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The Best AP Computer Science Review Books of 2016

Are you a bit worried about the coming AP Computer Science test? Well don’t worry, we’re here to help you find which AP Computer Science review book is right for you! Supplementing your study with a review book can help make sure you are focusing on all of the right content that will be on the exam. Statistics show that most students are unprepared for the test, more than one quarter of students get a 1 on this exam! Yikes!

So what’s the best book to use to prepare for the exam? There aren’t many good choices to be honest, but when you look for test prep books, here are some things to pay attention to:

  • Breadth and scope of the book
  • Organization
  • Validity of sample questions and answers given
  • Style of the sample questions (computational versus conceptual)
  • Additional resources (online resources, apps) provided

There are some recent changes that have been made to the test. Before the 2014-2015 school year, the free-response section of the exam would include some questions that would test you on thecontentof case studies and labs in class (the Magpie, Elevens, and Picture labs). Now, you are asked to respond to questions related toconceptsdeveloped in those labs.

I’m sure you covered a lot of topics in class, but here’s a handy brief run-through from College Board of most of the topics that could be on the test. For a complete list, click here and review pages 8-10.

AP Computer Science

  • Program design (data abstraction, encapsulation, class hierarchies, etc.)
  • Class design and implementation
  • Programming constructs, declarations, console output
  • Java library classes
  • Program Analysis (testing, debugging, error handling, limits of finite representations, etc.)
  • Standard data structures (classes, data types, arrays, etc.)
  • Standard algorithms (searching, sorting, etc.)
  • Major hardware components, system software, networks
  • Responsible use of computer systems (privacy, intellectual property, ethics, etc.)

Which book is best for you depends on if you are cramming or have lots of time to study. Are you one of those students who is worried about getting a 1 or are you trying to make a 4 into a 5? You might just need plenty of sample problems, since you need to get used to a computer science test-taking format. What’s most important for your study? Keep all this mind because these books often have different goals in mind.

Here’s the rundown for 7 titles:

Barron’s AP Computer Science, 7th Edition (2015)

The good thing is this massive 504-page test prep book has been updated since the aforementioned changes had been made to the AP Computer Science A exam. One of the most recent changes is the addition of the emphasis of two-dimensional arrays in this book, which reflects the recent change in 2015 of the AP Computer Science A test. The labs have been updated too (no inclusion of marine biology!). The book is written at a level that will be accessible to even the struggling students, and the questions in the book are written much like the actual exam.

To summarize, the good aspects of this book:

  • Diagnostic test
  • 3 practice tests
  • One extra free online test
  • Mostly updated

Some issues:

  • The online test still uses GridWorld (outdated)

Almost does everything it needs to do!


Be Prepared for the AP Computer Science Exam in Java, (2014)

Aw yeah! This 352-page book’s selling point is its inclusion of five complete practice exams! Given the fact that the free-response questions are difficult to self-evaluate, it’s great that this book includes suggestions and sample code for 20 labs. Lots of material to go by. The book also is updated to include the new labs and mentions the discontinued case studies.

The author of the book, Maria Litvin, is an AP Computer Science exam reader, a consultant for The College Board, and a teacher of computer science and as such comes highly recommended by teachers. This text also gives great hints about test-taking.


  • 5 full-length practice exams


  • Could be a bit more in-depth

A solid choice too!


250 Multiple-Choice Computer Science Questions in Java (2008)

This may seem like an odd-ball choice, but for more advanced students, it may be what they’re looking for. The author of this test prep book is the same as the Be Prepared for the AP Computer Science Exam in Java that we just reviewed, which tells you it probably is quite good.

This 192-page book includes computer science competition questions from the Continental Mathematics League (CML) from 1999 to 2008. The utility of this book is simply in that the scope of the questions is the same as the AP Computer Science, so this is merely represents a collection of challenge AP Computer Science questions.


  • 250 questions represents 10 CML competitions (25 questions per competition)


  • Might be too much. This is heavyweight practice for the exam (ONLY recommended for students who are already quite strong)

It’s up to you!


Cracking the AP Computer Science A & AB Exams, (2006-2007)

2006… Long time ago, so already you know that to take the content here with a grain of salt. Strangely enough, there is an updated version coming out next year (2017). Maybe it will be great? To be honest, it provides a great review of computer science topics, and gives good advice on test-taking, but the

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actual test has simply changed too much since 2006.

Here’s what you want to know:

  • Two full-length practice tests (although one is for AB, so obsolete)

Too old to take seriously…


Java Software Solutions for AP Computer Science (2010)

Again, one of the challenges you’ll find with these AP Computer Science test prep books is highlighted by this text also, it’s from 2010, which is simply too old to be super relevant for the current AP Computer Science exam. That being said, let’s take a closer look at this whopping 672-page book that could double as a part of your weight-training regime. This book has been taken from the best-selling series Java Software Solutions and pared down to suit the content of AP Computer Science, but falls short of the mark. It’s written in a bizarre, stilted manner and not the kind of book you want to gamble your exam score on. The AP-related material seems begrudgingly pushed to the end of the book and the questions are not representative of the content of the AP test.



5 Steps to a 5 AP Computer Science (2005)

Another old one! But this 352-page book would have actually been quite wonderful when it came out, because the content is spot on (for 2005). It includes advice from students who got a 5 on the exam and different study plans for students who have one year, one semester, or six weeks to study. And, surprisingly, in 2005 they had the foresight to provide access to useful online resources. The two authors have taught and read AP Computer Science.

Here’s what the book has:

  • Diagnostic test
  • Four practice exams (but only two for AP Computer Science A, and two for AB)

It would be a great book if it were 10 years ago!


Multiple Choice AP Computer Science Examination (DS-Marketing 2015)

This 416-page book is with the times! It has been updated to take into account the 2015 changes to the AP Computer Science exam. Each of the 17 sections of the book is followed by 12 review questions, which means you get 204 review questions. That’s good as some books, like Cracking the AP Computer Science, by contrast sometimes only have a few problems per section. The more advanced student will be pleased to hear about this book’s “snooker” questions, which are meant to be tricky even for those who think they know it all! The author, Leon Schram, is an AP Computer Science teacher and former member of the AP Computer Science Test Development Committee. He has been a reader for the exam for 10 years! He’s an inside man!

To summarize, the book contains:

  • 3 full-length practice exams
  • A solution manual

Quite good, but hard to find!


So which one is best?

In general, however, Barron’s textbook and the Be Prepared textbook are good enough for most students needs. They are up to date, and provide plenty of test material. Barron’s content is more comprehensive than Be Prepared, but neither of them will fail you.

The content of these books is not the best of the bunch, however, the title for best quality book surprisingly goes to the semi-obscure D&S Marketing book Multiple Choice AP Computer Science Examination. The virtues of this book are the author, who is an extremely reliable source for your test prep; and the content of the book, which is written quite well. This might be the best book out there for you, but getting the 2015 edition is perplexingly difficult. Don’t forget to get the solutions manual too!

If you’re short on time, you probably won’t get this book delivered quickly. Barron’s is super easy to find, which is why most people will recommend it as #1. Plus, it has so many practice tests.

Final Verdict:

Earnestly tries to update information Practice tests could be a bit refined (and updated!) Extra free online test
5 full-length practice exams Not so in-depth
Challenging questions Not at all for struggling students
Good computer science content Outdated
Derived from a good Java series Lacks focus on AP Computer Science test
Great content! Well written! Outdated Online resources
“Snooker” questions can engage advanced students too Could use more practice exams Comes with a solution manual

The best AP Computer Science review book of 2016 is the Multiple Choice AP Computer Science Examination with the solutions manual if you can get your hands on the 2015 edition (do not buy the 2013 edition, it is NOT up-to-date). However, due to the difficulty in acquiring this title, I recommend you go with Barron’s AP Computer Science, 2015 edition. Good luck!

Have a great review book that’s not on our list? Let us know!

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Category: Review

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