The Role of Advanced Placement Courses and Exams (2023)

Advanced Placement, or AP, classes provide students with an opportunity to complete college-level work and earn college credit while still in high school.

"We're not going to make it all."

When Christine Weatherby started teaching AP EnglishChicago East Central HighschoolIn Indiana, students feared they would not be able to handle a class in which the readings of Plato reachedAllegory of a Caveto the script ofMatrix. The course was unlike anything his Black and Hispanic students from low-income backgrounds had taken. But Weatherby backed away. "Who told you you couldn't do that?" required. Well, says Weatherby, aAP Teacher of the Year, the students struggle and succeed. “It exposes them to ideas and gets them to express themselves. They're not used to that."

What are AP classes?

The AP program was not designed for students like Weatherby. Instead, the program was created in 1952 to enroll academically advanced students in elite schools and prepare them for college. However, over the years AP has changed and expanded to reach 2.8 million students per year.

(Video) Learning From The Advanced Placement Tests | Intellections

Operated by a non-profit organization calleduniversity council, which also offers the SAT, the AP program offers year-round instruction taught by high school teachers. The College Board outlines the material for each course and"Authorized" Classesto ensure teachers know what material to cover. AP classes with identical names at different schools vary as teachers choose readings, projects, and other assignments. In general, however, AP classes are more consistent across schools than other high school classes. This is because the College Board creates and administers a standardized AP exam at the end of the school year and grades it on a 1 to 5 scale. Taking the AP exam is not required to pass the class, but students do take the exam because those who achieve a 3 or higher on an AP exam can qualify for college credit at most universities . In theory, children who take AP English at East Chicago High School learn similar material to students at the top high schools in the country.

a sign of severity

studies(many self-funded by the College Board) found that AP students were more likely to attend college, achieve higher college grades, and graduate compared to students not taking AP courses and exams. It's important to remember thatResearch not funded by the College Boardgave more mixed results. Some studies have found that students who take AP perform better academically, but when the studies control for important variables such as socioeconomic status, the association between AP grades and college achievement is not as strong. TOResearch report of the University Council 2009found that even if students pass the AP class but fail the AP exam, they are more likely to attend more selective colleges and return for their sophomore year. Students who apply to a select college get an extra boost in passing AP classes, since most schools and colleges weight grades from AP classes so that an A in a regular chemistry class can earn the student a 4.0 , but an A in Chemistry from AP counts as a 5.0 in calculating that student's GPA. It's important to note that none of the studies, regardless of who funds or conducts them, can show that participation in the AP program leads to academic success, only that the two correlate.

Aside from the stats, AP proponents say the class requirements prepare students for the work they will do in college and give them the opportunity to study subjects like macroeconomics and psychology that are not included in the curriculum.

Over the years, AP has expanded its reach to more colleges and a wider range of students as more jobs require college and more students want to leave. And some states have mandated that all high schools offer at least one AP class. Today,about 75 percentof US high schools offer at least one of the38 AP classesaccessible. Each year, AP administers more than 5 million AP exams.

(Video) Everything You Need to Know About AP Classes and Exams

an equity issue

The College Board promotes AP classes as a way to make high schools more equitable because the classes offer students from impoverished communities the same challenging job opportunities as those in affluent areas. AP classes in math, science, and especially computer science are attracting a growing variety of students to study STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects. The College Board says students who take AP Computer Science Principles are more than three times as likely to study computer science in college. But when schools offer AP classes, they take resources away from other classes. As a result, AP classes can have the best teachers while having fewer students, and high school ends without being able to offer other supports, such as private tuition, that can benefit non-AP students.

In addition, there can be inequalities about which classes schools offer and for which students. Some schools offer one or two AP classes, others have dozens. Some schools restrict who can attend AP courses by requiring undergraduate courses, GPA requirements, teacher or counselor recommendations, or other restrictive factors that may disproportionately cause people of color or from low-income families to miss the course, class, or fail the AP exam. Similarly, the nearly $100 fee for each AP exam can result in eligible students being billed. Some schools pay AP exam fees to all students, others offer fee waivers to students from low-income families, but many offer no financial assistance. (Individual students canApply for tax exemptionfrom school.)

As more Black and Hispanic students enroll in AP courses, there are gaps in pass rates. In general, about 60 percent of students who take an AP exam earn one3 or higher, Butfor black students it's half, about 30 percent. In New York City, which made great efforts to get more children to take AP a few years ago, just over half of all high school students took an APPassed AP test in 2019, but among black students, only about 26 percent did.

"Just offering [AP] classes doesn't give access," explains Kristin Klopfenstein, who doesn't have oneindependent research on the AP programand now he is director ofColorado Assessment and Action Laboratory. “Access means you have to really support students to be successful in this class.” She likens the distinction to “just throwing a kid in the pool and telling them to swim and telling them to swim to teach". various programs,including one administered by the College Board, now try to prepare younger kids to take and pass AP classes in high school.

(Video) The Most USEFUL AP Classes

The (sometimes broken) promise of college credit

Achieving a score of 3 or higher on an AP exam does not guarantee a student receiving college credit. It depends on the individual faculties, and on the individual departments within the faculties, says Klopfenstein, and there is no central body to find out who accepts what. And while the college credits are good, most students won't earn enough AP credits to significantly reduce the time or money it takes to earn a bachelor's degree. A student planning to attend a public state university may be better serveddual coursesat a local community college,as long as these academic achievements are credited.

The stress of completing AP courses and AP exams

The fact that AP classes require a lot of hard work, culminating in a challenging and crucial exam, is part of their appeal. But there's a downside, critics say: teenage stress and anxiety. In many high schools, what was once a way for students to challenge themselves and experience college-level courses has turned into a relentless rush to take as many AP courses as possible. This level of pressure is not suitable for everyone,It's also not backed by research. Likestudy foundthat taking AP courses improves a student's college grades, but that the benefits are offset at five AP courses—taking eight or 10 AP courses does not further improve a student's grades. Instead manyExperts now believe, taking a large amount of AP contributes to stress. This raised concerns even among AP's top promoters. In 2018, College Board President David Coleman said that studentsmay not take more than five AP classes in high school. "There is no evidence that overloading your schedule with advanced courses will get you anywhere," Coleman said in his speech. However, due to grade weighting, GPAs are inflated, making college admission increasingly competitive.

"[Teenagers] need to think about what's feasible," says Denise Pope, founder ofchallenge success, a program that promotes balance in the lives of students. He is particularly concerned that many children miss out on sleep when faced with competitive pressures.

Some schools have policies in place to protect students. Alice Lian, a senior at Brooklyn Tech in New York, says her school has homework limits, which helps, but the AP exam adds to the pressure.

(Video) My AP Exam Study Routine for 2021 | Are APs worth it?

South Florida College of Education's Elizabeth Shaunessy-Dedrick and Shannon Saldo examine how AP students cope with stress. Parents may instinctively advise their children to reduce their commitments, but Shaunessy-Dedrick says, "Children who participate in a wide range of extracurricular activities actually do very well." Instead, the best option might be to change student schedules balance by slightly reducing AP classes and maintaining extracurricular activities.

where to look

A good AP class, like any honors or challenging class, should do more than have students read and regurgitate a book through endless tests and exams. Classes must be academically challenging in many ways: students must engage in intellectually challenging discussions, analysis of ideas and materials, and critical thinking. At the end of the year, the student should be able to demonstrate mastery of the subject. A group of expertsrecently writtenthat advanced science education should teach students how scientists work, include the skills and general concepts needed for scientific inquiry, and student-led experiments.

This sort of approach differs from what the AP did for much of its history, when critics condemned courses that prioritized memorization over comprehension. The College Board in 2012 beganRedefine your teachingto change it Two years later, he launched the AP Capstone program, in which students conduct independent research projects and give presentations on them. More than 300 colleges and universities.Grant student creditfor students who have successfully completed the AP Capstone.

Questions to ask

  • Which AP are offered at this school and in which classes?
  • What are the requirements for students to enroll in AP classes at this school?
  • Who teaches the AP class(es)?
  • How does the AP class reflect the interests and concerns of students in this community?
  • What is the AP exam pass rate for students in these grades?
  • What AP classes and how many does my child take?
  • Will the college my child expect to attend be recognized for passing the AP exams?

Main Conclusions

For parents:

  • Several programs prepare high school and even elementary school students for the demands of AP teaching. Check if your district offers any of these.
  • Before you decide whether to take AP classes, and if so, which ones, talk to your child about their goals and priorities.
  • Talk to your child about how to balance school and extracurricular activities.
  • Make sure advanced academic studies that your child may be interested in are accessible to them.

For teachers:

  • How can you approach the material while helping students learn the organization, time management, and social-emotional skills they need to be successful?
  • Although the AP exam is a nationally standardized test, certain reading, assignments, and topics can be customized to suit students' interests. How can you provide materials that motivate your students while preparing them for the AP exam?

For admins:

  • To promote true equity, AP classes must be open to a variety of students and provide all students with a realistic chance of success.
  • Many students need extra encouragement and help to cope with their workload. What academic, social-emotional and competency-based support can the school offer to all students?
  • AP classes require strong teachers and additional resources, so principals must assess whether they are making the best use of that time, effort, and money.

This article is part of ourSerie Transforming High School, a collection of stories, videos and podcasts exploring practices that prepare students for success in college and beyond.



What is the purpose of the advanced placement exam? ›

AP Exams are standardized exams designed to measure how well you've mastered the content and skills of a specific AP course. Most AP courses have an end-of-year exam, but a few courses have different ways to assess what you've learned—for example, AP Art and Design students submit a portfolio of work for scoring.

What is the best description of an advanced placement courses? ›

Advanced Placement Courses

AP® enables students to pursue college-level studies while still in high school. Through more than 30 courses, each culminating in a rigorous exam, AP provides willing and academically prepared students with the opportunity to earn college credit and/or advanced placement.

What are the 6 tips to succeed on the AP exam? ›

High school can be a balancing act.
Utilize resources available to you: preparation is key.
  • Attend AP Daily: Live Review Sessions.
  • View upcoming assignments and track your progress in AP Classroom.
  • Connect with your peers and support each other along the way.
Mar 14, 2022

Is 4 aps enough? ›

Aim for four to eight AP exams in your junior and senior years. For competitive Ivy League schools, admission officers also want to see AP courses for core subject areas and additional courses. If possible, aim to pass about seven to 12 AP exams if applying to these highly selective schools.

How important are AP classes for college? ›

AP classes in core subjects such as calculus, physics, and English language and composition might be considered more valuable in admissions reviews than electives such as art history or psychology. The exams might not be "easier," but the course content is considered less fundamental to college preparation.

What is probably the most important benefit of taking an AP course? ›

Strengthens your college application

Even less selective schools see the value in a student's efforts to challenge themselves by taking AP courses. Doing well in these classes shows admissions offices that you're ready for college level coursework.

What does advanced placement mean in college? ›

These could be introductory courses required in your major, or core courses that the college requires all its students to take. Letting you skip these courses (so you can go right into advanced courses) is called granting you advanced placement.

What is advanced placement in education? ›

The AP Program provides incentives for public high schools in California to provide access to rigorous, college-level courses for interested and prepared students. With such programs, students may pursue college-level work while still in secondary school and receive college credit, advanced academic standing, or both.

How do you take advanced placement exams? ›

You'll need to join your class section online in order to register for the exam. Your school's AP coordinator will order your exam materials and collect all fees. The deadline to register for exams is in the fall, but specific deadlines may vary by school—be sure to check with your teacher or AP coordinator.

What is the easiest AP to pass? ›

Top 10 Easiest AP Classes by Exam Pass Rate
  • Physics C: Mechanics. 84.3% 41.6%
  • Calculus BC. 81.6% 44.6%
  • Spanish Literature. 75.1% 17.6%
  • Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism. 74.4% 40.4%
  • Physics 2. 73.3% 14.0%
  • Computer Science Principles. 71.6% 10.9%
  • Psychology. 71.3% 22.4%
  • Computer Science A. 70.4% 25.6%

Is a 70% a 5 on the AP exam? ›

Usually, a 70 to 75 percent out of 100 translates to a 5. However, there are some exams that are exceptions to this rule of thumb. The AP Grades that are reported to students, high schools, colleges, and universities in July are on AP's five-point scale: 5: Extremely well qualified.

What is considered the hardest AP? ›

AP Physics 1 is considered one of the hardest AP classes, covering topics like Newtonian mechanics and electrical charge and force. Students also spend about 25% of their class time performing college-level lab experiments and writing reports.

How many APs is good for Harvard? ›

Going up the selectivity chain, the average at Harvard is eight AP classes. To be competitive at some of the most highly selective colleges in the country, 8-12 AP courses may be the sweet spot amount, assuming the student can handle that level of rigor.

How many APs is too little? ›

Take as many as you can handle without spreading yourself thin, and make sure you will have time to study for the ACT or SAT this year. An Ivy League hopeful might take 3 to 5 AP classes, while if you're aiming for less-selective schools, 2 to 4 would be enough.

How many APs do you need to get into Harvard? ›

Incoming students who have taken AP exams need a total of 32 credits to be eligible for Advanced Standing. Credits are earned by scoring 5 on a minimum of four AP exams. Harvard confers 4 or 8 credits for eac eligible AP exam depending on whether the exam covers one semester or one full year's worth of material.

What are the pros and cons of AP classes? ›

Pros of AP Classes
  • You may receive college credit.
  • The rigor better prepares you for college.
  • Weighted grades can boost your GPA.
  • Coursework is time-consuming.
  • Exams are expensive.
  • Many selective schools don't take AP credit.
Nov 10, 2020

What happens if you take an AP class but not the exam? ›

If you don't take an exam, you won't face any real consequences. Some AP teachers offer extra credit to incentivize students to take the exam, so you may miss out on that. But otherwise, there will be no issues.

Do colleges care if you don't take AP classes? ›

While colleges definitely seek out students whose transcripts are peppered with plenty of Advanced Placement courses, the AP exam scores are unlikely to have a significant impact on your odds of admission. However, that doesn't mean you should skip the AP classes in favor of a less rigorous course of study.

What are at least 3 reasons AP classes are beneficial? ›

Save time and money in college.

Most colleges and universities nationwide offer college credit, advanced placement, or both for qualifying AP Exam scores. This can mean: Fulfilling graduation requirements early. Being able to skip introductory courses or required general-education courses.

What skills do AP classes give you? ›

Develop College Skills

Time management, critical thinking, scholarly writing—AP courses and exams help you hone the skills you'll need in college and career.

How hard are advanced placement courses? ›

AP classes can be challenging, but that doesn't mean you're not up to the task. If you're willing to work hard and if you're prepared academically, you should be able to succeed in an AP course. And remember, students benefit from taking AP courses and exams, no matter their score.

How many advanced placement exams are there? ›

There are 38 AP subject exams. Want to take an exam for a course not offered at your high school? Talk to your guidance counselor about your registration and study options.

What are three ways to prepare for the Advanced Placement examination? ›

How to Study for the AP Exams
  1. Make a study schedule.
  2. Identify areas of focus.
  3. Use outside resources.
  4. Answer practice questions and take practice tests.
Mar 1, 2022

Is AP necessary for college? ›

While there is no college in the country that outwardly states a requirement for AP courses, students are well aware that these higher-level courses, which indicate an ability to successfully complete college-level work, are viewed most favorably by college admission staff.

What are the top 5 hardest AP tests? ›

United States History, Biology, English Literature, Calculus BC, Physics C, and Chemistry are often named as the hardest AP classes and tests.

What AP class is most popular? ›

AP English Language and Composition is by far the most popular AP test, with over half a million students taking the exam in 2021.

What is the hardest AP to self-study? ›

[8] AP Chemistry is rated as the hardest of all AP classes if you're self-studying, at 8.3 / 10.

What GPA is a C+ in an AP class? ›

C+ GPA. A C+ letter grade is equivalent to a 2.3 GPA, or Grade Point Average, on a 4.0 GPA scale, and a percentage grade of 77–79.

What GPA is a 95 in an AP class? ›

What Is a Weighted GPA?
Letter GradePercentageAP/IB GPA
8 more rows
Feb 17, 2021

What is the most failed course in high school? ›

Algebra is the single most failed course in high school, the most failed course in community college, and, along with English language for nonnative speakers, the single biggest academic reason that community colleges have a high dropout rate.

What is the lowest possible AP score? ›

AP® Score of 1

Since a 1 is the lowest score that you can get on an AP® exam, this is not desirable. Thankfully, not many students leave the exam with a 1 unless complications arise during the test and they need to leave, or they are just trying to take the exam without knowing any of the material.

What is the lowest passing AP class? ›

Physics 1 has the lowest pass rate of any AP exam (42.1%) along with one of the lowest percentages of students scoring a 5 (just 6.9%). Physics 1 is an algebra-based physics class that explores topics such as Newtonian mechanics, simple circuits, and mechanical waves.

Do colleges prefer AP or honors? ›

Colleges like them both. Both honors and AP courses are rigorous courses that most high schools weight more heavily on your transcript. AP courses, however, culminate in the AP Exam. Good AP scores show colleges you are ready to succeed at college-level work and can even earn you college credits.

Is 7 APs enough for Ivy League? ›

Ivy League

To be a competitive candidate for admission, you will need to take at least 8 AP® classes, more if you can. It is a good idea to take 1 AP® course in each of the following core disciplines: English, Foreign Language, History, Math, and Science to impress the admissions officers.

How many APs do you need for stanford? ›

How many AP classes should you take? Students accepted to a top 10 school like Stanford typically complete between 8 to 12, but it's not uncommon for a student to have taken even more.

How much do APS matter for college? ›

Students looking to earn admission to highly selective colleges should take multiple AP classes to bolster their applications and demonstrate they can handle challenging coursework. Some college admissions experts recommend taking as many as 7-12 AP courses before applying to the most elite universities.

How many AP classes should I take in freshman year? ›

Freshmen usually take 0-2 APs in areas such as Human Geography, Environmental Science, or Computer Science Principles. Sophomores usually take 1-3 APs in areas such as Psychology, World History, European History, Art History, or Economics.

How much do APS boost your GPA? ›

While honors courses usually add 0.5 points to your GPA, AP classes often add 1 point. In other words, a 3.5 GPA would be boosted to a 4.0 in an honors class and a 4.5 in an AP class.

What is the highest GPA to get into Harvard? ›

In truth, you need close to a 4.0 unweighted GPA to get into Harvard. That means nearly straight As in every class.

What's the lowest GPA you can get into Harvard with? ›

You should also have a 4.18 GPA or higher. If your GPA is lower than this, you need to compensate with a higher SAT/ACT score. For a school as selective as Harvard, you'll also need to impress them with the rest of your application. We'll cover those details next.

Can 3 GPA get into Harvard? ›

To get to Harvard your GPA has to be at least a 4.0 and even then if you get in your lucky but they require at least a 4.18 GPA only .

Is advanced placement worth it? ›

Research shows that AP students — especially high scorers on AP exams — are more likely to have higher GPAs in their first year of college than those who didn't take any AP exams. This suggests that participation in the AP program correlates to better preparation for a college curriculum.

What happens if you don't take an AP Exam you signed up for? ›

Although there are no consequences from skipping the exam, you might be missing out on some opportunities. The first and most obvious advantage is the college credit. Although many colleges are highly selective about AP results, or don't accept them at all, some still will give you credit.

Is advanced placement harder than honors? ›

AP classes, however, are more challenging than honors classes. These courses cover information, teach skills and give assignments that correspond to college classes. High school students taking AP courses will be held to the same standard as college students.

Can you be successful without taking AP classes? ›

If you take advanced courses, then you may be better prepared for the challenges that college presents. You don't need to take AP courses to get into a good school, but they may help you stand out among peers with similar transcripts when getting into college.

What are the benefits of passing AP exam? ›

Most colleges and universities nationwide offer college credit, advanced placement, or both for qualifying AP Exam scores. This can mean: Fulfilling graduation requirements early. Being able to skip introductory courses or required general-education courses.

Which AP is the easiest? ›

What is the easiest AP class? AP Computer Science Principles is rated as the easiest AP class by real AP class alumnae, with an average difficulty rating of just 2.8 / 10 (1 = easiest), and the 2022 pass rate of 69% is about average.

What is the purpose of AP classes in high school? ›

The AP Program provides incentives for public high schools in California to provide access to rigorous, college-level courses for interested and prepared students. With such programs, students may pursue college-level work while still in secondary school and receive college credit, advanced academic standing, or both.

Why do high schools push AP classes? ›

Beyond the statistics, supporters of AP say the demands of the classes prepare students for the work they will do in college and give them an opportunity to study subjects, such as macroeconomics and psychology, that aren't included in the standard high school curriculum.

Can you still pass an AP class but fail the exam? ›

A poor AP exam score will not affect your class grade. Typically, you receive your AP score far after your semester grades have already been submitted. So, you don't have to worry about failing the course as a result of failing the AP exam.

Is it better to fail an AP test or not take it? ›

Still, it's something you want to avoid. You Will Not Receive Credit for the Class: Failing the AP class means there's no chance you'll be able to claim college credit for the class once in university. There's also the issue that it won't give you any high school credit either, which might mean…

What happens if your school doesn't offer AP exams? ›

Can I register for an AP Exam if my school doesn't offer AP courses or administer AP Exams? Yes. You can't order AP Exams directly, but you should be able to arrange to take exams at a nearby high school that administers AP Exams.

What are the three hardest AP classes? ›

United States History, Biology, English Literature, Calculus BC, Physics C, and Chemistry are often named as the hardest AP classes and tests.


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