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Last Updated: April 14, 2021

Advanced Placement Exams: The Way to a Better College Life

Advanced Placement exams are exams taken by the student in their high school on subjects that are thematically similar to the course they choose to study after high school. This exam provides students with an upper hand in college admissions giving them a chance to prove that they are able to work on college-level academic works and also giving them a chance to lower their college tuition fee by giving the tests for a nominal fee while in high school.

While preparing for college education, the grades in high school exams matter. However, if one has cleared the Advanced Placement exams, they earn that extra bit which increases the chances of doing their preferred academic course in the college of their choice, which can open up new opportunities in their future academic and professional lives. Concession in the college fee is the proverbial icing on the cake. This is where the Advanced Placement or AP exams become useful. These are held over a period of two weeks every year in the month of May after students have completed their AP courses taken up at the high school. In fact, these courses help the students to become familiar with the college-level work in high school itself, which is definitely an advantage.

Registering for AP Exam

Students can register for the AP courses or directly for the exam by logging into their College Board mail ID using their College Board username and password. It has to be noted that all 38 courses will not be offered in most schools and hence students will have to consult their AP Coordinator to receive details pertaining to their school. In case the school does not have an AP Coordinator they must call the AP Services to contact the AP Coordinator near them.

If the school the student is studying in requires the student to indicate their exam registration, they will see a Register button in their class section view in “My AP” after they join their class sections. If the button is not visible, it means that their school is automatically ordering them an exam.

Accommodation for Disabled Students

If the student has a documented disability, they may be able to receive an exam accommodation. There is a wide range of accommodations available, including extended time, large-type exams, a written copy of spoken test instructions, and permission to use a braille device, computer, or magnifying device.

Courses Offered in AP and its Content

The Advanced Placement program consists of 38 courses that can be taken by the students all ranging from Biology to Music Theory. Most schools do not offer all the subjects provided in the program and hence students have to cross-check the course details with their school before deciding on the subject they should take up.

The basic approach toward the courses remains the same in the case of every subject. Students need to explore the subject, understand and analyze its basic principles and content, and have a detailed look at different perspectives on what they have explored and analyzed. Finally, they need to synthesize the ideas into a comprehensive and lucid content of their own. In the case of research or seminar, students may have to spend an entire year. After choosing a topic or a problem, they will have to explore its various aspects, including scope and limitations. Thereafter, they should design their research accordingly.

Duration and Format of AP Exam

  1. Presently, AP exams are conducted for 38 subjects. A student has to opt for any one of his or her choices.
  2. Different exams have different durations. Generally, they last between 2 to 3 hours.
  3. The exam is divided into two sections, viz., multiple-choice and essay or free-response types. In the multiple-choice section, students have to mark with a pencil one answer out of the 4 or 5 options provided in the answer sheet.
  4. In the second section, students have to write their own answers. Here, they may be required to write an essay or provide a solution(s) to a given problem(s). For this, they will be provided with an exam booklet.
  5. There is no negative marking for wrong answers or unanswered questions in the multiple-choice section.
  6. However, in the case of some exams, like Chinese Language & Culture and Japanese Language and Culture students will be using a computer instead of paper or booklet.
  7. In the case of Art & Design, students will have to submit portfolios of their works for review. These works may be uploaded in digital forms or may be sent by mail as physical artworks, as required by the examination authorities.

How many AP Courses can a Student Take?

There is no limit to the number of courses a student can take though students generally take around 3 AP courses in their high school. The count for the number of courses depends upon the student and the amount of time they can indulge in studying for their college while maintaining their GPA and extracurricular activities in school. Students might also have to take ACT/SAT tests and prepare for them during the same duration and taking up more AP classes might hurt the chances of maintaining the grades in high school.

The only purpose of having an AP score during college admission is to prove that the student is capable of doing intro-level courses in college while they are still in high school. This point is carried across to the admission officers with even one AP course with a decent grade. Taking up multiple AP courses is another way in which students reduce their college expenditure but overdoing it can result in receiving lower GPAs and other points that might make the student lose their admission to the college or university of their choice.

If the student is doing the AP Capstone Diploma program, they will be required to do 4 AP courses on top of the 2 courses available in the program, and this spans across the duration of 2 years. Apart from this scenario, 3 is the ideal number of courses a student must take if they are sure that they can balance their high school grades along with the AP courses.

When Should Students take AP Courses?

Students can start choosing their AP courses from their Freshman year in school. In order to get a head-start, some students take less demanding courses like the language courses in languages they are already familiar with so that they are not burdened by the educational load but can also scrape a good grade in the course. This may also be the time to take up courses like Environmental Science or Psychology since these courses demand lesser than courses like Calculus AB.

By the time the student is in their Sophomore year, they will have an idea of how to balance AP courses and their academic life in high school providing them the opportunity to take up to 3 AP courses. It is only in the Junior year that students think about taking core courses due to the added advantage they receive after learning similar subjects in their high school syllabus. High school academic-related content may increase in content by now and students should always play safe by choosing not more than 2 AP courses this year.

In their Senior year, students have to take up core AP courses and can take 2 or more courses depending upon the time it will leave them for doing college admissions along with senior year academic content. The sole concern of students must be to perform well in their high school exams since having an AP grade is an advantage but is not mandatory. Having a high AP grade with a low high school grade does not, ultimately, sit well in the college applications.

Preparing for AP Exams

Since AP exams are held every year in the month of May, students need to do the planning long before that. They should contact their school AP Coordinator for tips and tools in this regard. In case their school does not have an AP coordinator, they should contact the AP Services before March 1 to have information regarding the nearest placed AP Coordinators. The College Board website has all the information on how to contact AP Services.

Some Tips for AP Preparation

Advantages of AP Exam Credits

Some universities in the USA and twenty other countries give credits on the basis of AP test scores. However, policies vary from institution to institution. If the grades are high enough one may be charged a lower tuition fee. At the college, the scores are graded from 1 to 5 points. While the test score of 5 indicates that the student has qualified with the highest grades in the AP exams, the score of 1 indicates that the student has not been able to make the grade and may not be recommended to any college or university.

  1. A word of caution, though. While selecting students for various courses or allowing concessional fees, it is not mandatory for universities to consider AP test grades. According to a study, 38% of top American universities cap the total amount of AP credits that students can receive. 75% of schools do not give credit for at least one AP subject, and 9 schools do not give credit for any AP exam. The study concludes that this policy of not giving credits delays the graduation of the students and increases their cost of education.
  2. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been changes in the assessment processes. Already, in 2020, the conducting of courses and taking exams have undergone changes. There is every possibility that for future exams too many changes may be implemented, depending upon the pandemic situation. However, students are advised to access updates provided on college websites or the AP Services. The School AP Coordinator will be the right person to approach this matter.

Understanding Advanced Placement

Courses Offered in AP