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Why You Should Take Advanced Placement Tests

Unlike the SAT and/or ACT exams, colleges do not require that applicants submit AP Exam scores to gain admittance. So, many students are left wondering, “Do I have to take Advanced Placement tests?” In this article, we’ll go over all the pros of taking Advanced Placement tests and how they can help you potentially save thousands of dollars in college tuition. Let’s get into it!

Also see: Do I have to take AP Exam if I take the course?

What are AP Exams?

Let’s start with the basics: AP Exams are a set of tests designed by the College Board to test the student’s knowledge on a college-level subject. The majority of students take an AP Exam upon completion of an AP Course. These are college-level courses designed to be taught in high school that are offered at schools all across the country.

That being said, students don’t need to take an AP Course before taking an AP Exam. You have the option of “self-studying,” which means that you’ll use a textbook or online resources to learn the material that you would have otherwise learned in a high school course. Your test will be accepted and graded just the same as if you’d taken the course beforehand.

How much do AP Exams cost?

As of 2022, AP Exams cost $96 per exam. However, students with demonstrated economic need, such as those who qualify for free or reduced federal lunch, can obtain a fee reduction and pay $53 instead.

What benefits can I receive from an Advanced Placement test?

The principal benefit that students may receive through taking an Advanced Placement test is college credit and/or placement. Credit allows students to enter college having already earned a certain number of credits to be used towards graduation. These credits can help the student graduate early, or offer some flexibility if the student attends part-time for a semester, takes time off, or changes majors midway through.

Placement, on the other hand, allows students to skip out of the more basic levels of a course and go directly into a more advanced one. So, if a student is interested in mathematics, but is already a calculus pro, they can take one of the AP Calc exams. Once they arrive at college, they’ll place directly into a class that challenges and interests them.

Related: How does AP Credit work?

Do AP Scores help my college application?

This is a common question that many students tend to be misinformed on. Although students have the option of sending AP Scores to colleges along with their application, the vast majority of admissions offices have stated that AP Scores are not a major deciding factor in college admissions. If you are applying to college in the United Kingdom, however, AP Scores are necessary for your application. So, UK college applicants should hold these tests in very high importance.

It should be noted, however, that taking AP Classes actually does help your admissions chances significantly. In addition to boosting your weighted GPA, they look impressive on your transcript and show admissions officers that you are already thriving in college-level academics.

Also see: An insider’s perspective into what goes on at a college admissions office

What if my high school doesn’t offer AP Courses?

If your high school doesn’t offer AP Courses, you still have the option of taking AP Exams – you’ll just have to self-study instead of using the class to prep. This can be a challenge, but is certainly doable, especially for courses that you already have some knowledge in. If you love to read and write, the AP English Language and Composition may be a breeze. If you’re already fluent in French, try out a French practice exam and you may be surprised by how far along you already are.

Will colleges accept my AP Credits?

This is an important question to consider when deciding whether to take AP Exams. Colleges vary widely in their treatment of AP Credits. Some offer placement, but no credit, whereas others offer credit, but not placement. Some only accept very high scores, while others accept anything 3 and above to earn credit for a course.

Unless you applied and were accepted Early Decision, you probably won’t know exactly what college you’re going to attend until after AP sign up has already passed. But if your school is already locked in, make sure to check their AP policies before spending the money on exams. You may find that they will not be useful for you after all.

Do I have to take an AP Exam if I took an AP Course?

You do not have to take an AP Exam after taking an AP Course! While it can serve as a great capstone for your course and potentially provide you with a leg-up and even save you substantial amounts of money in college, it is not required. If you are confident that you would not do well or know for certain the college you’re enrolling in won’t accept the credit, don’t worry – you won’t be penalized in your course for not taking the exam. 

That being said, you should keep in mind that many teachers use practice AP Exams as the final exam in their course. So, make sure you are at least studying for the test, even if you don’t plan on taking the official one.

What happens if I fail?

As with any exam, students might go into Advanced Placement Tests worrying about what might happen if they fail. Luckily, unlike other tests, students face no great penalties if they fail an AP Exam. In fact, all they stand to lose is the money they spent on the exam in the first place. You do not need to send your failed exams to any schools you are applying to, and they do not affect your grades in the class if you did take the class.

So, when weighing your decision to take the exam, remember that the only things you stand to lose are the time you spent taking it and the fee for the test. You cannot hurt your grades or admissions chances by failing an AP Exam.

What are the easiest and hardest AP Exams?

Great question! We’ve got an entire article on the easiest AP Courses for self-study, and another one on the hardest. The short answer is – play to your strengths when it comes to AP Courses. Remember, an easy course for you might be a hard one for another student. If you are inclined towards the sciences, look for those AP Exams and Courses first. If you love history, consider AP American History. Whatever interests you tends to be what you succeed in.

Additional resources

As you enter the later stages of high school and begin to consider Advanced Placement tests, college admissions, and more, you have a lot of decisions and responsibilities to balance ahead of you. Luckily, we can help you through the process. Check out our complete high school checklist, our guide on what looks good on college applications, and our guide to completing the Common App essay prompts

You can also begin fundraising for your education through our lists of scholarships for high school juniors, high school seniors, or by trying out our free scholarship search tool, which offers custom-matched, automatically-updated scholarships on a daily basis. Good luck, and remember to check back whenever questions arise!