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AP Testing Basics

With the retirement of SAT Subject Tests, the rigor of a student's transcript will likely take on more importance in future college admissions decisions. Below is a summary of the important aspects of AP Testing, which can bolster the "rigor" piece of a student's high school transcript.

AP exams occur every year in May, and usually feature both a multiple-choice and a free-response section. Even though AP classes are most suited to the level of juniors and seniors, students may start earlier depending on a school’s policy. Schools sometimes have restrictions on which year one can take certain APs and they can place caps on how many AP classes each student can take. Look online or talk to your counselor to find out more about your school’s policies to strategize which courses would be the best for you.

College Board’s Advanced Placement® Program (AP®) enables willing and academically prepared students to pursue college-level studies—with the opportunity to earn college credit, advanced placement, or both—while still in high school. Through AP courses in 38 subjects, culminating in a challenging exam, students learn to think critically, construct solid arguments, and see many sides of an issue—skills that prepare them for college and beyond.

Taking AP courses demonstrates to college admission officers that students have sought the most challenging curriculum available to them, and research indicates that students who score a 3 or higher on an AP Exam typically experience greater academic success in college and are more likely to earn a college degree than non-AP students.

Each AP teacher’s syllabus is evaluated and approved by faculty from the nation’s leading colleges and universities, and AP Exams are developed and scored by college faculty and experienced AP teachers.

Most four-year colleges and universities in the United States grant credit, advanced placement, or both on the basis of successful AP Exam scores; more than 3,300 institutions worldwide annually receive AP scores.

The exam scoring process, like the course and exam development process, relies on the expertise of both AP teachers and college faculty. While multiple-choice questions are scored by machine, the free-response questions and through-course performance assessments, as applicable, are scored by college faculty and expert AP teachers. Most are scored at the annual AP Reading, while a small portion is scored online. All AP Readers are thoroughly trained, and their work is monitored throughout the Reading for fairness and consistency.

In each subject, a highly respected college faculty member serves as Chief Faculty Consultant and, with the help of AP Readers in leadership positions, maintains the accuracy of the scoring standards. Scores on the free-response questions and performance assessments are weighted and combined with the results of the computer-scored multiple-choice questions, and this raw score is converted into a composite AP score on a 1–5 scale.

AP Exams are not norm-referenced or graded on a curve. Instead, they are criterion-referenced, which means that every student who meets the criteria for an AP score of 2, 3, 4, or 5 will receive that score, no matter how many students that is. The criteria for the number of points students must earn on the AP Exam to receive scores of 3, 4, or 5—the scores that research consistently validates for credit and placement purposes—include:

  • The number of points successful college students earn when their professors administer AP Exam questions to them.

  • The number of points researchers have found to be predictive that an AP student will succeed when placed into a subsequent, higher-level college course.

  • Achievement-level descriptions formulated by college faculty who review each AP Exam question.

Using and Interpreting AP Scores

The extensive work done by college faculty and AP teachers in the development of the course and exam and throughout the scoring process ensures that AP Exam scores accurately represent students’ achievement in the equivalent college course. Frequent and regular research studies establish the validity of AP scores as follows:

Know Which Courses Your School Offers

Below is a list of every AP subject administered by College Board:

  • Art History

  • Biology

  • Calculus AB

  • Calculus BC

  • Chemistry

  • Chinese Language & Culture

  • Comparative Government & Politics

  • Computer Science A

  • Computer Science Principles

  • English Language and Composition

  • English Literature and Composition

  • Environmental Science

  • European History

  • French Language & Culture

  • German Language & Culture

  • Human Geography

  • Italian Language & Culture

  • Japanese Language and Culture

  • Latin

  • Macroeconomics

  • Microeconomics

  • Music Theory

  • Physics 1: Algebra-Based

  • Physics 2: Algebra-Based

  • Physics C: Electricity & Magnetism

  • Physics C: Mechanics

  • Psychology

  • Research

  • Seminar

  • Spanish Language & Culture

  • Spanish Literature & Culture

  • Statistics

  • Studio Art: 2-D Design

  • Studio Art: 3-D Design

  • Studio Art: Drawing

  • U.S. Government & Politics

  • U.S. History

  • World History

Additional practice tests can be found here:

You can practice AP Tests by creating an account at College Board and choosing the course for which you are preparing.

Other than that, we found this site with some practice exams:


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