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What Are AP Classes? Everything You Need to Know

AP Classes are a series of classes designed by The College Board and taught at high schools across the United States. AP Classes are considered more challenging than Honors or regular courses. They are meant to mimic the difficulty of a college course, and thus, can be redeemed for college credit. Teachers use a standardized set of curriculums to teach these courses. Students receive a few different benefits in college admissions to compensate for this increased difficulty.

In this article, we’ll go over what AP Classes are, how they differ from regular classes, and the benefits afforded to AP students. We’ll also give you some advice on how to balance your schedule between AP and standard courses. Let’s get into it.

Also see: How do I get an AP Exam Fee Reduction?

What are AP Classes?

AP Classes are a set of classes with curriculums designed by the College Board. Most high schools offer at least some AP Classes. Here is a list of each currently available AP Class, per the College Board website:

  • Art and Design
  • Art History
  • Music Theory
  • English Language and Composition
  • English Literature and Composition
  • Comparative Government and Politics
  • European History
  • Human Geography
  • Macroeconomics
  • Microeconomics
  • Psychology
  • United States Government and Politics
  • United States History
  • Modern World History
  • Calculus AB
  • Calculus BC
  • Computer Science A
  • Computer Science Principles
  • Statistics
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Environmental Science
  • Algebra-Based Physics 1
  • Algebra-Based Physics 2
  • Physics of Mechanics
  • Physics of Electricity and Magnetism
  • Chinese Language and Culture
  • French Language and Culture
  • German Language and Culture
  • Italian Language and Culture
  • Japanese Language and Culture
  • Latin
  • Spanish Language and Culture
  • Spanish Literature and Culture

How are AP Classes different from regular classes?

AP Classes vary from other classes for a few reasons. The first is that they are taught from a standardized curriculum. Each AP teacher receives materials from the College Board and teaches students with the objective of helping them perform well on the AP Exam. So, you will probably use more standardized textbooks and study material than in an average class.

Another key difference is that AP Classes are designed to be more challenging than regular courses. The AP Exams are difficult, and students will have a lot to learn throughout the semester in order to perform well. So, if you enroll in AP Classes, you should expect to spend more time on them than on regular classes.

Related: How to pay for AP Exams

What are AP Exams?

AP Exams are standardized exams meant to test what you learned throughout your AP Class. Your teacher will spend the semester preparing you for these exams, and they will test everything you learn from the beginning of the semester through the end. You can use these scores to potentially place out of classes in college, and to bolster your college applications.

Related: Why you should take Advanced Placement Exams

Impacts on weighted GPA

Because AP Classes are more challenging than other courses, they garner a higher score for your weighted GPA, or grade point average. While an A in a regular course becomes a 4.0 on your GPA, an A in an AP Class becomes a 5.0. Likewise, a C in an AP Class would translate to a 3.0, while it would only be a 2.0 in a regular class. This GPA boost helps compensate for the difficulty of AP Classes.

Also see: Do colleges use a weighted or unweighted GPA?

Impact of AP Classes on a transcript

When colleges look at your application, they don’t just look at your GPA. They look at the classes you’ve taken and relate them to the interests you express in your essays. Taking AP Classes shows a serious commitment to these interests. When colleges see AP courses on a high school transcript, they are impressed and give the student extra consideration.

Related: How many AP Classes should I take in high school?

Using AP Classes for college credit

If you score well on an AP Exam, you might receive college credit for it. The terms of AP credit vary by school. Some schools will give you generic credits, which essentially just add to the total number of credits you’ve earned. Others will find an equivalent class that they offer, and give you credit for that class in particular. These might help you accomplish your diversity requirements. However, some schools don’t accept them at all. 

Although you may not end up earning college credit for your AP Exams, there’s no way to know until after you’ve decided on a school. So, it is typically worth taking the exam regardless.

Also see: Why should I earn college credits in high school?

Self-studying for AP Exams

Many people don’t realize this, but you can take an AP Exam without having taken the corresponding course. Students can opt to self-study rather than learning the material through a course. Although this may be more challenging, it is an opportunity to earn college credit and bolster your college application. If you already have prior knowledge of a subject, you may have an easier time accomplishing this feat.

Don’t miss: What happens if I fail an AP Exam?

Does my AP Exam impact my class grade?

AP Exam results do not come out until after the end of the semester, so your grade on the test will never impact your class score. That being said, many AP teachers use a sample AP test as their final exam. In this case, that test will impact your class grade. Additionally, some teachers may offer extra credit for anyone who signs up for the AP Exam. In this case, your grade will not impact your score, but if you opt not to take it, you may miss out on extra credit.

Also see: Do I have to take an AP Exam if I take an AP Class?

Deciding how many AP Classes to take

So, how many AP Classes should you sign up for? The answer to this question depends on a few factors. You should push yourself with new classes, but also be sure not to overload your schedule. Make sure you can keep up any extracurriculars you participate in, and start off with just one AP Class to see how you handle it.

As you get a feel for the pace of AP Classes, you should consider signing up for more in following semesters. If your high school offers a wide range of AP Classes, you can explore new subjects as time goes on.

Easiest AP Classes

This question varies widely based on the student. The easiest AP Class for you will always be the one you’re the most proficient in. However, these are the AP Classes with the highest percent passing rate on their AP Exam:

  1. Physics C: Mechanics
  2. Calculus BC
  3. Spanish Literature

How do I know whether AP classes are right for me?

First, it is important to recognize that AP classes are more challenging than regular classes in the same subject.  Upchieve, a nonprofit that supports low income students, recommends that students seek advice from trusted teachers, counselors, as well as students who have taken AP classes. Your teachers and advisors are the ones who know your academic history, and fellow students will give you the real deal about what AP classes entail. If you are on the fence about whether taking AP classes is the right move for you, don’t be afraid to seek information so you can make the best informed decision.

Summing it up

  • AP Classes are a standardized set of courses meant to mimic college classes
  • At the end of each AP Class, you can take an AP Exam, which has the potential to grant you college credit and to bolster your college application
  • The AP Exam will not directly impact your AP Class
  • AP Classes boost your weighted GPA
  • You can choose to take an AP Exam even if you didn’t take the corresponding class