AP Exams

When I went to high school, I took two AP tests. Calculus BC and Chemistry. All I was told was that I should take them because then I wouldn’t have to take the classes in college. I honestly don’t remember my scores. I’m pretty positive I got a 3 in both; I may have gotten a 4 in Calculus. I never took chemistry again, and for that, I am grateful. My math career continues to this day.

Now that my oldest will be entering his sophomore year and looking at colleges, it’s time to research the current state of AP exams and the possibilities they may provide.


There are 38 different AP Exams.

The purpose of these teams can be two-fold. You may receive college credit for a related course if you perform well on an exam, usually a 3+ (out of 5). Also, if you’re applying to a foreign university, these scores will be used in the acceptance process.

For example, if you’re applying to my alma mater, the University of Illinois, and receive a 4 or 5 on English Literature & Composition, you receive seven credit hours and fulfill your composition requirement. Receiving a three on almost any exam will give you three credit hours. If you can take five AP exams, you may be able to save a semester of college. However, be careful about overlap. For example, US History, European History, and Modern History all reward you with the same three-course-hour credit.

The University of Toronto allows for a maximum of 3.0 credits in transfer credits, provided a grade of at least four is achieved in each AP exam. The school also does not accept credit for Calculus AB or BC and only offers half a credit for some exams.

A UK school like Oxford wants either Four APs at grade 5 (including any subjects required for the course you are applying to). Or three APs at grade 5 (including necessary subjects ford for the course you are applying to) plus a score of 33 or above on the ACT or 1480 or above (out of 1600) on the SAT.

Which Exams To Take

You want to take exams you can do well on. These don’t have to be classes you love; in my example, I never had to take Chemistry at the college level.

The first step is to check what AP classes your high school offers. Not all of these classes are necessarily Junior/Senior level courses. You are ahead of most if you can take an AP class during your first or second year.

Also, you can take AP exams if your school does not offer the class. If you can find another school before November that provides the exam, you can ask the school to take the exam the following May. It is recommended to take a class, but if you have previous knowledge, interest in a subject, or are self-motivated, there’s no reason why you cannot succeed on the AP exam.

Another critical note is that each exam is unique. No exam is 100% multiple choice. Most are composed of multiple-choice and free responses. Others require papers, portfolios, or even oral defense. Make sure you understand the criteria for each exam.

Here is a solid source of the difficulty of exams. If you are looking for accessible AP credits, Pyschology and Computer Science Principles are strong options.

Finally, let your personal experiences and desires be your guide. There is an AP exam for you that could save you thousands of dollars in May.

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