Advanced placement exams for history, English, science, math and foreign languages give high school students a chance to earn college credit for each test. AP high school classes prepare students for these exams, and most colleges also use student grades in the AP classes as part of the evaluation for college admission.
An excellent AP course grade doesn't always correlate with a passing score on the AP exam, but many students with high grades in AP classroom courses earn passing scores of 3 on the 5-point test scale.
Students at most high schools receive an extra grade point for AP classes, based on the idea, supported by the University of California system, that AP courses require extra preparation. High schools that allow open enrollment for AP courses may have problems with some students taking the class for the weighted score without any understanding of the additional work involved or any intention of taking the AP exam. This creates problems for students motivated for the exam prep and teachers designing class curriculum to quickly master key concepts for the AP test.
Schools with low numbers of AP test takers may officially label a class as an AP course to allow students to earn extra grade points. Without a formal review of the curriculum, it is impossible to determine that school courses in the AP classroom align with the AP test.
The College Board encourages teachers to create curriculum that focuses on exam materials by offering assistance to design class curriculum that directly reflects the AP exam content. Without AP scores, however, college admission officers lack any way to determine that the curriculum offered at the high school matches the exam content.
High schools encourage students in AP classes to take the exams, but some offer it only as a testing option and not a requirement. An AP class grading scale can go up to 5.0, depending on the school, and can significantly increase your GPA.
Some high schools tie AP class scores to a passing score on the AP test, but this arrangement fails to reward students working hard in class and not merely memorizing rote information for the exam. Students focused only on memorizing thousands of terms and formulas discourage class activities exploring anything but information linked to passing the exam.
This influences the overall learning experience and turns the class into only a test-prep course, rather than a concentrated exploration of the subject area. Some AP courses require students to attend evening and weekend classes to complete the detailed preparation and laboratory experiences to answer questions on the exam. High schools in some geographic regions find tying AP exams scores to class grades impractical since the test results arrive after the end of the school semester, and this means a delay to send final transcripts for college admission.
College applications are where AP scores really count. Students receive some sort of recognition for the additional grade points given at the high school level for advanced placement courses. Many colleges give students receiving passing AP scores college credit or at a minimum, recognize the test score and allow the student to enroll in upper-level subject classes in the area of the exam.
Students passing advanced-level courses without taking the exam fail to receive any college credit for the secondary work. Students mastering the subject area but failing to attend a school with an official AP program have major disadvantages in college acceptance since college admissions officers look for AP scores and the accelerated curriculum for college acceptance.
- College Board: Advanced Placement Program -- AP Courses Revisions and Changes
- College Board: AP Calendar -- Getting Started with AP Courses
- Boston College Office of Undergraduate Admission: Advanced Placement
- University of Colorado Boulder Undergraduate Admissions: Credit for Course Work or Exams
- Yale University: Yale College Admissions -- What Yale Looks For
- University of California: Calculating GPA
Lee Grayson has worked as a freelance writer since 2000. Her articles have appeared in publications for Oxford and Harvard University presses and research publishers, including Facts On File and ABC-CLIO. Grayson holds certificates from the University of California campuses at Irvine and San Diego.