Advanced Placement (AP) courses let you get a jump start on college while you’re still in high school, but you won’t get credit for them unless you take, and score highly on the AP exam. For that reason, if you’re enrolled in AP classes, or even thinking about enrolling in them, it pays to get familiar with the tests. Here are five important things to know about AP exams.
1. Blank answers can be your friend.
The first part of any AP exam is multiple-choice; this section is based only on the number of questions answered correctly. You won’t receive or lose points for incorrect answers or unanswered questions. Questions left intentionally blank will not hurt you.
2. Some of the answers are “free.”
There are always multiple-choice questions on AP tests, however, there are free-response questions as well. These questions require students to generate their own answers, as opposed to select one. Most of the time, students will be writing their responses in pen in the exam book provided. The free-response questions will need to be answered in essay, conversational, or problem/solution form. The question will indicate which format is required.
3. 3 is the magic number. (Unless it’s 4.)
Scores on AP exams range from 1-5, 5 meaning “extremely well qualified” and 1 meaning “no recommendation.” Many colleges award credit for AP exam scores 3 or better. However, more competitive universities might require a 4 or 5, or they might not award credit at all. In such cases, they often use high AP scores to place you into advanced classes. Dartmouth is an example of this; they use AP classes to place students in higher-level classes freshman year, but not for credit used towards graduation.
4. You only get one chance. (In theory.)
AP exams are offered once a year in May, and it is advisable that students take the AP exams as soon as they finish the AP course. This way the material is fresh in their mind. Students might also want to consider taking the SAT Subject Test on the same topic close to their AP Exam date. Since the SAT Subject Tests are considered high school level, whereas AP Exams are considered college level, students should be well prepared for the Subject Test after studying for the AP Exam.
Students are permitted to take the AP Exam more than once; you’ll just have to wait until the next year. Since scores can be withheld, students can decide which score to send to the university.
5. You don’t have to report your scores, but it will cost you.
Didn’t do so well? You don’t necessarily have to tell anyone. You may request that your AP score on one or more of the exams be withheld from a particular college, or canceled and not reported at all. But keep in mind, there’s a fee associated with withholding scores. Since it’s rare to get credit for scores below 3, it is recommended for students to withhold scores of 1 or 2.