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Ap Coursework

Advanced Placement (AP) is a program in the United States and Canada created by the College Board which offers college-level curricula and examinations to high school students. American colleges and universities may grant placement and course credit to students who obtain high scores on the examinations. The AP curriculum for each of the various subjects is created for the College Board by a panel of experts and college-level educators in that field of study. For a high school course to have the designation, the course must be audited by the College Board to ascertain that it satisfies the AP curriculum. If the course is approved, the school may use the AP designation and the course will be publicly listed on the AP Course Ledger.[1]


After the end of World War II, the Ford Foundation created a fund that supported committees studying education.[2] The program, which was then referred to as the "Kenyon Plan",[3] was founded and pioneered at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, by the then-college president Gordon Chalmers. The first study was conducted by three prep schools—the Lawrenceville School, Phillips Academy and Phillips Exeter Academy—and three universities—Harvard University, Princeton University and Yale University. In 1952 they issued the report General Education in School and College: A Committee Report which recommended allowing high school seniors to study college level material and to take achievement exams that allowed them to attain college credit for this work.[4] The second committee, the Committee on Admission with Advanced Standing, developed and implemented the plan to choose a curriculum. A pilot program was run in 1952 which covered eleven disciplines.

The College Board, a non-profit organization[5] based in New York City, has run the AP program since 1955.[6] From 1965 to 1989, Harlan Hanson was the director of the Advanced Placement Program.[7] It develops and maintains guidelines for the teaching of higher level courses in various subject areas. In addition, it supports teachers of AP courses and supports universities.[8] These activities are funded through fees required to take the AP exams.

In 2006, over one million students took over two million Advanced Placement examinations.[9] Many high schools in the United States offer AP courses,[10] though the College Board allows any student to take any examination regardless of participation in its respective course.[11] Therefore, home-schooled students and students from schools that do not offer AP courses have an equal opportunity to take AP exams.

As of the 2015 testing season, exams cost $91 each,[12] though the cost may be subsidized by local or state programs. Financial aid is available for students who qualify for it; the exam reduction is $26 or $28 per exam from College Board plus an additional $8 rebate per fee-reduced exam from the school. There may be further reductions depending on the state. Out of the $91, $8 goes directly to the school to pay for the administration of the test, which some schools will reduce to lower the cost to the student.[citation needed]

On April 3, 2008, the College Board announced that four AP courses—French Literature, Latin Literature, Computer Science AB, and Italian Language and Culture—would be discontinued after the 2008–2009 school year due to lack of funding.[13][14] However, the Italian Language and Culture test was again offered beginning in 2011.

Starting July 2013 AP allowed students for the first time to both view and send their scores online.[15]

The number of AP exams administered each year has seen a steady increase over the past decade. In 2003, 175,860 English Language and Composition exams were administered. By 2013, this number had risen to 476,277, or an increase of 171%. Such an increase has occurred in nearly all AP exams offered, with the AP Psychology exam seeing a 281% increase over the past decade. In 2017, the most taken AP exam was English Language and Composition with 579,426 students and the least taken AP exam was Japanese Language and Culture with 2,429 students.[16]

The AP exams begin on the first Monday in May and last ten school days (two weeks).


AP tests are scored on a 1 to 5 scale as follows:[17]

  • 5 – Extremely well qualified
  • 4 – Well qualified
  • 3 – Qualified
  • 2 – Possibly qualified
  • 1 – No recommendation

The multiple choice component of the exam is scored by computer, while the free response and essay portions are scored by trained Readers at the AP Reading each June. The scores on various components are weighted and combined into a raw Composite Score. The Chief Reader for each exam then decides on the grade cutoffs for that year's exam, which determine how the Composite Scores are converted into the final grades. During the process a number of reviews and statistical analyses are performed to ensure that the grading is reliable. The overall goal is for the grades to reflect an absolute scale of performance which can be compared from year to year.[18]

Some colleges use AP test scores to exempt students from introductory coursework, others use them to place students in higher designated courses, and some do both. Each college's policy is different, but most require a minimum score of 3 or 4 to receive college credit.[19] Typically, this appears as a "CR" grade on the college transcript, although some colleges and universities will award an A grade for a 5 score.[20] Some countries, such as Germany, that do not offer general admission to their universities and colleges for holders of an American high school diploma without preparatory courses will directly admit students who have completed a specific set of AP tests, depending on the subject they wish to study there.

In addition, completing AP courses help students qualify for various types of scholarships. According to the College Board, 31 percent of colleges and universities look at AP experience when making scholarship decisions.[21]

Beginning with the May 2011 AP Exam administration, the College Board changed the scoring method of AP Exams.[22][23] Total scores on the multiple-choice section are now based on the number of questions answered correctly. Points are no longer deducted for incorrect answers and, as was the case before, no points are awarded for unanswered questions. However, scoring requirements have also been increased.

Score reporting[edit]

Starting with the May 2013 AP Examination Administration, the College Board launched an Internet-based score reporting service.[24] Students can use their 2013 AP Number or Student Number (if one was indicated) along with a College Board Account,[25] to access current and previous years' exam scores. This system can also be used to send scores to colleges and universities for which a 4-digit institutional code[26] is assigned.

Exam subsidies[edit]

Recognizing that the cost could be an impediment to students of limited means, a number of states and municipalities independent of the College Board have partially or fully subsidized the cost. For example, the state of Florida reimburses schools districts for the exam costs of students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses. The Los Angeles Unified School District, the Montebello Unified School District, the Hawaii Department of Education, New York City Department of Education, and the state of Indiana subsidize all AP Examination fees in subjects of math and science, and the Edmonds School District in suburban Seattle currently subsidizes Advanced Placement fees of students who enroll in the free school lunch program. In addition, some school districts offer free tests to all students enrolled in any Advanced Placement class.

Advanced Placement courses[edit]

There are currently 38 courses and exams available through the AP Program.[27] A complete list of courses can be found below:

Upcoming exam changes[edit]


  • AP World History
    • This exam will also undergo the same basic changes to the 2014-2015 United States History and 2015-2016 European History exams.[28]
      • Shortened multiple-choice section with 55 questions, accounting for 40% of the total exam score. These are reduced from 70 questions and 50% in previous years, respectively.
      • Four short-answer questions in place of one of the long essays, accounting for 20% of the total exam score. These questions are given a 50-minute writing period.
      • Document-based question (DBQ) and the remaining long essay now account for 25% and 15% of the exam score respectively. New writing periods of 55 minutes and 35 minutes respectively are given instead of the combined 120-minute writing period for all three essays in previous exams.
  • AP Calculus AB
  • AP Calculus BC
    • Addition of limit comparison tests, absolute and conditional convergence, and the alternating series.


  • AP United States Government and Politics[29]
    • Section I (multiple-choice) will be extended from 60 questions in 45 minutes to 70 questions in 70 minutes. It will still count towards 50% of the total exam score.
      • The questions will feature a greater use of scenarios and stimulus material.
      • The number of answer choices for each question will be reduced from five to four.
    • Section II (free-response) will include five questions (instead of four) in 100 minutes (the same amount of time as the current exam).
      • Two will be short answer concept application questions, one with a scenario and one without.
      • One will be a quantitative analysis and interpretation question with a visual stimulus.
      • One will be a qualitative analysis and interpretation question with text and/or visual excerpts.
      • One will be an argumentation essay requiring supporting evidence and reasoning.

Recent exam information[edit]

Below are statistics from the 2014 year of exams showing the number of participants, the percentage who obtained a score of three (3) or higher, and the average score. (Students generally need a score of three (3) or higher to receive credit or benefit.)

Exam nameNumber administeredScored ≥3 (%)Mean score
Art History23,21359.62.82
Calculus AB294,07258.92.94
Calculus BC93,18084.64.02
Chinese Language10,72894.54.43
Computer Science39,27861.22.96
English Language505,24455.82.79
English Literature397,47755.02.76
Environmental Science130,32147.32.60
European History110,29759.52.65
French Language21,26878.03.36
German Language5,11173.33.34
United States Government271,04350.72.62
Comparative Government20,36162.03.09
Human Geography136,44852.02.64
Italian Language2,33169.63.23
Japanese Language2,31175.93.56
Music Theory17,17662.73.07
Physics B93,57460.72.89
Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism20,76570.83.51
Physics C: Mechanics47,00076.73.56
Spanish Language135,34189.33.72
Spanish Literature20,11874.53.14
Studio Art: 2-D Design26,81178.53.33
Studio Art: 3-D Design4,25667.53.04
Studio Art: Drawing16,92877.53.27
United States History462,76652.42.76
World History245,69954.52.66

One issue to consider is the fact that not all AP students take their course's test. The College Board estimates that about 2/3 of students enrolled in an AP course take the course's AP test.[30] On the other hand, a study of University of California system students found that only about 55% to 60% of AP students took their course's exam.[31]

However, "It has recently become clear . . . that these estimations of overall participation rates mask the variability in participation rates across AP examinations."[32] For example, one study of math and science AP courses showed that participation rates were 52.7% for AP Chemistry, 53.6% for AP Physics, 57.7% for AP Biology, and 77.4% for AP Calculus.[33] The largest study on this topic found similar participation rates (49.5% for AP Chemistry, 52.3% for AP Physics, 54.5% for Biology, and 68.9% for Calculus).[34] History exams tend to have slightly higher participation rates (57.9% for AP European History, 58.5% for AP World History, and 62.8% for AP U.S. History), and 65.4% of AP English students took either the AP English Language or AP English Literature exam.[32] This same study found that for "core AP subjects (i.e., no arts or language subjects)", the overall test participation rate was 60.8%.[32]

In February 2014 College Board released data from the previous ten years of AP exams. College Board found that 33.2% of public high school graduates from the class of 2013 had taken an AP exam, compared to 18.9% in 2003. In 2013 20.1% of graduates who had taken an AP test achieved a 3 or higher compared to 12.2% in 2003.


Decreasing quality[edit]

In the 21st century, independent educational researchers began to question whether AP could maintain high academic standards while experiencing explosive growth.[35] Research has shown that the most popular AP tests tend to have the lowest passing rates, a possible indication that less academically prepared students are enrolling in AP classes.[36] Whether the AP program can serve large numbers of students without decreasing academic rigor is a matter of debate within the education field.[35][37]

Passing scores and university credit[edit]

University faculty, such as former professor and high school teacher John Tierney, have expressed doubts about the value of a passing AP score.[38] Students who receive scores of 3 or 4 are being given college credit at fewer universities.[when?] Academic departments also criticise the increasing proportion of students who take and pass AP courses but are not ready for college-level work.[39]

Academic achievement[edit]

Independent researchers in education have since 2010 studied the impact of the Advanced Placement program on students' academic achievement. An early study published in AP: A critical examination of the Advanced Placement program found that students who took AP courses in the sciences but failed the AP exam performed no better in college science courses than students without any AP course at all. Referring to students who complete the course but fail the exam, the head researcher, Phillip M. Sadler, stated in an interview that "research shows that they don’t appear to have learned anything during the year, so there is probably a better course for them".[40]

Two other studies compared non-AP students with AP students who had not taken their course's AP exam, had taken the AP exam but did not pass it, or had passed the AP exam. Like Sadler's study, both found that AP students who passed their exam scored highest in other measures of academic achievement.[41] The largest study of this sort, with a sample size of over 90,000, replicated these results and also showed that non-AP students performed with equal levels of academic achievement as AP students who did not take their course's AP exam—even after controlling for over 70 intervening variables.[42] This led the authors to state that AP participation "... is not beneficial to students who merely enroll in the courses ..."[42]:p. 414

School quality[edit]

Several states use Advanced Placement data for accountability purposes, and U.S. News and World Report use data on Advanced Placement course offerings and participation to rank high schools.[43] However, studies of local school districts[44] and the United States as a whole[45] show that increasing AP participation does not increase the overall academic achievement or school quality at the group (e.g., high school, racial/ethnic group, nation) level. This led one researcher to state, "Clearly, offering AP alone will not magically turn a failing school into a successful one."[46]

See also[edit]


  1. ^"AP Course Ledger". AP Course Audit. University of Oregon. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  2. ^"A Brief History of the Advanced Placement Program"(PDF). College Board. Archived(PDF) from the original on February 5, 2009. Retrieved January 29, 2009. 
  3. ^"Historical Markers: Kenyon College". Kenyon College. Archived from the original on July 19, 2011. Retrieved May 29, 2011. 
  4. ^Stanley N. Katz (March 10, 2006). "The Liberal Arts in School and College". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved January 21, 2011. 
  5. ^About the College Board from collegeboard.com
  6. ^The History of the AP Program from collegeboard.com
  7. ^DiYanni, Robert (2008). "The History of AP Program". CollegeBoard.com. Retrieved July 23, 2009. 
  8. ^The Advanced Placement Program from collegeboard.com
  9. ^Program Summary Report 2006 from collegeboard.com
  10. ^AP Fact Sheet from collegeboard.com
  11. ^AP: Frequently Asked Questions from collegeboard.com
  12. ^https://apstudent.collegeboard.org/takingtheexam/exam-fees
  13. ^de Vise, Daniel (April 4, 2008). "AP Language, Computer Courses Cut". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2011-01-21. 
  14. ^Important Announcement about AP Italian Language and Culture from collegeboard.com
  15. ^AP Online Scores
  16. ^https://secure-media.collegeboard.org/digitalServices/pdf/research/2017/Student-Score-Distributions-2017.pdf
  17. ^"About AP Scores – The College Board". apscore.collegeboard.org. Retrieved 2017-05-09. 
  18. ^"AP Central – Exam Scoring". College Board. Archived from the original on January 13, 2008. 
  19. ^Understanding AP ExamsArchived September 8, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. from PathAspire.com
  20. ^Multiple-Choice Scores from collegeboard.com
  21. ^College Board. "AP Program". Retrieved August 5, 2012. , citing "Unpublished institutional research, Crux Research, Inc. March 2007."
  22. ^"Guess What? Taking AP Exams Just Got Easier". ParentDish. 2010. Retrieved March 6, 2011. 
  23. ^Finnegan, Leah (August 11, 2010). "AP Eliminates Guessing Penalty On Tests". Huffington Post. 
  24. ^"Score Reporting Services". College Board. 2013. p. 1. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  25. ^"Create a CollegeBoard Account". College Board. 2013. p. 1. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  26. ^"List of 4-digit Institutional Codes, PDF"(PDF). Educational Testing Service. 2013. p. 1. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  27. ^"AP Central - Course Home Pages". apcentral.collegeboard.com. Retrieved 2017-05-09. 
  28. ^"AP World History Revisions - Advances in AP - The College Board | Advances in AP". advancesinap.collegeboard.org. Retrieved 2015-06-03. 
  29. ^"AP U.S. Government and Politics - Advances in AP - The College Board". advancesinap.collegeboard.org. Retrieved 2017-05-09. 
  30. ^College Board. "Access to excellence: A report of the commission on the future of the Advanced Placement Program"(PDF). Author. Retrieved 12 January 2017. 
  31. ^Geiser, Saul; Santelices, Veronica. "The role of Advanced Placement and honors courses in college admissions". Center for Studies in Higher Education, University of California. Retrieved 12 January 2017. 
  32. ^ abcWarne, R. T. (2017). "Research on the academic benefits of the Advanced Placement Program: Taking stock and looking forward". SAGE Open. 7 (1): 9. doi:10.1177/2158244016682996. Retrieved 14 January 2017. 
  33. ^Sadler, P. M.; Sonnert, G.; Hazari, Z.; Tai, R. (2014). "The role of advanced high school coursework in increasing STEM career interest". Science Educator. 23: 6. 
  34. ^Warne, R. T. (2017). "Research on the academic benefits of the Advanced Placement Program: Taking stock and looking forward". SAGE Open. 7 (1): 9. doi:10.1177/2158244016682996. Retrieved 14 January 2017. 
  35. ^ abLichten, William (2000). "Whither Advanced Placement". Education Policy Analysis Archives. 8 (29). Retrieved 12 January 2017. 
  36. ^Warne, R. T. (2017). "Research on the academic benefits of the Advanced Placement program: Taking stock and looking forward". SAGE Open. 7 (1). doi:10.1177/2158244016682996. Retrieved 14 January 2017. 
  37. ^Lichten, William (2010). "Whither Advanced Placement--now?". In Sadler, P. M.; Sonnert, G.; Tai, R. H.; Klopfenstein, K. AP: A critical examination of the Advanced Placement program. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press. pp. 233–243. 
  38. ^Tireny, John. "AP Classes Are a Scam". The Atlantic. Retrieved 1 November 2017. 
  39. ^Zimar, Heather (2005). "Universities Raise Standards for Earning Advanced Placement Credit". SEM Source: An Update on State of the Art Student Services. American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (January 2005). Archived from the original on July 29, 2012. Retrieved November 7, 2012. 
  40. ^Hood, Lucy; Sadler, Philip M. (2010). "Putting AP to the Test: New research assesses the Advanced Placement program". Harvard Education Letter. 26 (May/June 2010). Retrieved November 7, 2012. 
  41. ^Ackerman, Phillip; Kanfer, Ruth; Calderwood, Charles (2013). "High school Advanced Placement and student performance in college: STEM majors, non-STEM majors, and gender differences". Teachers College Record. 115 (10): 1–43. 
  42. ^ abWarne, Russell T.; Larsen, Ross; Anderson, Braydon; Odasso, Alyce J. (2015). "The impact of participation in the Advanced Placement program on students' college admissions test scores". The Journal of Educational Research. 108 (5): 400–416. doi:10.1080/00220671.2014.917253. 
  43. ^Morse, Robert. "How U.S. News Calculated the 2015 Best High Schools Rankings". Retrieved 22 August 2015. 
  44. ^Lichten, William (2010). Whither Advanced Placement--now. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press. pp. 233–243. 
  45. ^Warne, Russell; Anderson, Braydon. "The Advanced Placement program's impact on academic achievement"(PDF). New Educational Foundations (4): 32–54. 
  46. ^Warne, Russell T. "Pushing students to take Advanced Placement courses does not help anyone". Retrieved 22 August 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

AP exams were taken by subject in 2013.

Taking AP courses can get help you start college at a more advanced level.


If you’ve started high school recently, or if you are due to start soon, you might be wondering: what are AP classes? You might have heard that they are extra-advanced, or that you can get college credit from them. But how does it work?

If you’ve been wondering what are AP tests are, and how they can help you, read on for our guide to AP courses and how they can get you ahead.


What Is Advanced Placement?

Advanced Placement is a program run by College Board (the makers of the SAT) that allows you to take courses right in your high school that can earn you college credit and/or qualify you for more advanced classes when you begin college.

So what are AP courses? They are designed to give you the experience of an intro-level college class while you’re still in high school. Plus, you can get college credit for the class if you can pass the AP exam.


Well, the content of an intro-level college class... you won't sit in a lecture hall like this until college!


And what are AP exams? It’s basically a test of all you learn in an AP class. You earn college credit if you pass the AP exam given at the end of the year in May. (APs are scored between 1 and 5, with anything above 3 considered passing.) While it's possible to skip an AP class and study for an AP exam independently, it's strongly recommended you take the class. AP classes are specifically designed to help students prepare for the AP exams.

Taking an AP course and passing the test is a sign that you are capable of handling college-level work, which will strengthen your college applications immensely.


History of AP Courses

AP classes were created in the mid-1950s as a response to the widening gap between secondary school (high school) and college. A pilot program in 1952 had 11 subjects, but AP didn’t officially launch until the 1956 school year, when College Board took over the program and named it the College Board Advanced Placement Program.

The program expanded rapidly over the years. Now over 2.4 million students take AP exams every year in 38 subjects. It’s also much more common for students to take multiple AP classes over the course of their high school careers.


Why Take AP Classes?

Take AP Classes to Boost Your College Applications

Taking an AP class (or several!) is a great way to challenge yourself academically and show colleges that you are serious about your education. An AP class on your transcript signals stronger academic training, especially with high passing scores of 4 and 5 on the test.

In particular, getting a 5 shows that you are more advanced in a subject than 80-90% of advanced students – which looks very impressive to colleges!

Since AP courses are challenging and require you to study for a comprehensive exam, they teach you skills that will help you in college classes. According to College Board, students who take AP exams get higher grades in college than those with similar grades who don’t take AP exams.


You basically get a head start in college. 


Many colleges say they look to see if you took the hardest courses available to you at your school. Taking AP classes is often the best way to show that you are challenging yourself academically at your high school. 

For example, Yale says on their admissions website, "We only expect you to take advantage of [AP] courses if your high school provides them.” In other words, if your school has AP courses and you don’t take them, it might look like you aren't challenging yourself. 

To take a west coast example, USC is more straightforward: “Students should pursue Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes whenever possible and if offered by high school.”

Getting a high passing score of 4 or 5 further demonstrates your academic potential to colleges. By the way, if you're curious about a college's suggested high school course load, look up their admissions website by searching "[College/University Name] Admissions Requirements.")


Take AP Classes to Show Your Passion

Taking AP exams is also a way to demonstrate real academic interest in a certain subject. For example, if you’re an aspiring engineer, taking AP Calculus and AP Physics and passing the exams proves to a college admissions committee that you are serious about engineering and have the skills to pursue it.

If you are interested in political science or Pre-Law tracks, taking AP US History, AP US Government, AP Statistics, or AP Economics would show strong preparation for those subjects. Or if you’re hoping to be Pre-Med, taking AP Chemistry, AP Biology, and AP Calculus would show you have the skills to handle tough pre-med classes as a college student.


Take AP Classes to Get College Credit

Some universities give credit for AP classes. For schools that accept the exams as class credit, it makes it possible to graduate college in a shorter amount of time, saving you money! For example, Harvard allows you to apply for advanced standing if you have completed the equivalent of a year of college courses with AP exams.  University of Michigan also grants you course credit and higher class placements for AP exams.

However, some schools use scores to help place you in higher-level classes, but they won’t let them fulfill graduation requirements so you can graduate early. Or they can be limiting about which exams they accept.

As an example, Stanford University accepts AP credit from many science, language, and math AP courses, but not for history or English courses.

Washington University in St. Louis will grant some credit, but won’t allow you to use the credits towards graduation requirements: “A maximum of 15 units of prematriculation credit may be counted toward any undergraduate degree.  These units will count toward graduation, but will not meet general education requirements.” 

Still, getting the boost into more advanced classes can help you work through a major more quickly or take more advanced, interesting courses as a freshman. Even if you don't earn credit, AP classes can still get you ahead.

If you’re curious about a college’s AP policy, College Board has a database you can use to look up any school's policy.


The fewer years college takes, the less you have to spend! 


How Does It Work?

You can sign up for an AP course through your normal high school registration process. Keep in mind some schools have prerequisite courses you have to take before you can sign up for an AP class. Track down your guidance counselor if you have questions!

You also sign up for the test through your school – your school has a designated AP coordinator (often a guidance counselor) to help with that process. If you’re homeschooled or want to take an AP test for a class your school doesn’t have, contact your local school’s AP coordinator.

AP tests cost $91 per test as of 2015. Some schools offer subsidies and College Board also has financial aid. Also, keep in mind that if you pass the exam, you can exchange your score for college credit once you get to college. So even though that $91 fee is steep, it’s a bargain compared to the cost of taking the class over a semester in college.


What’s Next?

Now that you now about AP classes, which ones should you take? Check out our comprehensive list of AP exams and guide. Also learn about how long AP tests are and how to deal with testing fatigue.

Also studying for the SAT? Learn how to boost your Critical Reading, Math, and Writing scores, and get some tips for the essay.

Studying for the ACT instead? Avoid the most common ACT mistake and get tips on writing the essay.


Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:


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