What are AP Tests and should I do them?

What are AP Tests and should I do them?

In a recent webinar Ivy Central did with students there were lots of questions about AP Tests, unfortunately, we didn’t have time to explain about them in detail so hopefully this article will fill the gaps.

What are AP Tests? – Advanced Placement Tests (or AP exams) are tests taken by students in the United States at the culmination of the year long AP Courses. These courses are also offered in some international schools in other parts of the world, other options include taught, online courses such as those offered by Pearson’s or students can self study. The exams happen once a year in May.

AP exams contain multiple-choice and writing (free-response) sections. World languages also have a speaking component and the music theory exam has a sight-singing task.

Test length varies according to the individual subject being tested, psychology lasts just two hours, while STEM subjects typically take three hours fifteen minutes, studio art exams,  have portfolio assessments as part of the test.

There is a complicated scoring system, but students will be awarded a grade between 1 and 5.

            1 – No recommendation

            2 – Possibly qualified.

            3 – Qualified

            4 – Very well qualified

            5 – Extremely well qualified

What subjects can I study? – The range of subjects offered by The College Board is vast and covers all the main study areas you would expect, a full list can be found on the College Board website which also has detailed breakdowns for each subject. Irrespective of whether you are studying AP’s in school or self studying, it is likely that your choice of subjects will be limited to some extent, some subjects will attract such a small number of students that schools and test centres will choose not to make them available. Subjects that are normally available and popular with our students include biology, chemistry, Physics 1 and 2, US, World and European history, calculus AB and BC and psychology.

Why will AP’s help my college application? – Doing AP tests are not required to apply to college, many Ivy Central students get great results from their college applications without ever having taken one. That said, having some good AP results can boost the likelihood of being accepted into college in a number of ways.

  • AP courses are considered to be a college level programme so if the curriculum your school offers is not considered to be the most demanding, having some AP results on top of your school results shows that you can work at a college level.

  • You can use AP courses as a way of showing a greater breadth to your academic interests, either by doing a test in a subject you were not able to do in high school or taking what you have learnt in school to a higher level and thereby showing that you have a stronger ability in that subject and the interest to pursue your interests beyond the curriculum. In 2021 the College Board stopped offering the SAT Subject tests, meaning that completing AP exams is possibly the best way to demonstrate that additional breadth in your studies.

Are there other benefits to doing AP’s? – Absolutely. As we have already seen AP’s are a way of showing competency equivalent to the first year of college. Many colleges will give you credit for demonstrating this and not require you to do first year classes in that subject when you start college, so somebody who has achieved 3 or above in AP English may not have to do a freshman writing programme at college. This benefits you because you can use the time to do other courses in areas that you are interested in or even complete work ahead of time enabling you to graduate earlier.

The other major potential benefit of doing AP’s is that if you are applying to a college that offers merit scholarships then having AP’s in your profile will improve your prospects of receiving such an award.

Are there any students who should not do AP’s? – In general, anybody who wants to demonstrate their abilities could consider doing one or more AP’s, but they’re a couple of important considerations. The first thing colleges are going to look at is your performance in school, if you are not doing as well as you would like in school it would nearly always be better to concentrate on improving your school performance rather than distracting yourself with the added demands of studying for AP’s as well. The second consideration is the strength of your extracurricular activities. Demonstrating your academic prowess, while having a mediocre set of extracurricular activities is unlikely to get you into the top colleges and universities in the US. Studying and preparing for AP’s is going to take up a considerable amount of valuable time, you should ask yourself where that time is best spent.

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