That magical time of year has come again: AP registration season is in full swing once more in high schools across the United States. The question is, who will end up in the room when the testing begins in May? And should you consider being one of those students? Check out the possible pros and cons of taking these exams.
One less college course
One of the most common reasons for taking an AP Test is to get out of general education courses that many colleges require. At most schools, you’ll likely need to take at least one course in a variety of disciplines regardless of your chosen major. If there’s an AP course you’re taking and you hate the subject matter, the AP Test is a good way to try to get out of taking another semester of it in college. This frees up a slot to study something that you have more interest in.
Possible money saver
If you score well enough on an AP Test to earn college credit, that means taking one less college course during your first year, which means paying less for college. Each AP Exam currently costs $94, but you may qualify for financial aid, or funding may be available through your school or state. While it may seem pricey, it is certainly cheaper than taking a course at almost any college.
See what you really know
Many of my friends are high achievers who are just as competitive as I am. There are AP classes where we all get straight A’s and bicker about who understands what the best. At that point, the test is a challenge of sorts to see who can get the highest score and objectively come out on top. If you’re competitive and want to see how you stack up with the rest of the country, AP Tests are your shot to do just that.
If you do score well, colleges will take your scores seriously. Keep in mind that this is one of the few ways to objectively compare potential students. The SAT and ACT are good for an overall view, but AP tests can let you show how good you are at a given subject. Depending on your score and choice of college, AP Tests could be a major highlight for you.
Maybe not less college?
Most colleges and universities will require that you score a 3 or higher on an AP Test to give you the credit needed for a class. Depending on the school, you may need to score at least a 4 or 5 to receive college credit. If you intend to go to an elite engineering school, expect these higher score requirements for STEM-related tests. Similarly, many schools with an emphasis on writing will require higher English scores. This is because they want to be sure you’re prepared for their curriculum. Also, some schools just won’t let you skip introductory courses with AP credits. And remember, while it certainly isn’t impossible to get a 4 or 5, it is hard.
The tests cost money
While it costs less than an entire semester-long course at college, there is no guarantee that you’ll be required to take a course in that subject. For instance, an engineering school might not require you to take a government course. In this situation, the money you spent on that AP US Government Test didn’t have any bearing on your time in college. Depending on how specialized a program you’re looking at, certain tests might be irrelevant no matter how high your score is.
Red pill or blue pill
If you take an AP Test, there are no guarantees about your score. You may get the highest grades in the class, but there’s still the chance that you’ll end up with a 1 or 2 on the exam. You have to be ready for that possibility. In the end, the call is yours. Don’t be overconfident and expect a 5 without putting in a fair amount of effort, even if the material comes to you easily. That’s not how these tests are designed.
In general, if you’re going to a liberal arts–based school, I would recommend taking AP Exams in the subjects you like least—if you score well, you might get the chance to skip those courses in college. If you’re going to a more specialized school, then I’d say you have less to gain by taking the tests. And if you have no idea what to do, take them as long as money isn’t an issue. At the very least, you’ll get out of four hours of school.
Taking AP Tests this May? Find all kinds of studying advice in our Test Prep section.