Student Raising HandAdvanced Placement, or “AP”, courses have been around for many years. Originally introduced in the 1950s to offer high school students a chance to earn college credit, College Board, which runs the AP exams, now offers 35 courses at the AP level, with a few more in development for the coming years.

AP courses are intended to prepare student to take the AP exam at the end of the year. These courses hold students to the same academic standards they would find in courses at colleges and universities. In fact, College Board has published their own research indicating that students who take an AP course are more likely to experience academic success in college even when overall academic achievement as a variable is taken out. Furthermore, students who take and pass (see scoring below) an AP exam are also more likely to experience success at the next-level course in college than their peers who did not take that same AP exam. For instance, if a student passes the Physics 1 AP exam in high school, he will be more likely to excel at Physics 2 in college than his peer who did not take Physics 1 AP in high school but instead took Physics 1 in college.

How hard are AP courses?

College Board has strict requirements of which courses can be called “AP”. Teachers must submit their syllabus to College Board in order to be certified as AP. Consequently, a school’s AP courses are closely monitored by College Board to ensure they are as rigorous as college-level courses. Typically AP courses will require more reading, more writing, more homework, and sometimes extra work on weekends to prepare for the AP exam. While the AP exam is not usually required in order to take an AP course, it is highly recommended that the student indeed take the AP exam at the end of the year.

How are AP exams scored?

Scoring the AP exams is a tedious process. Most of the exams are multiple choice, but some, such as the English exams, require an essay. These essays are graded by hand. The nice thing about AP exams is that there is no penalty for guessing on the multiple choice questions. Students are only scored for their correct answers. That means student can guess away without fear of losing points.

Once the exams are scored, students will receive a score report with a numerical value of:

5 = extremely well qualified
4 = well qualified
3 = qualified
2 = possibly qualified
1 = no recommendation 

According to College Board’s website, “qualified” means that the student is capable of entry-level college coursework in that particular subject. Consequently, most colleges will give students credit for a 4 or 5, with some colleges giving credit for a 3. Some colleges will even give a grade; for instance, a 4 might be a “B” while a 5 might be an “A”. Until recently colleges had the choice of which scores to accept. Make sure to check with the colleges you are applying to see what AP scores they will take.

Why should I take an AP course?

As mentioned above, students who take AP courses are more likely to experience success in college. Because AP courses are rigorous and demand more time and effort, students must learn the skills necessary to balance a heavier courseload in high school. The more a student can do to develop the skills to handle college-level work while in high school, the more prepared he will be once he actually gets to college.

Also, many school offer a GPA boost for taking an AP course. I don’t recommend students sign up for AP courses simply for the boost, but it is nice to know you can possibly receive some extra GPA help for the extra time and effort you will have to put into the class.

What about House Bill 1992 (Texas)?

My original intent for this post came from the little-known HB 1992. Recently signed into law, HB 1992 essentially requires all public colleges and universities in the state of Texas to accept a 3 on the AP exam. Beginning with freshmen entering college in fall of 2016, students who score a 3 are guaranteed to receive credit for that score. This is a huge win for students across the state!

The one caveat to this bill is that universities and colleges can appeal, but, according to College Board, they must make a very compelling case not to accept a 3 for a particular test. It’s a safe bet that the vast majority will not appeal and instead accept scores of a 3.

AP exams offer students many advantages, least of all a chance for college credit. Colleges and universities love seeing it on high school transcripts too during the admissions process. I highly encourage students to consider taking at least one AP exam. Talk to your high school counselor to see if this is a wise choice for you.