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    What Are AP Classes? Everything You Need to Know

    By Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman

    Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman is a content editor and writer at Scholarships360. He has managed communications and written content for a diverse array of organizations, including a farmer’s market, a concert venue, a student farm, an environmental NGO, and a PR agency. Gabriel graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in sociology.

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    Reviewed by Caitlyn Cole

    Caitlyn Cole is a college access professional with a decade of experience in non-profit program and project management for college readiness and access organizations.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: November 29th, 2023
    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
    • 2-D Art and Design
    • 3-D Art and Design
    • Drawing
    • 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
    • World History: Modern
    • Calculus AB
    • Calculus BC
    • Computer Science A
    • Computer Science Principles
    • Precalculus
    • Statistics
    • Biology
    • Chemistry
    • Environmental Science
    • Physics 1: Algebra-Based
    • Physics 2: Algebra-Based
    • Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism
    • Physics C: Mechanics
    • 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 as well as additional academic rigor. When colleges see AP courses on a high school transcript and see that you have done well in those courses, they may give the student extra consideration. It’s important not just to take AP classes because they might help your transcript, it’s possible that taking too many AP classes at once could be overwhelming and negatively impact your GPA so be thoughtful about how much you’re taking on while still being able to be successful in your other classes. 

    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 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 with any extracurriculars you participate in. Continue to do well in your other classes, 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.

    Also see: What classes should I take senior year?

    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. Chinese Language and Culture
    2. Art and Design
    3. Spanish Language and Culture

    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.  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.

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • AP classes are a standardized set of courses that are similar to college classes of the same topic
    • 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 terms of awarding AP credit vary by school

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    Frequently asked questions about AP classes

    Can I take an AP class online?

    Some schools offer online AP classes. There are also online platforms that provide AP courses. It’s important to ensure that the online course is authorized by the College Board.

    Do colleges want to see AP courses on my transcript?

    AP classes can leave a positive impact on a college viewing your transcript because it shows your willingness to challenge yourself and take rigorous coursework. High grades in AP classes and on AP exams can also improve your college application and even provide you with college credit.

    What’s the difference between AP and IB classes?

    The International Baccalaureate (IB) program is an alternative to AP and offers a comprehensive curriculum that includes a range of subjects. Both programs are rigorous and can enhance college applications, but they have different structures and philosophies. Read our guide to learn more about IB vs AP!

    What score do I need to pass an AP exam?

    AP exam scores range from 1 to 5, with 3 being considered as a passing score. However, what is considered a passing score varies depending on your goals, the college’s policies, and the subject of the exam.

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