AP Exams: Everything You Need to Know

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High school students can find Advanced Placement (AP) exams a little intimidating. Most students know AP classes are demanding, introductory-level college courses and that colleges like to see AP classes on college applications. Beyond this basic information, they may not know much about AP courses or how to prepare for AP exams.

The AP program is run by the College Board, the organization that oversees the SAT exam. The College Board offers 38 AP courses, all of which introduce high school students to college-level classes, allowing students to demonstrate their mastery of a particular subject.

Advanced placement courses range from AP Art and Design to Physics and culminate in an AP exam, which is a three-hour standardized test. The following covers everything you need to know about AP exams.

Why Take an AP Exam?

Students have several reasons for taking AP exams. Perhaps the most important is that high scores on AP exams impress college application boards, which often offer college credit or advanced placement for students who excel on AP tests. As only some students take AP exams, those who do, stand out from the crowd.

On a more personal note, students may take AP exams to challenge themselves or explore a subject that sparks their interest. Students who have an existing understanding of or obtain outside support for an AP subject may opt to take the test without taking the course.

AP exams have another advantage, as they provide students with a taste of college-level academics. The student who successfully studies for and passes an AP test enters college more likely to have the skills needed to meet their academic goals.

What AP Exams Are Available?

AP exams fall into six academic disciplines:

While the College Board offers 38 different AP exams, the availability of AP courses varies from high school to high school. Some schools have the resources and ability to offer more AP exams than others, either due to budgetary considerations, staffing, or the availability of instructors willing and able to teach AP subjects. As a result, some students have access to more AP exams than others.

Colleges recognize this discrepancy. While AP exam results are important, college application boards consider what was available to students when evaluating their admission requests. Students will not be penalized for not taking AP exams unavailable through their school, although the admissions board will want evidence they took the most challenging courses possible.

What Do AP Exams Test?

AP exams test a student’s knowledge of AP course material and demonstrate how well a student would test on similar college-level introductory courses.

How Are AP Tests Scored?

AP exams are scored on a five-point system:

  • 1: No recommendation
  • 2: Possibly qualified
  • 3: Qualified
  • 4: Well qualified
  • 5: Extremely well qualified

Typically, colleges only grant credit or advanced placement for scores of 3 or higher, making it essential for students to invest time in test preparation.

What Is the AP Capstone Diploma?

In addition to other AP courses, students can enroll in AP Seminar and AP Research. AP Seminar is an interdisciplinary course that teaches academic research, critical thinking, and collaborative skills. Within the course framework, students apply these skills to topics of their choosing.

Students who take AP Research take a deep dive into an academic topic of interest to them, designing and conducting a year-long, research-based investigation culminating in a portfolio documenting their process. The course introduces students to college-level research.

Students who score 3 or higher in AP Seminar, AP Research, and four AP exams of their choosing are eligible for the AP Capstone Diploma. Earning an AP Capstone Diploma develops key academic skills and makes students stand out during the college application process.

How Do AP Exam Results Affect Your GPA?

AP exam results contribute to a student’s weighted GPA, a system used to reward students who take on challenging coursework. While standard high school classes are graded on a 4.0 GPA scale, AP classes are graded on a 5 point scale. It’s possible for a student who excels in AP exams to raise their GPA over 4.0. Such scores look very impressive on college applications, especially when students score two or more 5s on AP exams.

How Do You Earn College Credit with AP Exams?

Each school has its policies for earning college credit based on AP test results. Finding schools that will reward students for their AP coursework is important. If the AP course is accepted, students can skip introductory courses in that topic, save money on tuition costs, and possibly graduate early. Contact colleges your student is interested in and ask them if they offer credit for AP classes, and if so, ask what the requirements are for test scores and subject matter.

What Does Advanced Placement Mean?

While some colleges do not give college credit for high AP scores, they do take scores into account when determining which college class level a student will be assigned. For example, a student who scores a 4 on their AP Spanish Exam may not be able to skip college Spanish altogether, but they might be placed in a higher-level Spanish course. This is considered an “advanced placement.” The student gets to skip introductory classes such as Spanish 101 and ultimately complete their foreign language requirements sooner than a student who did not take the AP Spanish exam. As with college credit, it’s best to contact colleges and ask about their advanced placement policies.

How Do AP Exams Improve Your College Application?

AP exams are worth taking, even if your student’s college of choice does not offer credit or advanced placement. AP exam scores prove a student can learn advanced material and have mastered the academic skills needed to succeed in college.

Taking AP courses also furthers a student’s knowledge in their field of study, preparing them for their intended college major. Evidence that a student took a range of AP courses suggests they have an inquisitive mind and can study in a wide range of disciplines. College admission boards like to see such traits in potential students.

When Do You Take AP Exams?

AP examinations are typically held within a two-week period in early May. Check the exam schedule well in advance. If a student is taking multiple AP courses, they may have to take several exams in one day. Most schools administer AP exams on-site, but some students will need to visit designated exam centers to take AP exams.

How Do You Prepare for AP Exams?

While the AP course is meant to prepare a student for the exam, additional preparation is often needed. Online resources, courses, or private tutoring can be invaluable in helping a student do their best.

If your student needs help preparing for AP Exams, contact Revolution Prep. Our tutors are subject matter experts who teach students how to prepare for AP tests. Tutors help students master difficult concepts, improving their coursework while teaching the exam preparation and study skills needed to pass AP exams and succeed throughout their college education.

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