AP Courses FAQ

With each passing year, it gets more and more difficult to gain admission into top professional schools. In order to build an outstanding student profile and develop the necessary skill set to excel at your chosen career, it’s best to start planning early on.

One way to develop these skills and ensure that you stand out from other applicants is to enroll in AP courses during high school. In this blog post, we’ve assembled 10 frequently asked questions about the benefits of AP classes and AP exams to help you determine whether these courses can benefit your academic goals.  

One important note before we begin: This blog post uses the terms “college” and “university” interchangeably. In this context, both of these terms refer to university-level post-secondary institutions. 

Now, let’s dive in!

Question 1: What Are AP Classes?

AP stands for advanced placement and is a program that offers university-level courses to high school students. The program was developed in the 1950s in order to give students the opportunity to build higher-level thinking skills to the degree required for post-secondary education. While the AP program originated in the United States, it’s offered globally. You can check if any schools in your area offer AP courses here.

These courses are overseen by the College Board, a non-profit organization comprised of colleges, universities, high schools, and other non-profits from around the world. Each institution appoints a delegate to represent their interests and to act as a go-between. If you’re interested in learning more about the College Board’s membership, you can read more about it here.

There are 38 AP courses, the majority of which are designed as standalone courses. This means that most of the courses don’t have prerequisites and you can pick and choose which ones you’d like to take. However, most schools that offer AP courses only offer a handful of them. 

In addition to outlining the scope of what each course must cover, the College Board provides and grades the AP exams. However, they don’t always provide the individual syllabi. Schools, therefore, are able to develop a unique syllabus for each course so long as it’s approved by the College Board. Schools are also given the freedom to decide on how to deliver each course’s syllabus. 

Question 2: Can AP Classes Be Used for College Credit?

You can’t earn university credits unless you take the optional exam offered at the end of each AP course. Completing the courses without taking the exam still offers you the opportunity to develop many skills that will help you excel at your post-secondary education.These skills include the following: 

  • Time management
  • Critical thinking
  • Scholarly writing
  • Study and research skills
  • Creative problem solving 

The College Board made AP exams available to high school students who haven’t taken AP courses in order to ensure that those who can’t easily access the courses (ex: homeschooled students or students attending schools that don’t offer AP classes) still have the opportunity to develop their higher-level thinking skills and earn university credit. 

While there are differences between universities, a typical score of 3 or higher is required on your exams in order to earn credits. On an alphanumeric scale, this translates to C or higher. Universities also usually limit the number of credits you can earn to 2 or 3. 

While many universities across the globe recognize AP scores and offer university credits as a result, not all of them do. Curious if the universities to which you’re applying recognize them? Check here!

Question 3: How Are AP Exams Scored?

With the exception of AP Seminar, AP Research, AP Computer Science Principles, and AP Art and Design, there are two components to AP exams: 

  1. Multiple choice questions, scored by a computer
  2. Written responses, scored by College Board members 

The total scores of each exam section are combined and translated to a score on this five-point scale: 

  1. No recommendation
  2. Possibly qualified 
  3. Qualified 
  4. Very well qualified 
  5. Extremely qualified 

Question 4: How Can AP Classes Help Me?

The primary goal of AP courses is to develop the aforementioned skills that you’ll need for post-secondary education by introducing you to university-level coursework during high school. Gaining these skills will also help you secure employment and volunteer opportunities that will further contribute to your personal and professional development. 

Since AP classes involve more independent study than most high school courses, they allow you to explore your interests at a deeper level. This can help you identify areas of study that you’d like to further explore in your future education. 

As we previously mentioned, you also have the opportunity to earn university credits by completing the optional exam at the end of the course. Depending on how many credits you earn, this can help you graduate university early!

Even if you don’t achieve a credit for the course, completing it still demonstrates to post-secondary institutions that you’re interested in challenging yourself and learning at a higher level. It also indicates that you’ve already developed the foundational skills and independent thinking that are required to successfully complete your degree and to make you an asset to the university.

Question 5: Will AP Classes Raise My GPA?

Some schools do offer a GPA boost for students enrolled in AP courses! These schools calculate a weighted GPA based on the difficulty of a student’s course work. Since AP courses are typically more difficult than high school courses, students who enroll in them are considered to have relatively more challenging workloads. As a result, when calculating these students’ GPA, schools may drop their lowest grades or use another similar method of calculation.

To figure out how taking AP courses might affect your GPA, speak to your school’s administration to learn how they perform GPA calculations!

Question 6: AP Classes vs. IB Classes

The International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which is overseen by the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO), is another program pursued by many high-achieving students. Like the AP program, it’s designed to challenge students and prepare them for the higher-level thinking required by post-secondary programs. However, there are some major differences between the two programs. 

The AP program is more widely recognized in North America, whereas the IB program is more recognized by international institutions as it emphasizes preparing students to become global citizens. 

Another major difference between the two programs is their curricula. As we previously mentioned, there are a total of 38 AP courses that high school students can choose from, depending on which ones their school offers. Conversely, there are 4 IB programs and each one is designed for a different age group. Each program is a standalone curriculum, meaning that students complete a set of prescribed courses and earn a diploma as a result. Although you can take individual IB courses, this isn’t common practice as the courses were designed and developed to supplement a group of courses. 

You can still earn university credits by completing IB courses, although it’s up to the discretion of individual universities to determine how to allocate credits. The majority of universities will grant credits for the completion of individual courses (usually for the competition of upper-year courses) but some only grant credits if you’ve earned an IB diploma. However, unlike the AP program, you can’t take the course without the exam or the exam without the course. 

IBO has assembled information on how universities around the world recognize IB credits here. They are currently working on a more comprehensive list that outlines specific universities which recognize the IB program and plan to launch it later this year. 

Question 7: Which AP Courses Look Good for College?

This is entirely dependent on your specific circumstance. Universities ask the following questions when looking at the AP courses you take: 

  • How well did you do in each course? 
  • Did you select AP courses that are relevant to your future course of study and career path? 
  • How many AP courses does your high school offer? Did you take all of the ones that were relevant to your future education? 

Ultimately, the courses that impress university admissions officers are those that best prepare you to achieve your future goals. 

Question 8: When to Take AP Classes in High School

While it’s up to the discretion of individual high schools to determine at which grade level to offer the different AP courses, they’re usually offered between grades 10-12. When deciding when to enroll in these courses, keep in mind that they can be incredibly challenging and involve a heavy workload. Here are a few tips to help you make this important decision: 

  • Although prerequisites aren’t typically required, it’s a good idea to take AP courses once you’ve already taken related high school courses that introduce complex concepts.
  • Speak to your guidance counselor and ask for their feedback given your current GPA, study habits, and academic goals.
  • Identify the workload and difficulty of each of your remaining high school semesters in advance and determine which semester(s) can support an AP course.
  • Self-reflect on your study habits as well as your time-management and organizational skills to determine whether you’re prepared to take on the extra load.

Question 9: Where Are AP Classes Offered?

AP courses are offered in-person at high schools around the world as well as online! You can find authorized providers here. If you’re looking for online providers, just type “online” into the space that asks you to input your high school or college board code. 

Question 10: What AP Exams Can I Self-study For?

All of them! While taking AP courses helps you prepare for the exams, you don’t have to take them in order to write the exams.

If you’re self-studying, you can find out exactly what’s covered on each exam through the College Board’s course index. Each course’s page outlines the specific topics that are covered on the exam, including the proportion of each topic within the exam. For example, the AP Art History page specifies that art from the Ancient Mediterranean makes up 15% of that exam’s multiple choice questions. It further identifies the historical time period you need to be informed about and the regions in the Ancient Mediterranean whose art you need to be familiar with. 

The College Board also has some free preparatory resources, tips to build your confidence, and an AP Live Review YouTube page to help you prepare. They have videos that outline different types of exam questions, videos on how to develop a literary argument, and even videos on specific subjects, such as the biological mechanisms involved in growth.

Looking for other prep courses or resources? Other reliable providers, such as Kaplan or the Princeton Review can help you get ready for the AP exam of your choice. 


And there you have our AP course FAQ!

Do you have any other AP-related questions? Leave a comment down below or send us an email, we’ll make sure you get the right answers.

Want to learn more about pre-application planning to develop the perfect university application? Book a free consultation with one of our experts to get started. 

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