Taking the AP exams

Excelling on the Advanced Placement exam can set a great foundation for your future.

By Chuck Hughes, Road To College

Juniors, seniors and even some sophomores are getting ready to take AP exams.  For the underclassmen, the importance of the scores are tantamount as the college admissions offices will be looking to see how students have fared on one of the College Board’s fastest growing assessment vehicles. The seniors are putting it into cruise control as they most likely have made a college choice by early May; however, the senior AP courses can have a positive benefit for those already locked into a college.

Summed up, a strong performance on the AP exam can give you tremendous flexibility in the application process and throughout your college career-and are the primary reason why it is important to do well on these exams. Let’s look at some of the benefits for students who are planning on sitting for any of the 30+ AP exams offered in more depth.

College Admissions – Academic Rigor

Colleges love to see you challenging yourself in the classroom because they feel you will continue to do the same once you’ve arrived at their school. Taking the most rigorous high school program is worth the energy that students are putting into the AP classes.

College Admissions – AP results

For students enrolled in AP classes prior to senior year, the expectation is that you will take the AP exam in the course for which you enrolled. These exams are long and rigorous and are a culmination of your year-long academic program.  For the high school underclassman, the first goal is to reach the passing or “3” level. A score of a 3 demonstrates a passing competency, but the truth is that the expectation of the selective colleges is that a student receives a 4 or a 5.  Because more students are taking these exams, a score of “4” is losing some of is cachet.  For most exams, 30-45% of the students are receiving either 4 or 5 on many exams, and this is far less impressive than it once was. For example, about 54,000 students will take and score a 4 or 5 on the AP Biology exam (approximately 39% of all test takers) and over 103,000 will score a 4 or 5 on the AP US History (over 31% of all test takers).  Knowing that there are so many students are producing at the 4/5 level, so more than ever, it important to work towards that goal.

Admissions measurement of the high school

The tests measures what you have been taught and what you have learned.  In some instances it can be a referendum on the quality of teaching as there is an audit process that now requires schools to teach a core curriculum related to the AP exam taught. One of the ways admission officers utilize the AP exam score is to determine the relative strength of your high school and the quality of the AP classes available at your high school. A history of mediocre performances on the AP exams will tell the college or university that while AP classes are offered at your high school they are not necessarily very strong-and this will not be helpful to those who apply to college after you’ve departed. At the same time if you produce strong results in an environment that tends to produce average or below average results, then you’ll be putting yourself in a tremendous position.

College credit

You know by now that strong performances on the AP exam allow you to bypass entirely some required college courses. (This assumes you have achieved a 4 or a 5.) In fact nearly 90% of colleges and universities recognize AP exam grades for credit. While some students will use this to take a lighter course load, most students will use the exemption to take some classes that are of interest to them. College is very much about exploring new and different things and if you have the ability to do so without placing greater pressure upon yourself you should do so. Some students accumulate enough AP credit to skip their freshman year entirely.

Advanced placement in your college curriculum

You don’t necessarily have to get a 5 for the AP exam to work for you. Another value of performing well on AP exam is the ability to skip the entry level course and jump right to the second year of the course. (This is the most common option of students who score a three on the exam.) It’s a common complaint amongst college freshmen that some courses in the freshman year are redundant to their AP class in high school. A sure-fire way to avoid this happening to you is bypassing the freshman year course with an AP score of 4 or 5.

Time for internships or independent study

The flexibility you get from advancing can help you in several ways-outside the classroom. One is certainly through internships where students can take the additional time they have gathered to pursue a work-experience in their intended career. While this is typically not available to you until your sophomore year, it is something to consider as you plan your college years. Another area to consider outside the classroom is the opportunity to do an independent study project with a professor. This is especially helpful if you are in a large university and are looking for a one-on-one faculty experience at some point in your college career.

Starting your freshman year on a good note

If there is one thing we’ve learned over the years, it’s that how you start your freshman year in college is how you are likely to end your college experience. Start on a bad note and you will spend a significant part of your sophomore year and beyond trying to make up ground. Start on a positive note and you are likely to end on a strong note. The first place that begins is at the end of your senior year. Doing well on the AP exam can be the foundation for a fantastic college experience.