Photo Credit: The Cleveland Leader
Those two little letters “AP” might prompt a mini-panic attack in some readers due to the fast approaching test dates for these things we call “AP tests”. Junior high students may have wondered when looking at courses what is different about “AP English” or “AP Chemistry” from the regular classes. Others may be gearing up for their first round of AP tests or considering whether or not to sign up for AP courses next year. This article will answer many questions related to the courses and the tests as well as recommend some tips for choosing which courses and tests to take and preparing for them.
What is “AP”? What are the courses like? How should I choose which to take?
The first thing to talk about is what exactly AP means. AP stands for “Advanced Placement” because it is a college level course you can take in high school. This means that they are often faster-paced, cover more difficult material, and have textbooks that require college-level reading skills. While this may scare some, it is a great way to prepare for the rigor of college courses and develop your reading, writing, and analytical skills while still in high school. There are a variety of AP courses (34 to be exact), in every subject. From AP Music Theory to AP Physics, there is something for everyone. It is recommended to take AP tests in subjects you are strong or interested in. During my freshman year at a public high school, I took AP Human Geography because I wanted to challenge myself, sample the course material, and attempt the AP exam. I absolutely loved the course and the structure of the AP test. In fact, that is the reason I decided to take two this year. Because AP courses are more rigorous than other high-school level classes, some people worry about taking too many. While there is no concrete suggestion for how many AP courses to take, it is always best to sign up for courses you are interested in without overloading yourself with work. If you are interested in languages, you can sign up for AP language courses or if you are more interested in math you can take AP Calculus.
What are the AP tests like and how are they scored? How should I decide which I should take? How do I get college credit?
The AP tests themselves are optional. This means that if you take an AP course you are not required to take the AP test. In fact, your college application won’t be affected if you decide not to take the test, according to Dr. Lips, the OHS’s College Counselor. He recommends that if you have done fairly well in a course and feel like you have mastered the material to go ahead and register to take the AP test in May. This way, the information is still fresh in your brain. Moreover, It also helps to get a head start on studying for finals!
Doing poorly on an AP test will not hurt you as you do not have to submit your scores; however, a good score can be useful on your college applications, for college credit, or for a scholarship application. In fact, there are scholarships that are awarded based on whether you achieve a certain amount of AP tests over a certain score. AP tests are similar to the SAT and PSAT standardized tests in the process. You register through a local testing center (often a nearby high school) for a fee and then on testing day you show up with your pencils, pens, maybe a snack and a bottle of water, and a head full of knowledge. The tests vary depending on the course, but most have a short answer or essay portion in addition to the multiple-choice questions.
You will not receive your AP scores until June. The tests are scored on a scale from one to five. Five means “extremely well qualified” and one means “no recommendation.” This corresponds to getting college credit for the course. Every university is different, but a lot of colleges accept scores of four and five for credit. This can allow you to save money and time, and if you have enough accepted scores you can even begin college as a sophomore! The universities that do not accept AP test scores for credit still often use them for placing into classes.
How do AP tests look to colleges?
“Contrary to somewhat popular belief, AP exam scores do not play a large role in the college admission process. They do offer colleges some additional academic information, and a student who has done well on AP exams might benefit slightly from this performance” says Dr. Lips, “however, they are nowhere near as important as a student’s coursework, grades, essays, extracurriculars, or ACT/SAT scores in the evaluation of the application.” They can only help you in this case, as universities do not expect certain courses to be taken or certain scores on the tests to be achieved.
How should I prepare for an AP test?
The biggest tip for preparing for an AP test is the same as preparing for any test, competition, or interview. Start early! Many students like to begin studying in March – about two months out. Spring break is a good time to start making a study plan and preparing. The second biggest tip is to take lots of practice tests. You can do this by buying prep books online. They are not too expensive and are very helpful. While a lot of people only use one prep book, I like to buy two or three from different brands. Princeton Review is very good, and Kaplan is too. The Kaplan books are known for being harder, but this is very good preparation for the exam. I would do my first one or two books and then use the Kaplan as my last preparation to increase my confidence going into the exam. The AP prep books have chapters covering all of the major concepts and vocabulary, practice problems, and practice tests. In fact, taking more practice tests can give you a broader exposure to potential AP exam questions. You will also develop an understanding for how to pace yourself if you take the practice exams under similar, timed conditions.
Once you review a bit of material and take a few diagnostic tests you can begin using error-targeted studying to review the concepts or problems you need the most work on. Cramming for AP tests does not work, just as it doesn’t for anything else. If you have a good understanding of the material in the course all year long it will simply be review, working on your weak areas, and developing a feel for the test. AP tests are unlike SATs and other standardized in this way. They are more like a final exam in that they ask you to have a deeper understanding of the material and be able to apply it—especially in the written portions. If you start early, you can take the last week or two to relax and review lightly. As many of your classmates in AP courses will also be taking the test, and you can work together in study groups.
If you have any more questions about AP tests, I suggest that you contact your college counselor and academic advisors, as well as experienced peers
Thank you to Dr. Lips, Thomas Nielsen, Hans Johnson, Eryn Culton, and Zach Shuster for contributing their views on AP tests and their experiences.