What you Need to Know About AP Exams and Score Reporting Before Taking the Exams
by Kathy de Jong, Independent Educational Consultant
High school students all over the country are preparing to take Advanced Placement course exams in May. But how much emphasis should students put on taking the exams? Should they take them at all? Should they send all of the scores to colleges? Knowing the facts about AP exams, score reporting and how colleges use the scores is important to answer these questions.
Advanced Placement (AP) courses are offered in many US high schools and often represent the highest level of curriculum in a given subject at the school. AP courses are considered to be representative of college-level curriculum and are looked at favorably on a student’s high school transcript by college admissions officers. Currently, there are 38 AP course exams available through the CollegeBoard, the company that creates and administers the exams; although, most high schools only offer a smaller percentage of AP courses. Exams are scored on a 1-5 scale with 5 representing a student that is extremely well-qualified in an entry-level college course in that subject. Click here to receive more information on AP exam scoring.
Students often stress about these exams, but understanding how the exam score is used in the college admissions process and the reporting options that are available to students, can help alleviate some anxiety. Here’s what you need to know to make informed decisions about AP exams. I recommend that parents sit with their student and discuss the student’s strategy on AP exams.
Colleges care more about the AP course/final grade than the AP exam. For the most part, colleges will only use your AP exam score for course credit and placement purposes. But, scores of 4’s or 5’s can provide evidence to support your high course grade
There is no requirement to take the AP exam, but there may be consequences if you don’t. The AP exam is separate from an AP course. In fact, an AP exam can be taken without taking the AP course. However, keep in mind that if you don’t complete the exam and receive an “accepted” score for your college, you may unnecessarily end up taking and paying for a college course for which you could have received credit.
Sending your AP exam score to colleges is optional. I recommend reviewing the scores a college will accept for credit or placement for a given AP class. It varies college-to-college and by AP class. You can usually find AP credit information on the college’s website. If your exam score is eligible for credit, self-report it on the college application and send the official report through the CollegeBoard. Never report or send an exam score of a 1 or 2. They are not considered “passing” scores. There are other scenarios where reporting your scores may not be a good idea. For instance, you may have received an A in AP Physics but got a 3 on the exam. That will get admissions officers second-guessing. Make sure you are being smart about which AP exam scores to self-report and send.
You can choose whether to send an AP exam score on your answer sheet at the time you take the exam. Doing this is risky because you don’t know the score yet. A better strategy is to get your score and make a decision whether to report/send it or not. However, if you choose to take advantage of the free score reporting service (doing it later will currently require a fee of $15 per report), understand that there are options to have the score report sent to another college, withheld or canceled altogether. Know the rules and deadlines.
Bottom-line – Having the proper strategy for AP courses and exams requires an understanding of what the colleges you are applying to or plan to attend will do with the scores and how the added stress and prep-work will affect the student. Many colleges and universities have limits on the number of AP course credits they will offer, particularly within a major. Under some circumstances, a student may be better off studying for the AP course final exam and knocking it out of the park, rather than focusing on the AP exam itself. A high school counselor or professional independent counselor can help with the strategy.
If you are new to the world of AP courses and their role in the college application and admission process, read my blog AP Classes: Are they worth It? .
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