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AP FAQs: What You Need To Know About Advanced Placement

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There are several ways you can set yourself apart academically from your peers. One common way to do this is by taking Advanced Placement courses and exams during your high school career.

Before you enroll in an AP course, however, read through these Frequently Asked Questions to make sure you’ve considered everything before finalizing your decision. There are several factors to consider other than simply being “smart enough” for one of these classes.

What is the difference between an AP course and regular course offered at my school?

There are two main differences between regular and AP classes:

  • The curriculum
  • The opportunity to earn college credit

Advanced placement courses follow a college-level curriculum set by the College Board, the same organization that offers the SAT. Schools go through an audit process to earn the AP accreditation for their courses. Because you have the opportunity to get college credit for passing the AP exam, you will cover the same material that would appear in the equivalent college course. You may write more papers and do more research projects than in a typical high school class.

At the end of the course, you’ll have an opportunity to take an AP exam and earn college credit. Receiving a certain score may result in not needing to take the equivalent course once you get to college. That allows students to graduate sooner by already having credits for prerequisite classes or taking additional courses.

Are AP courses more difficult than regular courses?

Yes and no. Education expectations vary from state to state so the rigor of an AP course can be similar to that of a regular or honors course, or prove to be much more difficult. But, the College Board expectations are the same nationwide for AP courses, so each student has an opportunity to pass the AP exam.

As for the exam, there are multiple versions given out each year, although most of the time all students at any particular school are taking the same one. Regardless of the version you may take, the College Board goes through great lengths to ensure the exams are of the same difficulty and don’t vary in material covered.

What are the benefits of taking AP courses?

Along with the benefit of potentially receiving college credit, taking AP courses and passing AP exams can result in academic recognition at several levels.

For example, the College Board offers the AP Scholar distinction. If you earn this, the College Board notifies the colleges where you apply to signify you are prepared for academic success in college. You can earn an AP Scholar distinction by passing at least three AP exams during high school. The more AP exams you pass, the higher distinction you earn from the College Board.

If you attend a school that calculates weighted grades, AP courses can help boost your GPA to make you eligible for public or private scholarships. When there’s stiff competition, your GPA might be one qualifier that gives you an edge over other students who are applying for that scholarship.

And, there are other benefits of AP classes. For one, you’re getting amazing insight for what college-level courses are like, so you can adjust your study habits to be academically successful when you begin college.

How many different AP courses are offered?

Currently, there are 38 different AP exams offered by the College Board. Among the 38 offerings are a variety of math, science, arts, English and language courses. Schedule an appointment with your advisor to discuss which courses are offered at your school.

An AP course I want to take is not offered at my school. Can I still take the AP exam for that course to get college credit?

Yes, you can still register for an AP exam if the corresponding course is not offered at your school. It will be your responsibility to determine how you prepare yourself for the exam.

There are online options for AP courses, and some are for free. This is a wonderful alternative if your high school doesn’t offer an AP course you’re interested in taking.

Another option is to see about commuting to a community college or seeing if another high school in your area that offers the AP course. It will be up to you and your advisor to determine if it’s best for your class schedule to travel between schools each day.

Also, check in with your advisor about wanting to take an AP exam for a course not offered at your school. There might be some additional costs associated with you taking the exam. If you end up traveling to another school for an AP course, ask if that school will cover the school’s portion of the exam cost or if you’ll need to pay for it in full.

How do I enroll in an AP course?

Start by discussing your academic aptitude with your teachers and advisor. Have a plan for why you want to enroll in AP courses and have a conversation to determine if an AP course is right for you.

You should be honest with yourself and ask your teachers/advisors to do the same. For example, you might not be prepared for AP courses during your sophomore year of high school. If that is the case, develop a plan so that you are prepared to take them your junior year.

Can do AP courses help boost my GPA?

If your school calculates your GPA using a weighted scale for AP courses, then yes! When grades are weighted, an A usually accounts for a 5.0 rather than a 4.0 on an unweighted scale. For example, if you take half regular courses and half AP courses and receive As in all of them, your weighted GPA will be 4.5 (assuming all courses are worth the same amount of credits).

Maybe you have aspirations of graduating as valedictorian of your class or perhaps you want to graduate in the top 10 percent. Those weighted grades will also help improve your class rank.

How can I get college credit for taking AP courses?

To get college credit for completing an AP course, you must take the corresponding AP exam and pass. A passing score on an AP exam is a 3 out of 5. However, some colleges require a higher score of 4 or 5 to award credit for passing the exam.

As you do your research on colleges where you plan to apply, be sure to look at what scores they accept for credit. As you compare majors, determine if any of the prerequisite courses can be satisfied by passing an AP exam. If so, you can start taking advanced level courses sooner in your college career.

How much does an AP exam cost?

As of 2018, most AP exams are $94 each. A few have a higher fee that can be found on the College Board’s website. Also, if you’re an international student, there is a higher fee for you to take an AP exam.

Calculating the potential cost of these exams is important when determining whether you’ll take them. In most cases, getting college credit by passing an AP exam is much cheaper than what you’ll pay for the same course at the college level.

Who pays for the AP exams I might take?

While schools pay a fee for ordering the test, you are responsible for paying the testing fee to the school administering it. There is financial aid offered by the College Board as well as at the state and federal level, however, to reduce fees.

When you enroll in an AP course, develop a savings plan or immediately set money aside for the exams you plan to take at the end of the year. Speak with your teacher or advisor to discuss if you’re eligible for a fee reduction.

Do I have to take the AP exam if I complete an AP course?

No, you do not have to take an AP exam after completing an AP course. Some students choose not take the test at the end of the school year.

If you’re thinking about enrolling in an AP course and NOT taking the AP exam, talk this out with your advisor before making a final decision.

When are the AP exams offered?

AP exams are given at a pre-determined time dictated by the College Board. You may end up needing to consult some of your teachers if you have an AP exam being given at the same time your school is holding final exams.

It’s important to note the times your AP exams are held at the end of the year. Missing the AP exam time can result in additional fees on top of your exam fee. There are certain circumstances that allow you to miss an AP exam with no penalty, like having more than three AP exams scheduled in one day or an emergency. However, activities like school-sanctioned sporting events and some family obligations will require you to pay the late fee.

Late testing for AP exams is administered on particular dates at designated times. Alternate versions of the AP exams are given to these students. If you’re unable to make the alternative testing date, you’ll want to notify your advisor immediately to see what other options are available.

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