College Credits – While in High School

Get a High Test Grade and Skip a Class

Advanced Placement (AP) tests are administered to high school students and, if passed, yield credit for one college course each. It’s a very handy way to dispose of required college courses that are not part of your major, or to get a head start on those courses you must complete for your major. Depending on your college’s policy, you may earn either college credit or advanced placement, sometimes both.

Some high schools offer special AP classes as preparation for the exams, but more challenging high schools do not differentiate between regular and AP classes. In either case, you will find much more material is provided, and that material delves deeper into the subject. Given a good teacher, it can be much easier to learn in such a class and pass the college credit exam since your interest is fully engaged.

Don’t be intimidated by the word “advanced,” because if you forge ahead with the AP exams you can save both money and time when you reach college. It’s worth venturing money on an AP exam if you save the cost of a college course by doing that. And remember, AP exams require the same skills in writing, critical thinking, and problem-solving that will help you succeed throughout your academic career.

The Courses

Below is a list of the 31 AP exams currently offered, which can change from year to year:

  • Art HistoryAP testing
  • Biology
  • Calculus AB
  • Calculus BC
  • Chemistry
  • Chinese Language and Culture
  • Computer Science A
  • English Language
  • English Literature
  • Environmental Science
  • European History
  • French Language and Culture
  • German Language and Culture
  • Comp Government & Politics
  • U.S. Government & Politics
  • Human Geography
  • Italian Language and Culture
  • Japanese Language and Culture
  • Latin
  • Macroeconomics
  • Microeconomics
  • Music Theory
  • Physics B
  • Physics C
  • Psychology
  • Spanish Language
  • Spanish Literature and Culture
  • Statistics
  • Studio Art
  • U.S. History
  • World History

You can always find a complete and up-to-the-minute AP exam listing on the College Board site.

The Different Test Methods

Most AP exams contain essay questions, just like a college blue book exam, and multiple choice questions. Depending on the subject, not only the content but also the form of the exams can vary. For example, foreign language exams usually include reading and listening comprehension sections, as well as an oral presentation.

The chemistry exam involves not only multiple choice questions but also free response problems, just like calculus. Those problems require you to communicate your understanding of the subject clearly in writing, and give you an excellent chance to raise your score by demonstrating not only your knowledge but your ability to think about what you’ve learned.

AP mathematics exams will probably require you to use a scientific calculator with graphing capability (think classic Texas Instruments, which is most often used for such purposes). The Music Theory exam will use sight-singing samples during the tests, so reading music is essential, and you’ll also need to identify types of chords by ear.

One exam, Studio Art, has no test per se. Rather, the student’s portfolio is graded.

Your Score and Credits

College Board’s 2012 report stated 903,630 students took at least one AP exam, and 2,720,084 exams were taken. AP exams are graded on a scale from 1 to 5 (whole numbers only), as follows:

  • 5 – Extremely well qualified
  • 4 – Well qualified
  • 3 – Qualified
  • 2 – Possibly qualified
  • 1 – No recommendation

A 5 gives the student a very high chance of receiving college class credit or advanced placement, so that is the ideal goal. However, college credit can be extended if you score a 3 or above, depending on the standard set by your college. Almost 60 percent of AP exams earn scores of at least 3, as a rule, so statistically speaking you’d have a better than even chance of reaching that “qualified” mark.


Since your test will revolve completely around your AP class material, it’s best to go through the whole year of old tests and notes. Reading the textbook in full should also refresh your memory. Group study helps people who are not too distracted by the social interaction and who want the benefit of sharing notes, which can fill in gaps in your original preparation.

College Board, which produces and grades the AP exams, has study resources you may use to ensure your readiness for testing. Nothing will assist you more than seeing, and answering, sample questions of the sort you will encounter on the actual exam. That type of practice will quell your nervous anticipation, and the exam, though all new, will seem easily familiar.


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