AP Exams for High School Students: Impact on College Admissions, Dates & Timeline, Subjects and Preparation Tips
The May 2018 College Board AP Exams were taken by 2,808,990 students from 22,612 secondary schools to the total of 5,090,324 examinations taken. This translates into about an average of 2 exams taken by each student sitting for these tests. Given students tend to take these exams over 2 years of high-school, some students may take 2 exams one year and another 1-2 exam or more in another year. As you think about AP tests and what to do in high school, here are a few questions and guidance for you to consider.
All You Need to Know About the AP Exams
Impact on College Admissions, Dates & Timeline, Subjects and Preparation Tips
AP or Advanced Placement examinations are exams offered by the CollegeBoard and are taken each May by students. The tests are the culmination of year-long Advanced Placement (AP) courses. AP exams give students in India an opportunity to showcase their academic strengths to thousands of universities in the U.S. and around the world.
A) How will AP exams help me?
Taking AP exams in high-school offer two primary benefits to the students.
1. Students can send their AP exam scores to the colleges with their application. Some of the top colleges such as MIT, Harvard, Stanford, U. Penn, Cornell etc. expect students to provide AP test scores for at least 2-3 core subjects such as Math, Physics. Chemistry, Biology etc. High scores in AP exams do provide college admission teams confidence and some insight into a student’s ability to perform in the college. Read more about the advantages of taking AP courses.
At Stoodnt, we encourage high school students, especially international students who are not part of the IB curriculum, to take AP exams and submit the scores as part of the application. 85% of selective U.S. colleges and universities report that a student’s AP experience favorably impacts admission decision.
2. Most of the colleges give credits to students if they get a minimum score in the AP exams. Some colleges may require a score of 5 and some colleges may require a minimum score of 3. So by taking a few AP exams in high school, a student may be able to save some cost on their college education and not to mention the taking fewer courses in colleges for their degree completion. Qualifying AP Exam scores earn university credit in nearly all universities in the United States and Canada and are recognized in over 100 other countries worldwide.
Scores of 3 or 4 on AP Exams fulfill admission requirements in many universities in the UK and Europe. Students can skip some of the introductory courses required in the first year of college if they have taken the AP exams and met the minimum score. You can find more on the colleges AP credit policy here.
B) When should I take the AP exams?
AP exams are held every year in May 1st and 2nd week. Unlike the SAT exams, AP exams are only held once a year. you can see the schedule and calendar at the College Board schedule website.
Students should try to take a few exams at the end of their 11th grade or when they are rising senior. They can also take a few of them at the end of their senior years. The exams at the end of their senior year will not count towards their college applications but will give them credit during the college.
Students must register by Oct-Nov 2019 for May 2020 exams. Visit AP Exams in India for details.
College Application Timeline for Taking Exams (PSAT, SAT, ACT and AP exams)
Quick Facts about these AP exams:
- Most exams are 2–3 hours long.
- The first part of the exam usually consists of multiple-choice questions.
- You will choose 1 of 4–5 answer choices for each question and use a pencil to bubble in your choice on your AP answer sheet.
- Your total exam score on the multiple-choice section is based only on the number of questions answered correctly. You won’t receive or lose points for incorrect answers or unanswered questions.
- The second part of the exam usually consists of free-response questions that require you to generate your own responses. Depending on the exam, your responses could be in the form of an essay, a solution to a problem, or a spoken response. In most cases, you’ll be writing your response in pen in the free-response exam booklet.
International students applying for Study Abroad in the U.S., Canada, Europe can find more information on test centers, dates, and test on the site of College Board.
C) Which exams to take and what score should I try to get?
If schedule and preparation permits, students should try to take anywhere from 3-6 AP tests in their junior and senior year.
There are 37 tests to choose from, so enough options for each and every student. The main areas of courses are:
- History and Social Sciences
- Math and Computer Science
- World Language and Cultures
You can find more details about these exams here.
3 Things Students Should Focus on When Selecting Tests
Your Strong subjects and core courses: Select the tests based on your strong subjects and the core courses such as languages, math, science, world history etc. These are some of the core courses students are required to take in the first year of college so you would be completing the requirement and saving time, money on the redo.
Related to what you want to study in the college: Take AP exams that are related to what you want to study in the college. This will help admission teams see how you perform in some of these core courses and it is easier for you to get some credit. For example, if you are applying for engineering or computer science, it would be good to take AP exams in Math, Computer Science, and Physics.
Take when you are ready and prepared: Take these exams when you are finished doing the course in your high school. This may be more relevant where students have the flexibility to select their courses in high school.
For example, you may take the AP exam in Biology when you complete the Biology Honors or AP course in High school. So timing when to take a particular AP exam is important in helping you prepare for it.
For math, take Statistics exam when you complete Stats in the high school and same for calculus. Do not wait to take all these exams at just one time. Spreading them between 2 years will help you prepare better. Take a few exams as a rising senior (summer between 11th and 12th grade) and a few at the end of your senior year i.e. 12th grade.
AP tests are scored from a scale from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest). Colleges give credit for the course usually for scores higher than 3. Many top colleges will give credit only for scores that are 4 or 5. 60-80% of the students taking these tests score 3 or higher in the majority of the tests, except for Physics.
The most popular AP tests among the students are English, Calculus, Biology, Psychology, Government Politics, History.
Here is the distribution in details on the popular AP tests among students and how students score on them.
D) How to prepare for the AP exams?
Preparing for AP exams is as simple as preparing for your final exams. Since AP tests are designed to test your competency and mastery of various subjects, they are aligned with what you study and are expected to learn and master in high-school or beginning of college on core subjects.
A few other resources of Preparation are:
Khan Academy – They are the official preparation partner for College Board. They are also free so the value of using Khan Academy is immense.
College Board – At College Board website, you can find more information on the index for AP and the structure. This will help you prepare and study on the exam.
Kaplan, Princeton, Method Test Prep etc. have private tutoring for AP exams. You can find more information on private tutoring on these websites.
Author: Ajay Singh
Ajay is the co-founder of Stoodnt and spent 20+ years in senior leadership roles with companies such as American Express, Cendant and Intel prior to starting Stoodnt. He has a M.B.A. from Harvard, M.S. in Computer Engineering from U.T. Austin and B.Tech from I.I.T Roorkee (India).
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