In the US, high school students are able to gain credits by following a college-level curriculum and sitting examinations while still at school. Advanced Placement, or AP, has no set syllabus, since the classes are created by teachers and have to comply with guidelines and standards set by the College Board, which started organising AP courses back in 1955 and audits every course. AP courses are available globally, and are recognised in the US and 100 other countries.
Advanced Placement courses are taught at a higher level than standard classes and are particularly well suited to:
- students who excel in a subject and wish to pursue it at university level
- students who prefer sitting examinations to doing coursework
- students who are looking for a challenge.
Most students combine AP courses with the normal high school diploma programme, and since each AP course takes approximately eight months to complete, they can easily attend standard and AP classes. The courses are taught through lectures, and involve a great deal of set reading material and independent learning, and emulate the type of teaching and learning found at universities. As a result, gaining AP exams demonstrates that you are ready for college studies and capable of doing well as an undergraduate.
What AP exams can I sit?
At present there are 38 courses available in seven areas:
- Arts – drawing, art history, art and design, music theory
- History and Social Sciences – US history, comparative government and politics, macroeconomics, microeconomics, human geography, psychology and European history
- Maths and computer science – pre-calculus, computer science principles, calculus, statistics
- Sciences – biology, chemistry, physics, mechanics, electricity and magnetism, environmental science
- English – language and composition, literature and composition
- World languages and culture – Japanese, Chinese, German, Latin, Spanish, French, Italian
The Capstone Diploma – this comes in two parts, AP Seminar and AP Research, takes two years, and focuses on learning skills across disciplines, analysis, research planning and collaborative work, using cross-curricular links.
What is the Capstone Diploma?
This diploma closely models what you will do at university. In the AP Seminar section, students are evaluated through an oral presentation, a 1,000 word research paper and an examination. In the AP Research section, students write a research paper on a topic of their choice and have to defend it in front of a panel – just like a university viva.
If you pass the course and gain 3 APs, you will be given the Capstone Diploma.
How does Advanced Placement differ from the IB?
The IB, or International Baccalaureate, is heavy in coursework, whereas AP courses focus on the end of year examinations.
The IB favours enquiry-based learning and skill-based learning, whereas AP courses concentrate on in-depth knowledge of subject content.
Do universities accept AP qualifications?
Yes, AP examination results are accepted at over 700 universities, worldwide. In the US, many highly ranked institutions – including Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Michigan State University and the University of Colorado-Boulder – give AP credits. In some cases, students can even go directly into the second year of their course, on the basis of their AP qualifications, and this offers immense financial benefits, in terms of savings on tuition fees and accommodation etc. Most US universities will give you credits towards your course if you get 3 or more in your AP exams (the exams are scored 1-5).
Testing locations and sitting the AP exams
If you are not sitting the AP exams at school, contact the College Board and they will put you in touch with your closest examination centre.
The examinations take place in the first part of May and results are posted in July. You will have to open an account with College Board, and pay a fee, which is currently $97 per subject if you live in the USA or Canada, and $127 per subject if you do not. The fees for sitting AP Seminar and AP Research are $145, irrespective of where you live.
Exam lengths differ, and most papers are divided into a multiple choice section, followed by a free-writing section. You will be given a ten minute break in between the two papers. The AP exams do not use negative marking, so if you answer a question incorrectly, this will not affect your overall score.
The following AP exams take 3 hours:
- Art History; Biology; Computer Science A; English literature and composition; Latin; Physics 1 and Physics 2; Spanish Literature and Culture; Statistics; Italian/German/Spanish/French language and culture (3hrs 3 mins);Latin.
These subject exams last for 3 hrs 15 minutes:
- Calculus AB; Calculus BC; Chemistry; English Language and composition; European history; US history; World history.
The following subject exams are under 3 hours:
- Chinese language and culture (121 mins); Comparative government and politics (2.5 hrs); Computer science principles (2 hrs); Environmental science (2 hrs 40 mins); Human geography (2 hrs 15 mins); Japanese language and culture (2 hrs); Macroeconomics (2 hrs 10 mins); Microeconomics (2 hrs 10 mins); Music theory (2 hrs 40 mins); Electricity and Magnetism/Mechanics (1 hr 30 mins); Psychology (2 hrs); Chinese language and culture (2 hrs 1 min).
NB: The language AP courses include a spoken section in the exam.
AP Computer Science Principles also has a two-hour task, as well as the exam – this could be designing a programme etc.
AP Drawing and AP Studio Art do not have exams, but you need to submit a portfolio.
The Music Theory exam includes a ten-minute sight-singing section, as well as the multiple choice and free answer parts.
Advanced Placement exam day – guidelines
These are pen and paper examinations, held once a year, so make sure you are equipped, rested and ready, and get to the examination centre in good time, since you will be given a locker where you will have to put away forbidden items, such as mobile phones, and to verify your identity.
What you can bring:
- Two No.2 or HB pencils for the multiple-choice sections
- Pens with black or navy blue ink for the free response sections
- Photo ID
- A watch which has no internet access and no alarm function
- AP physics students may bring a ruler, but protractors are banned
Certain courses allow calculators, but check the make and type with College Board, which has a comprehensive list of approved calculators for biology, chemistry, calculus AB, and calculus BC, physics, statistics, environmental science, microeconomics and macroeconomics. Do not assume a calculator which is accepted for biology will also be accepted for statistics exams.
- Hand sanitiser, as long as it is placed on the floor below your desk.
What you cannot bring:
- Food and drink
- Correction fluid or highlighters
- Fitness trackers or any form of electronic devices
- Ear plugs
- Scratch paper
- Calculators which have not been pre-approved by the College Board and are listed on their website
In summary: many European countries offer subjects at expanded or advanced levels during secondary school, and AP exams are just that – and prove your knowledge and skills in a specific subject are at a higher level than the norm.
Accepted by admissions committees all over the globe, AP exams appeal to ambitious and focused students, who know what they want to study at university and want to prove that they have the knowledge and studying skills to do well as undergraduate level.
Are AP exams worth sitting? Yes, for sure, particularly if you are thinking of doing a bachelor’s degree in the US and wish to gain credits for your course in advance.
If you have any questions, or just want to talk through your options and decisions with an educational professional, get in touch with Elab and we will give you the information, advice and guidance you need. Drop us an email, or telephone, and one of Elab’s experienced consultants will provide you with help and support!