Advanced Placement (APs) Courses and Tests: Everything You Need to Know

Q: What is the Advanced Placement (AP) program?
A: Advanced Placement (AP) is a program in the US and Canada created by the College Board which offers college-level curricula and examinations to high school students. American colleges and universities may grant placement and course credit to students who obtain high scores on the exams. The AP curriculum for each of the various subjects is created for the College Board by a panel of experts and college-level educators in that field of study. 

Q: Does every high school in the US offer every AP course? 
A: In short, no. High schools must receive approval from the College Board to teach AP courses. Some small high schools do not have the teaching staff or interested students to teach every AP class every year, and may rotate years when they teach certain AP courses. You should consult with the school, as some course catalogs may also be misleading if the course is offered every year or every other year. Note: If you are using the number of AP courses offered by a high school to "rank" the high school, stop! The number of AP courses offered at a particular high school does NOT mean it is better or worse than other schools. It may indicate relative strength of a high school's curricula, however many other factors contribute to this as well. 

Q: How many AP courses are there?
A: There are more than 30. See the list below:

Q: How many AP classes should I take? 
A: There is no definite formula for this. It depends on your academic interests, goals and motivations, and classes you have already taken and the grades received in those classes. Admissions officers at the most selective colleges want to see that the applicant is taking as many APs as possible that are available at the high school. A good progression includes one AP course in sophomore year, two to three in junior year, and five to six in senior year. This is considered a normal load of classes for applicants applying to these highly selective colleges. Some high schools don’t offer AP courses at all, or they may not be available in every discipline. We then encourage these students to take AP courses online. Other students may enroll in courses at a local community college as another option.

Q: Can I take an AP test even if I haven't taken an AP class?
A: Yes! You can take an AP course online even if your school does not offer it. There are also many, many test prep books if you choose to take a test without having taken the class. While it is much harder to prepare on your own than with a course, you may still take an independent test. We know students that never lay eyes on an AP classroom at their school, and score a 5 on the exam. However, this is the exception to the rule.

Q: What is the scoring of an AP exam?
A: AP tests are scored on a 1 to 5 scale as follows:

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

The multiple choice component of the exam is scored by computer, while the free response and essay portions are scored by trained Readers at the AP Reading each June. The scores on various components are weighted and combined into a raw Composite Score. The Chief Reader for each exam then decides on the grade cutoffs for that year's exam, which determine how the Composite Scores are converted into the final grades. During the process a number of reviews and statistical analyses are performed to ensure that the grading is reliable. The overall goal is for the grades to reflect an absolute scale of performance which can be compared from year to year.

Q: How do colleges use AP test scores?
A: Some colleges use AP test scores to exempt students from introductory coursework, others use them to place students in higher designated courses, and some do both. Each college's policy is different (see link below), but most require a minimum score of 3 or 4 to receive college credit. The most selective colleges tend to not accept AP credit as full credit. Think of AP classes and tests as a means to demonstrate your capability to admissions officers to be successful in college-level courses. 

Q: What are the different awards I could receive?
A: Depending on your AP test results and the number of APs you take, you may be eligible to receive various AP awards. See the list below: 

AP Scholar Award is granted to students who earn a grade of 3 or higher on three or more AP Exams.

AP Scholar with Honor is granted to students who earn an average grade of at least 3.25 on all AP Exams taken, with no grades below a 3 on four or more AP exams.

AP Scholar with Distinction is granted to students who earn an average grade of at least 3.5 on all AP Exams taken, with no grades below a 3 on five or more AP exams.

State AP Scholar is granted to one female and one male student in each state in the U.S. who earn a grade of at least 3 on the most AP Exams, and achieve the highest average grade (at least 3.5) on all AP Exams taken.

National AP Scholar is granted to students in the US who receive a grade of 4 or higher on eight or more AP exams.

You can learn more about Advanced Placement courses at the College Board website. Stil want to know more? Get in touch with us if you are trying to figure out how to select a high school or select your courses to make you more competitive when applying to college.