Advanced Placement (AP)
What is Advanced Placement?
In the final years of American High School there is the option for students to take AP classes. These are advanced classes which contain challenging content and are designed to demonstrate to universities that students are capable of succeeding in introductory level college courses. Universities look very favourably at students who have opted to take the AP class as it shows they are dedicated to their academics and willing to challenge themselves with advanced content.
One of the main advantages of taking an AP class is that they give you the opportunity to explore classes you are considering taking in college. They are essentially college ‘taster’ courses and are often offered in subjects such as economics, human biology, philosophy and computer science.
How can we help?
AP classes are challenging, there is no denying that. However, take the plunge and try the class! The greater you can strengthen your understanding of subjects you are interested in taking at college before you get there, the more likely you are to be accepted into the college of your dreams as well as succeed in the course. We understand the magnanimous effort and determination it takes to score highly in an AP class. Whether it’s transitioning between your grades or helping to support the academic requirements of the AP courses, our tutors can be there to assist, explain and guide you through at each step of your academic journey.
Frequently asked questions
Firstly, The AP courses can allow you to earn college credits before you have even been accepted onto a college course and therefore if you earn enough credits through the AP program, they can even help you to graduate early or open up time on your schedule to try new classes.
Secondly, as the program introduces you to college level subject content whilst you are still at high school some universities will allow you to skip introductory courses and accept you straight into the more advanced classes.
Thirdly, by committing to AP courses at high school you demonstrate dedication and a drive to fce challenging academic content. Their strict schedules show you can manage your time effectively, write in an analytical manner and think critically. All of which are key traits universities are looking for.
IB, A level and AP courses are similar in the sense that they all require students to sit standardized exams written by college professors which are assessed and graded externally (not by your own teacher). In all three qualifications you will be awarded a grade which has been calculated as a reflection of your performance and can be used to assess your understanding compared to others who sat the same exam.
A distinctive difference between IB, A level and AP courses is that you do not need to only take AP classes. You can opt to take some AP classes in subjects of your strength and in your weaker subjects you can stay in the high school course. This means you get to personalise your end of school qualifications around your strengths and interests at university. There is an element of this in the IB and A level courses however they both limit your class options to 6 and 3 subjects respectively.
The College Board is largely responsible for the creation of each AP curriculum; they use panels of subject experts and college-level professors to ensure the course is optimally designed.
Some high school courses written in house can also be put forward to the College Board for approval and if they satisfy the criteria the course must be publicly listed on the AP Course Ledger and can be given the AP designation.
There are approximately 38 AP courses currently available however access to each course largely depends on your location and school. The AP courses are divided into the following categories:
- Capstone diploma program (including Seminar and research)
- History and Social
- Math and Computer Science
- World Languages
Rarely do schools offer all of the AP courses so be sure to check which courses your school is offering and the availability at nearby testing centers.
The courses tend to be offered in a variety of disciplines including: Art History, Latin, Macro and microeconomics, Algebra based Physics, Human Geography, Psychology, Calculus, Japanese language and culture to name but a few.
Again to reiterate, AP courses are pre-college courses and therefore are designed to be challenging. They require a lot more discipline, time and self study than standard High School classes however there still is varying difficulty between each course.
As such some of the ‘easier’ courses do not have any prerequisites as they will be new subjects for all students, such as Psychology or Human Geography. These are generally the courses recommended for students to take in Grade 9 or 10. Other courses, such as English or Calculus, will have specific requirements and generally won’t be offered to students until they have completed at least their Grade 10 High School class.
It is usually also highly recommended during your earlier high school years to take honours classes in the core subjects you wish to take to AP level. This will stand you in good stead for scoring highly when you begin the AP course. Another consideration is your own schools policy, as some will have their own specific sequences and prerequisites, generally these include your participation in honors classes.
It is recommended you only take a selection of AP courses per year and maintain a high GPA across the rest of your subjects. Universities do not automatically favor students who have the ‘most’ AP courses, it is much more important that your GPA stays high and the courses you at least pass (obtain a score of 3 or higher) the AP courses you do take.
There is a fine line between stepping up to a challenge and overwhelming your schedule which could in turn damage your GPA. You should consider many factors when choosing your AP classes but most predominantly it should be based on:
- Your interests, passions and anticipated major
- The requirements of your ‘dream’ college or university
We tend to recommend students following one of the below schedules based on the category of university or college they would like to apply to:
Top 20 Schools: Aim to graduate with between 8 to 12 AP courses, achieving the highest grades you possibly can in each. Ideally you want to be taking APs in most (ideally all) of the core subjects including English, Maths, Science and a Foreign Language as well as a few APs in your ‘passion’ subjects or particular areas of interest.
Top 100 Schools: Aim to graduate with between 4 to 8 AP courses, achieving the highest grades you possibly can in each. Ideally you want to be taking APs in some of the core subjects including English, Maths, Science and a Foreign Language as well as a one or two APs in your ‘passion’ subjects or particular areas of interest.
Top 200 Schools: Aim to graduate with between 1 to 4 AP courses, achieving the highest grades you possibly can in each. Ideally you want to be taking APs in your strength subjects. If you can get one or two in the core subjects and potentially one or two in your passion subjects this would make you a very competitive candidate.
Remember: It is always better to have slightly fewer AP courses with higher grades and a competitive GPA, than a multitude of AP courses with a lower grades average and less competitive GPA.
The total number of AP courses are generally split between your high school years with the ‘easier’ courses recommended to be taken in the earlier grades and the more challenging core subjects closer to your graduation grades.
Grade 9 - Freshman Year: Potentially consider one or two AP classes that do not require any previous knowledge for example Environmental Science or Psychology. Also during this year you should consider taking honors classes in the core subjects you wish to later take an AP course in.
Grade 10 - Sophomore Year: We recommend taking one to three AP classes targeted at a slightly more challenging level such as US Government and Politics or Statistics. Again, continue to take honors classes in the core subjects where possible.
Grade 11 - Junior Year: We recommend taking somewhere between 2 to 5 AP courses this year. By this stage you now have an excellent foundation of knowledge from your honors classes and therefore can start taking APs in the core subjects such as English, Calculus, Biology etc. You also need to consider allocating time to prepare for your college entrance papers during this year, whether that is the SAT or ACT, so only commit to the number of classes you are confident you can score highly in.
Grade 12 - Senior Year: This is the year to boost your number of AP courses to your target toal. If you are aiming for Ivy league or highly selective schools students can take up to 6 AP courses in grade 12 however this is quite extreme. Aim for somewhere between 3 and 5 APs to boost your total but do not over commit. This is a crucial year and you must only take on courses you can dedicate enough time to and are confident you can score highly in. During this year you must also allocate time for your college applications, interviews, work experience etc.
AP exams are generally two to three hours long. The time is usually split between two sections: the first part of the exam consisting of a set of multiple choice questions and the second section is made up of a selection of long and short answer questions.
The multiple choice portion of the exam is marked electronically while the free response nad essay portions of the exam are marked by qualified AP Readers.
However not all of the AP courses are exam based, some are completed digitally using a computer and others require portfolios of work, such as Art and Design.
All AP exams have to be sat at accredited facilities. Most of the time this is your school however in some circumstances students have to sit the exams externally at a nearby accredited centre.
AP exams are graded via a 1 to 5 scale:
5 - extremely well qualified
4 - Well qualified
3 - Qualified (this is considered as a pass)
2 - Possibly Qualified
1 - No recommendation
The various sections of the exam are weighted according to their difficulty and importance, and are combined to create a raw composite score. The grade boundaries differ very slightly from year to year. They are ultimately decided by the Chief Reader for each exam alongside statistical analysis and Reader feedback to ensure reliability and non-bias. These boundaries then determine how the composite scores are converted into the final 1 to 5 grading system.
There is no designated criteria a student has to fulfil in order to qualify to take an AP course. If you are interested in attending College we believe you should consider taking AP courses. Not only do these classes give you a competitive edge when applying to university but they more so prepare you for formal examination and challenging academic content. Balancing APs with honor and high school classes takes commitment, dedication and serious time management skills. All things college admissions teams are looking out for.
Even if you are not currently considering college or university admission AP courses are still excellent qualifications to have and by studying such courses you will really gain an abundance of knowledge that will inevitably have many applications throughout your life.