A brief Introduction to the AP Program

The Advanced Placement (AP) program is a true asset for college-bound students. Parents who are unfamiliar with the program, however, might be hesitant to allow their son or daughter to participate. Parents and students who hear about this program most likely know that courses are demanding, the exams are challenging, and that if you successfully pass an AP test, you may receive college credit.  But the AP program is so much more than just a challenging course and exam.

AP Program Basics

The Advanced Placement program is run by the College Board, the same group that creates the SAT tests.  The College Board understands standardized test-taking better than any other organization.  The College Board gives 34 AP tests that your student can choose from.  Course availability depends on what classes are available at your child’s school. Your child does not have to take an AP course in order to take the test. Your child does, however, have to order the test through a school and take the AP test with other school members.

Teachers and Curriculum.

While there are no strict standards set by the College Board for AP teachers, some counties and schools will require that AP teachers take advantage of the resources that the College Board provides for the training of AP teachers. Courses should be rigorous and demand more work than even an honors class.  The College Board does give specific details about what should be covered in AP courses. It also provides study guides for each test that will help students to review for the exam.

The Test

The AP Test is set up much like the SAT. Students have a test coordinator who will read them the instructions and instruct them on when and how to open their test booklets. The tests are highly secure in order to prevent cheating and skewed results. Most tests involve a multiple choice section and a Free Response section for essays, short answers, or in the case of science and math tests, open answer word problems. The College board provides resources for both students and parents that involve preparation for the test, including the Bulletin for AP Students and Parents.

Scoring Scale

While scoring percentages are different for each test, all AP Tests have a final composite score that rests on a 1 to 5 scale. Students who achieve a score of 5 have excelled in their mastery of the subject, whereas students who score a 1 needed more work.  A 3 is generally accepted as a passing grade.  In years past, students would be penalized for wrong answers on these tests. On the 2011 tests, however, students were no longer penalized and could only earn points, not lose them.


Many colleges will give credit for a passing grade on the AP test. A good number of colleges will refuse a score of 3, however.  Scoring a 4 or 5 on the tests gives you the best chances of earning credit for them.  Credit varies from college to college, but many AP tests will cover 3 credit hour courses.  Students can potentially eliminate whole semesters of college work by taking AP classes in high school and passing the exams.

It is evident that the AP Program is a worthy endeavor. Though the classes are challenging, credit or even participation in these courses can improve a student’s good standing when applying for college.  Invest a little time in researching the program and see if an AP course is right for you.