All one has to do is go to the test preparation section of any major bookstore to see what serious business it is. Books, DVDs, guides, games. There are classes and private tutors and online tutorials and forums galore. Testing has become such a crucial part of the high school experience; no wonder high school students are so stressed out.
There really is no one right way to prepare for any test, but there are strategies that students can use to save time, depending on the test. Studying for subjects is more straightforward than others. In math and science, it's all about learning the formulas and understanding the concepts. Students need to review their lessons over and over again and make sure that they understand not just that y=mx+b, but the logic behind that. It's definitely not easy, but at least it's less vague than studying for some exams in the arts and humanities.
The AP English Literature exam can seem like a total beast. How can anyone possibly prepare; read everything ever written? Of course not. In fact, a student who is well-versed in literary terminology and incredibly familiar with just a handful of classic novels will likely fare better on the exam than someone with a passing familiarity with a larger volume of literature. The trick is to understand the nature of the test itself.
For the multiple choice section, it's important to know fancy words like apostrophe (and not in terms of punctuation) as well as some crucial names, dates, and facts, but for the essay section, it's much more useful to very knowledgeable about a particular work of literature. Granted, this work should be part of the literary canon; The Scarlet Letter is better than The Devil Wears Prada. Having deep knowledge and insight into one or two great works of literature can get a student just as far in the essay section of the AP English Literature test as having knowledge about fifty works. Seriously.
That's not to say that knowing 50 great works of literature well isn't great. It is. The essay section will present a theme and ask a student to expand upon that theme using examples from a list of classic novels. If that student has Scarlet Letters quotes, Jane Eyre quotes and Hamlet quotes memorized and ready to use in support of a thesis statement, she'll be able to choose the work of literature that best relates to the prompt and be that much better prepared to write a 5-worthy essay.
However, in case the only Hamlet quotes the student happens to know are "to be or not to be", but she is intimately familiar with the works of Bronte, she should always choose to write about the work she knows best, even if she thinks writing about Shakespeare will make her seem smarter (it probably won't). Students tend to have better ideas about works of literature that they love, and those are the ones they should write about in essays, if they're given a chance. Plus, whatever deep and original thought a high school senior make think has about Hamlet has been explored to death in at least 100 college term papers, so she won't be winning any intellectual or creativity points there.