Test Info: AP Exams

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AP Exams

The AP Exams (Advanced Placement Examinations) are standardized exams for AP courses, each one on a specific subject, developed by the College Board and administered by the College Board and ETS (Educational Testing Service). There are more than 30 AP courses in the humanities and sciences in subjects ranging from Art History to Physics. AP exams are designed to test student proficiency in the subject matter taught in year long AP courses (the number and selection of AP courses offered varies greatly among high schools). However, students are not required to take an AP course prior to taking an AP exam.

For all AP exams except the AP Studio Art Exam, for which a portfolio is submitted for review, there are two main sections: a multiple-choice section and a free-response section in either essay or short answer (problem solving) format. The exams vary in length, each lasting between 2 and 3 hours. Scoring on the multiple-choice section is based on the number of correct answers. There is no penalty for an incorrect answer, so if students are unsure about an answer, they are advised to guess. The essay and free-response sections are scored by high school AP course teachers and university professors selected by the College Board and ETS. After the free-response section of a particular exam has been scored, the results are combined with the results of the computer-scored multiple-choice section based on a previously decided percentage weighting of the two sections. This score is then converted into a scaled score from 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest score and 5 being the highest. Each score reflects the quintile of students in which the student tested and thus maps on to a slightly different raw score every year. In many cases, high school students can earn course credit in college or place directly into advanced courses, bypassing introductory level courses, if they have a qualifying AP Exam score. Also, college admissions officers use AP courses to determine the difficulty of an applicant’s course load; students who take several AP courses and perform well on the exams demonstrate that they can excel in the most rigorous courses available in high school and do well in college. For this reason, high scores on AP exams are important for creating an impressive college application.

Most colleges require a score of 3 or higher to accept an AP course for college credit. Students may take an AP Exam as many times as they wish, but each repeat of the same subject is included in their score report. However, there is a Score Choice option, and students may withhold an AP Exam score from a college or university.

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