Advanced Placement Exams

Advanced Placement exams are now a staple of academic life in high schools throughout the United States. These rigorous exams are typically the culminating experience for students who have been taking Advanced Placement courses. One side benefit of these exams (beyond admissions) is that it is possible to earn college credit that could shorten the amount of time that you would be at a college. Less time = less money.

Things to Know
The typical person taking an Advanced Placement exam will be a high school student. The College Board has several consecutive days in the spring of each year when the testing occurs. While there are other exams that will allow you to earn college credit if you are an adult (and those articles will be coming shortly), AP exams are solely for high school students.

AP exams available from the College Board include:

  • Arts (Art History, Music Theory, Studio Art: 2-D Design, Studio Art: 3-D Design, Studio Art: Drawing)
  • English (English Language & Composition, English Literature & Composition)
  • History & Social Science (Comparative Government & Politics, European History, Human Geography, Macroeconomics, Microeconomics, Psychology, U.S. Government & Politics, U.S. History, World History)
  • Math & Computer Science (Calculus AB, Calculus BC, Computer Science A, Statistics)
  • Sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Science, Physics B, Physics C: Electricity & Magnetism, Physics C: Mechanics, Physics 1, Physics 2)
  • World Languages & Culture (Chinese Language & Culture, French Language & Culture, German Language & Culture, Italian Language & Culture, Japanese Language & Culture, Latin, Spanish Language & Culture, Spanish Literature & Culture)

How do Colleges Treat Advanced Placement?
There are two basic ways that colleges give you credit for Advanced Placement. The larger group gives you the actual credit for specific courses. For example, if you do well enough on AP English Language and Composition, they might give you credit for English 101 (“Freshman English”). This puts 3 units on your college transcript.

The second possibility is that you don’t earn actual units for your transcript, but you are allowed to skip certain introductory courses. So what’s the difference? In that first scenario, if you have to earn 124 units in order to graduate, you are now at 121. In the second scenario, you are still at 124. If you have taken a few of these exams, that can add up quickly.

I hate to mention it, but there is a third possibility. There are some colleges that do not accept Advanced Placement at all. If cost is a strong factor in college selection for you (and you did well on AP tests), think carefully about what your best option might be.

The absolute best resource for determining what a particular school might do is the College Board itself. If you click on the graphic below, it will take you to their search engine where you can find out, in one place, what all of your potential colleges give for AP tests.

College Board Search Engine

What is a Passing Score?

The College Board does not require (and could not require) colleges to choose a particular number for a passing score. Exams are graded 1 – 5. In many cases, a 3 gets you the credit, but there are some schools which require a 4. Again, think carefully (if you received any 3s).

Here is an example from the University of California as to what is possible. As a system, UC accepts for credit exams where a student earned at least a 3. Something to bear in mind with this data is that not all schools in the system will award credit (because they may not offer those courses.

  • Biology: You can earn 8 quarter units.
  • English Language & Composition: You can earn 8 quarter units.
  • Government & Politics: You can earn 4 quarter units for U.S. and 4 quarter units for Comparative.
  • Spanish Language & Culture: You can earn 8 quarter units.

And so on. If you are good test-taker, it is entirely possible that you could finish off most of your first year of college in this manner.

Is that cheap? In my opinion, paying 75% of a total cost (if you can graduate in three years instead of four) is a very good deal.