP Computer Science Principles Crash Course

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 Principles. 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 AP Computer Science Principles Crash Course is our best recommendation. It has a laser focus on the exam content and materials that will help you in the days leading up to the exam.

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 Principles resources available. Good luck, and study hard!

Sources and Further Reading

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