AP Exams: Everything You Need to Know

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So you’ve heard of AP Exams – you know they’re hard, you know that colleges like them, but what else do you need to know? Taken every year in May, AP Exams help students show their mastery of a particular subject to their target colleges. Most of the time, the exams are taken after completing an AP class in school (if a student is home-schooled or at a school that does not offer AP classes, you can still sign up for exams directly with AP Services), and they act as an intensive culmination of studies meant to simulate work at the college level. So, essentially, AP Exams are 3-hour standardized tests on one particular subject that are meant to challenge students.

Why Take an AP Exam?

AP (short for “Advanced Placement”) exams highlight a student’s particular skill in one of the 38 subjects offered. Having APs on a student’s resume shows a willingness to go above and beyond – to challenge yourself at a higher level than a typical high school course – which can strengthen a student’s overall application, or especially to a particular program if the focus of their major is in this area. Only a small percentage of students actually take these tests, putting those who do in an elite category.

What Does “Advanced Placement” Mean?

Most colleges in the United States offer college credit or placement out of intro classes for those students who score a 3 or higher on their AP exams. That’s a pretty big reward! Not only does this allow a student to move into upper-level courses more quickly, but it may even allow students to graduate faster, saving them time and money.

What Can I Expect at the AP Exam?

Each of the exams is unique but almost all have a few things in common. The first part of the exam consists of multiple-choice questions with four or five answer options. This section is scored on the number of questions answered correctly. The second section includes free-response questions that require a student to generate their own answers. This can be an essay, a longer solution to a problem, or a spoken response.

How Are AP Tests Scored?

Scoring is a weighted combination of a student’s scores on each of the two sections. The AP Score is based on a 5-point scale:

5 = extremely well qualified
4 = well qualified
3 = qualified
2 = possibly qualified
1 = no recommendation
Colleges typically grant credit or advanced placement for scores of 3 and above, although this varies from school to school. Individual AP exams have some differences in their scoring but this scale remains the same on all tests.

How Should I Prepare?

Preparation for these difficult tests is a must. Online resources or private tutoring can be invaluable in helping a student do their best, but no matter your plan, don’t underestimate the mastery required to perform well on these college-level exams. These tests are only offered once a year. You only get one shot to do well. So make sure you walk in on test day feeling confident and prepared.

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