The Advanced Placement courses for high school were designed to give students a challenging alternative to regular class work. These classes encourage students to develop higher-level thinking skills and to study at a much more in-depth level than other classes. As a benefit, many colleges accept AP scores and offer credit for college classes in their place. This can help a student save money when attending college and puts him or her into a class level that is more appropriate for his or her abilities.

What is an AP Score and How is it Used?

Students signing up for an AP class in high school will take a full year of classroom instruction in that subject, just as they would have if they had taken the regular class. At the end of the year, however, students will have the opportunity to take a test in this subject and, if a qualifying score is earned, the student may be able to receive AP credit for college classes, as well. Currently (2011) AP tests are offered in over 25 areas such as:

  • Calculus
  • Biology
  • Computer Science
  • French Language and Culture
  • Chemistry
  • Macroeconomics
  • Psychology
  • Spanish Language, Literature and Culture
  • Statistics
  • and more.

Students who take these AP courses in high school are given the opportunity, usually in May, to take the AP examination in that subject. While many schools pay for AP exams for their students, other schools must ask students to pay for the tests themselves. The current (2011) fee for each test is $87, although cost reductions are available to students who show financial need.

AP Scores and How They Work

AP tests are scored on a scale of one to five. AP tests normally consist of a multiple-choice section and a free-response section. Both sections are scored and weighted for a final numerical grade. For each test, there is a complicated system for how the scores are weighted; you can find more information at the AP web page.

Although a great deal is said about a “qualifying” AP score, the fact is that colleges make their own decisions when it comes to what they will and will not accept for class credit. Smaller schools tend to award AP credit for any score of three or above, while larger schools may demand a four in order to receive credit. Four and five AP scores are usually accepted at any school in lieu of credit. Few if any schools will accept a two or a one.

The type of school you attend also has a direct impact on how your AP scores are counted. Few two-year colleges accept AP scores, while almost all four-year colleges do so. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, two-year colleges or “junior” colleges are designed to give students a good transition between high school and college and to provide a student an opportunity to work in a less stressful college atmosphere than he or she might find on a four-year campus. This means that it is important for two-year college students to take advantage of most classroom opportunities and gradually build the skills necessary to succeed at the four-year level.

Second, junior colleges could not survive financially without the tuition for the limited number of classes they offer. Because their course offerings are half those of a four-year college, and because students only attend the school for two years, junior colleges usually have far more limited budgets than four-year schools. For this reason, junior or two-year colleges are reluctant to offer credit for AP courses.

Can I use my AP Credits for any Classes in which I receive a Passing Score?

Some schools will allow you to use only certain AP credits. In some cases, even if you have a four or five on an AP test, the school will not accepted this credit because it offers a unique type of introductory class in that area of study. It is entirely up to the school whether or not to accept AP credit, so if you feel that your school’s policy is arbitrary, you can talk to the dean of that school and see if any exceptions can be made. Otherwise, you are going to have to take the class even though you have a qualifying AP score.