The What, Why, and How of AP Examinations
What are AP exams?
AP examinations are tests administered every year in May. These exams are written by the College Board (the same company that writes the SAT) and are traditionally taken after a semester or year-long AP class. AP classes and their respective exams are administered in subjects ranging from Studio Art to Psychology to Calculus to German. A full list of available AP courses and examinations is available at this link.
These exams are scored on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest score available. Most AP exams last for 2 – 3 hours and consist of a multiple choice section at the beginning followed by a free response section at the end of the test. Depending on the content tested, these free response questions could require you to solve equations or write an essay. There is no guessing penalty on the multiple choice portion of the examinations.
Why take AP exams?
The main reason to take AP examinations is to receive college course credit. At many universities, you can earn college credit by achieving a passing score (3 or above) on a given AP examination. It is important to note that while a 3 is considered passing, some colleges require minimum scores of 4 or 5 to receive credit. For example, Georgia Tech requires a 5 on the AP Chemistry exam in order to receive any college credit, whereas the University of Georgia provides credit for a score of a 3, 4, or 5 on the AP Government & Politics: United States exam.
This credit can go towards entry-level courses in a given field. Using the examples cited above, a 5 on the AP Chemistry exam will allow you to skip over Georgia Tech’s CHEM 1310 General Chemistry class and receive 4 hours of credit towards a major in chemistry. A 3 on the AP Government exam will allow you to skip UGA’s 3 hour course on American Government so that you can jump straight to POLS 4010 (Political Philosophy to Machiavelli). Therefore, you can not only put hours towards your anticipated major, but you can pass over introductory classes and prerequisites so that you can jump ahead to more interesting advanced courses. Additionally, some schools allow you to apply AP credit towards hours needed for graduation. If you plan ahead with your course selections, you can graduate a semester early, save money by avoiding that last semester’s tuition payment, and get a head start on job hunting or take some time off to travel or work before starting graduate school.
How to prepare?
Last-minute preparation for the AP exam cannot replace hard work throughout the duration of the semester or year-long course. That being said, switching your focus from school work to the examination in mid-March can help you fill in any gaps in your knowledge, refresh difficult concepts from earlier in the year, and help you organize your studying as the exam approaches. I suggest starting with course descriptions provided by the College Board (here is an example course description for AP Environmental Science). These are available on each AP exam’s home page, and you can access these pages from this link. When you are going through these high level outlines, be sure to note your comfort level with each topic mentioned. The test writers operate off of these guidelines, so if there is a subject you do not feel as comfortable with, take the time now to discuss these concepts with your teacher. You may also want to consider purchasing a test-prep book or setting up tutoring with an expert in the subject matter to make sure that you are generally aware of everything that can be tested and proficient with regards to the most heavily tested concepts.
The College Board’s website offers valuable practice opportunities for each AP exam as well. This link is an example of resources offered with respect to the AP English Language and Composition examination. You can find sample multiple choice questions and free response questions directly from previous examinations. Consider creating a study group with your friends and anonymously grading each other’s responses to a given free response practice problem using the scoring guideline, or ask your teacher to review your work before school. The more you can expose yourself to the types of questions asked, the more prepared you will be on test day.
Finally, if you are taking more than one examination during the 2 week AP testing period, be sure to pace yourself! Consider studying for your last exam first, and then transitioning to your earlier exams in reverse order. This way when you go to study between your exams, you have already covered the material and you can set yourself up for a productive review.
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