The AP exams are now in full swing! Some regard it as the culmination of their high school studies and a reflection of their academic achievements, while others consider it as a stepping stone toward admission to prestigious universities. But, how truly important are AP test scores in college applications?
The pie chart below shows the various factors considered during the admissions process.
Taking into consideration certain test-optional or test-blind policies, ¾ of the factors are still controlled by the applicant.
This means that AP test scores are not the be-all and end-all of college applications. Since there are limited slots available for undergraduate freshmen, an applicant must truly stand out in order to have a fighting chance of getting accepted. As such, focusing on other “little” factors are more important than ever.
In the case of MIT, for example, they consider standardized test scores including AP scores to be an “important” factor but not more so than a student’s personal characteristics. In fact, among all the factors they evaluate during the admissions process, personal traits are the only factor considered “very important.” MIT’s review criteria are quite different.
[The importance of MIT application review elements]
New York University, on the other hand, attaches great importance to an applicant’s standardized test scores. A student’s grades must be at par with the prominence of the school, which is undeniably competitive. This year, they broke their own record for the number of freshman applications. However, the admission rate fell below 10%.
[The importance of NYU application review elements]
Despite the varying degrees of importance attached to a student’s AP test scores, it still remains a prime reflection of a student’s academic prowess. Good grades illustrate their ability to thrive in multi and interdisciplinary learning environments. It could also showcase their preparedness for their chosen field, especially if it is related to their major.
However, one must still remember that submitting test scores should be strategically done. Submitting unremarkable AP grades can very likely backfire. For example, if two similar applicants vie for a spot in the university, the admissions officers are more likely to offer a spot to the student with no AP scores at all than to admit one who submitted poor scores.
Remember that AP courses are designed according to college difficulty. So, students’ performance and grades in their AP classes are strong predictors of their college performance.
What is a good score on the AP exam? Each subject test is scored from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest. Generally, universities will accept the minimum passing score of 3 for credit exchange.
Source: College Board
There are two parts in the AP exam: multiple choice and short answer questions. Scores for each section are combined and converted into the 5-point system to ensure that the academic level of the student remains the same over the years.
Even though it may seem that there is little difference between a score of 5 and a minimum of 3 that is not actually the case. It is much easier to get a 3 than it is to get a 5. The table below shows the 2022 AP exam score distribution. It can be seen that there is a huge gap between the rate of 5 points and the rate of 3 points in many subjects. For example, among those who took Calculus BC, which is a popular subject among STEM students, only 41.2% were able to gain a score of 5.
Another way to think about it is like the difference between a test score of 100 and a score of 99. Although both are high scores, a score of 99 means that there are gaps in the student’s mastery of the subject.
In order to build a truly outstanding application, one must also be mindful about choosing which AP classes to take. It should be tailored to their chosen program, and it must be competitive enough to truly showcase their academic talents. For you to make the right decision, our consultants here at Enlighteens are highly knowledgeable in helping you pave your academic path.