AP & Exams

Advanced Placement (AP) courses challenge students and prepare them to succeed in college. At the end of the school year, students take the national examinations. Colleges and universities use their AP Exam score to potentially award credit. Acceptance of AP course credits varies between institutions, so it is important for students to know the policy of the schools they plan to apply to. 

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What are the benefits of the AP Program for students and schools?

AP college-level courses offer students the opportunity to earn college credit (without the college price tag!) and to stand out from their peers during the admissions process. Best of all, students learn from some of the most skilled, dedicated, and inspiring teachers in the world.

Students who take AP courses:

  • enjoy the challenge and stimulation provided by enhanced and rigorous coursework;
  • perform at a level and pace that better prepares them for college;
  • have a higher likelihood of acceptance by the college or university of their choice;
  • may earn college credit or honors/advanced student recognition based on their AP Exam score;
  • may reduce the cost of college by earning college credit while in high school;
  • are more likely to complete college in four years;
  • often graduate with double majors and go on to pursue advanced studies; and
  • tend to take on more leadership roles.

Schools that offer AP courses: 

  • focus on teaching students how to think analytically and develop disciplined study skills;
  • engage teachers in effective professional development that improves methods and revitalizes enthusiasm;
  • often see an increase in teacher job satisfaction and pride;
  • strengthen curriculum and teaching quality through pre-AP and vertical team activities; and
  • have measurable data demonstrating academic excellence based on the nationally recognized AP Exam results.

Who designs the AP courses and writes the AP Exam questions?

A unique aspect of the Advanced Placement program is its utilization of Development Committees to prepare course descriptions and exams. These committees, comprised of highly qualified secondary school and college teachers, determine the content of an AP course and create an exam to assess the achievement of AP students enrolled in the course.

Development Committees typically have six to seven members who represent a variety of secondary schools and colleges across all regions of the country. These committees bring a diversity of knowledge and points-of-view in their respective fields, and they understand the abilities and skills required to achieve mastery in a given subject. Collectively, the committees determine the best way for students to demonstrate these critical skills and knowledge, whether through projects, presentations, or the AP Exam.

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What does the AP Exam score represent?

The AP Exam score represents a weighted combination of the student’s scores on the multiple-choice section and the free-response section. The final score is reported on a five-point scale as follows:

  • 5 = extremely well qualified to receive college credit and/or placement
  • 4 = well qualified to receive college credit and/or placement
  • 3 = qualified to receive college credit and/or placement 
  • 2 = possibly qualified to receive college credit and/or placement
  • 1 = no recommendation for receiving college credit and/or placement

Periodically, the AP Program conducts college comparability studies for each AP subject by administering a portion of the AP Exam to students enrolled in equivalent college courses and comparing their test scores to their actual course grade. The study results indicate AP Exam score equivalencies to the corresponding college course grade as follows:

  • 5 = A 
  • 4 = A-, B+, and B
  • 3 = B-, C+, and C 

How is a score determined?

Multiple-choice answer sheets are scored by computer.
An electronic scanning system reads the multiple-choice answer sheets and transfers the data onto cartridges to create a record. A computer program checks the cartridge for invalid or missing identification data and calculates a score based on the student's responses. The number of questions answered correctly determines the score. There are no deductions for incorrect answers and no points awarded for unanswered questions.

Free-response questions are scored by trained AP Readers.
Unlike the multiple-choice section, which is scored by machine, the free-response section is scored by AP Readers at AP reading sites.

The composite score is calculated based on a formula.
Calculated mechanically, the formula combines the multiple-choice and free-response section scores into a maximum weighted score (composite score).

Determining the cut-off point between each of the five scores is not a simple process. Each year, the AP Program applies a statistical process of equating and scaling to make adjustments to the cut-off scores. The proposed adjustments and other data about students’ exam performance are presented to the chief reader to make a final decision on the four cut-off scores. 

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How much do the exams cost?

The fee for each AP Exam is $98 and is set by the College Board. Schools normally retain $9 of that fee as a rebate to help with administrative costs.  

Please visit our Fee Reduction Program page to see if a student qualifies for a reduced fee or waiver.