What You Need to Know About AP Tests, AP Scores, and Your Future College

Student, Flathead High School

Jul   2016



Image via The Lion’s Roar Middletown High School North

For rising seniors, college applications and acceptances are never far away. No matter which school you're aiming for, everyone wants to secure their future and make sure their hard work in high schools pays off.

With the release of AP test scores earlier this month, you might be wondering how the number on your report will impact your college future. It's important to understand your score and its impact on your student profile before hitting the “send score report” button to your dream school.

Understand your AP test score

Perhaps one of the most confusing aspects of standardized testing is simply understanding your score. Is it good? Is it good enough? And with AP scores, is it good enough to earn those sweet, sweet (money-saving) college credits?

AP scores range from 1–5, with a 3 usually counting as a “passing” score. According to the College Board (which administers the test), the AP scoring scale means:

  • 5 = extremely well qualified
  • 4 = well qualified 
  • 3 = qualified 
  • 2 = possibly qualified 
  • 1 = no recommendation

(A 3 also typically equates to a score of 60%, a 4 is 70%, and a 5 is 85% or higher.) If you get a 3, 4, or 5, you will almost certainly be able to find a college that offers credit for your score. However, your chances of getting college credit for your AP score are much higher if you get a 4 or 5. Even if your score is a 1 or 2, all is not lost. If you would like to try to earn credit, you can retake the test next year!

Additionally, just because you passed with a 3 doesn't necessarily mean you'll be getting credit for score. Moderately to highly selective schools often require a 5 to test out of intro classes, while less selective schools are more likely to award credits for at a lower score.

AP tests and your college choices

First things first: although every college's admission policy is different, most US schools won’t use your AP scores in their admission decision. (However, if you’re thinking about applying to a college in the United Kingdom, many schools require scores of 4 or 5 on anywhere from two to eight AP tests!)

Related: ICYMI: AP Scores Don't Matter in College Admission

Now, that being said, colleges are always on the hunt for bright, motivated students. Having the initiative and drive to take challenging, high-level classes like AP courses makes you a more desirable member in any college community. So although colleges may not consider your AP scores, they will probably appreciate the fact that you took AP courses.

And AP tests can be helpful in your college search in other ways too. While you might not be decided on your major (and that's okay!), taking AP courses in an area that interests you can also benefit you in the long haul. For instance, if you think you might like to major in business, you could take AP Microeconomics or Computer Science Principles. Or if you think you want to go into medicine, AP Biology and Chemistry certainly won't hurt.

Don't let disappointment hold you back

If the little number on your AP score report was the dreaded 1 or 2, you might be wondering about your college options. First, it is important to remember that one test score doesn't define you or your accomplishments up to this point. Colleges will see that you challenged yourself and in the end that will pay off. However, if you’re really concerned about one or more of your AP test scores, College Board offers a score withholding option for $10 per test per school. (You can learn more about this and other score reporting options here.) If you choose this, colleges will see only the scores wish them to see and have no indication that you ever took the test you're hiding. Just be aware that this option can get pricey and should be kept as a last resort.

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About Sophia Skwarchuk

Sophia Skwarchuk is a junior at Flathead High School in Kalispell, Montana. She is an active participant in Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Model United Nations, track, and cross-country. She is Vice President of her school's National Honor Society chapter and volunteers weekly for Big Brothers Big Sisters. When she isn't busy pursuing her academic studies and extracurricular interests, she enjoys dabbling in the culinary arts and writing short stories.