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  • Writer's pictureDina

Understanding AP Exams

As students receive their AP scores this July and August, it’s an opportune moment to discuss AP exams and understand them through the lens of college admissions. First, here are what your scores generally represent:

Thus, a general consensus is that any score of 3 or higher is worth reporting, since that is also the score required to pass an AP exam. However, keep in mind that each university has its own policies regarding minimum AP exam score required to obtain college credit, and this varies depending on each AP exam. For example, a school might require a 4 in AP Chinese but a 5 in AP Chemistry in order to give you college course and credit equivalent. This means that you won’t have to take the course again in college; yes, you can save a lot of your future self’s time and energy by studying hard and doing well on a single test in May! In addition, another factor to keep in mind is the score distribution. If you received a 3, for example, but that 3 is better than a vast majority of scores (i.e. most students received a 2 or 1), it may still be worth reporting your score on that AP exam.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind. AP exam scores are automatically sent to your teachers and colleges that you chose to include when you registered for the test. You can retake an AP test; following this logic, you can also take an AP test without taking the AP course. Use this information accordingly. I’ve had students who chose to self-study for AP Psych and take the AP Psych exam. I’ve also had students who were dissatisfied with their AP score and took the test again the following year, again, without taking the AP course again. Usually, the only factors are time and money.

One more thing is the idea that colleges are moving toward test optional, with some schools doing away with the SAT/ACT entirely. Namely, the UCs are not considering SAT/ACT scores, even if you try to send them! As mentioned before, it’s safe to assume that UCs will be looking at AP scores more carefully, especially since SAT Subject Tests have also been discontinued. Having high AP scores will be an important component of a highly competitive profile, in conjunction with the usual expectation of high GPA and course rigor.

Finally, don’t be afraid of taking AP courses and AP exams in 12th grade. Yes, it’s true that colleges won’t see your AP test results before they make their admissions decisions, but they will be able to see your course lineup, and course rigor is something that weakens for many students once they decide to “take it easy” in senior year. Colleges expect the same rigor, if not more, in 12th grade, and high AP scores will grant you more college credits, meaning it’s certainly possible for a student to show up to college and be a sophomore already!

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