AP Classes and AP Exams: Are They Worth It?

Common questions that high school students have regarding AP classes include “What Are AP classes and AP tests? How many AP courses should I take? Can I take the AP exam without taking the AP class? Are they worth taking?”

Here, we’ll answer all of these questions and more, and help you compare the pluses and minuses of AP classes so you can make informed decisions.

What are AP classes?

Advanced Placement (AP) classes aim to prepare high school students for the rigors and expectations of college-level academics through more challenging courses. AP classes are considered college-level courses. AP exams can result in college credit if your score is high enough. AP scoring is on a 5-point scale, with 5 being the highest possible score. 5 indicates “extremely qualified” and 1 indicates “no recommendation.” Typically, a score of 3 or better provides college credit.

What are AP exams?

AP exams are held each year in May. There are a total of 38 exams, all with the following features in common:

  • Each is 2-3 hours long.
  • There is no negative marking for wrong answers or unanswered questions.
  • The first part is multiple-choice.
  • The second part consists of free-response questions that can be answered in an essay, verbal (conversational), or problem-solution format.

Can anyone take AP classes?

It depends on your school’s policy. In some cases you must have a certain GPA or grade in a particular subject in order to take an AP course.

How many AP classes should I take?

When applying to colleges, keep in mind that the admissions staff do not only look at the overall GPA, but at the rigor of the courses students take. Therefore, taking AP courses not only helps to improve your GPA since they’re typically weighted, but they also show that a student is challenging themselves.

There are a wide range of subjects that offer AP exams — from math and sciences to psychology to foreign languages (a full list appears below) — though not all high schools will offer all possible courses. I advise students to focus on AP courses that are directly in line with their intended major. If a student intends to pursue pre-med studies, they should have science focused AP classes on their transcript. No need to take every single AP course offered at your high school. Instead, focus your attention on your desired field of study. Taking fewer AP courses and scoring higher is often advisable compared to taking more AP courses and receiving lower scores.

Do I have to share my scores with colleges I apply to?

Students can withhold one or more AP scores from their college list. The score will be withheld from any future score reports sent to that particular college. The AP score is not permanently deleted, just hidden from the score report. There is a $10 per score per college to withhold the AP score.

Can I take the AP exam without taking the AP class?

Yes, students can sit for the AP exam without taking the official AP class. This allows for students to self-study and take additional AP exams. Students are not limited to the AP classes offered at their school. They are able to take the exam even if the AP class is not provided by their high school.

Are AP classes worth taking?

AP classes are impressive on a high school transcript. They indicate that the student is ambitious and challenging themselves in their studies. No college admissions counselor will be impressed with a high GPA inflated with “easy” courses. Taking rigorous courses and scoring well on them is far more impressive.

What AP courses/exams exist?

Below is a list of all AP exams offered. Recall that not all AP course subjects will be offered by every school, but students may take any AP exam without taking the corresponding course.

AP Art History
AP Biology
AP Calculus AB
AP Calculus BC
AP Chemistry
AP Chinese Language and Culture
AP Computer Science A
AP Computer Science Principles
AP English Language and Composition
AP English Literature and Composition
AP Environmental Science
AP European History
AP French Language and Culture
AP German Language and Culture
AP Government and Politics: Comparative
AP Government and Politics: United States
AP Human Geography
AP Italian Language and Culture
AP Japanese Language and Culture
AP Latin
AP Macroeconomics
AP Microeconomics
AP Music Theory
AP Physics 1
AP Physics 2
AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism
AP Physics C: Mechanics
AP Psychology
AP Research (Second part of the AP Capstone program)
AP Seminar (First part of the AP Capstone program)
AP Statistics
AP Spanish Language and Culture
AP Spanish Literature and Culture
AP Studio Art: 2-D Design
AP Studio Art: 3-D Design
AP Studio Art: Drawing
AP United States History
AP World History

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Author: Kristen Moon

Kristen Moon is an independent college counselor and founder of MoonPrep.com. Moon Prep provides one-on-one coaching services catered to university admissions. They guide students through the entire application process including: completing applications, personal statements, supplemental essays, student resumes, scholarships, and financial aid. Their specialty lies in the Ivy League, direct medical programs (BS/MD), and highly competitive universities.

AP Classes and AP Exams: Are They Worth It?