AP Exams: Do They Matter?

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AP Exams start on May 2nd this year. If your teen is not sure how they will likely score, then I highly recommend that they take a practice test to check their progress.

Why Are AP Exams Important?

  • Admissions: Most top colleges would like to see AP exam scores so that they have additional certainty that a student is sufficiently prepared to succeed at their institution. Students admitted to Harvard, for instance, took an average of 8 AP exams. You get the idea: the more selective the school, the more AP exam scores the other applicants will likely submit, so the more to your advantage it is to submit top AP exam scores as well.
  • College Course Credit: All people understandably prioritize the present, so this benefit is often discounted, but it should have higher prominence because of how advantageous AP credits are in college.
    • Graduate early: Many of our students have been able to graduate a semester early, which allows them to save money on tuition, use that time to travel before jumping into a career, etc.
    • Fewer classes: Most of our students with AP credits still graduate in four years but choose to take a lighter course load in college; this allows them to focus more on the fewer classes they take, get higher grades in those classes, have more flexibility in their schedule, and/or take a few harder classes because they know they will have more time to devote to those classes.
    • More classes: Alternatively, students can still take a full course load but, because they will have likely bypassed a few introductory courses with their AP course credits, they will be able to take more courses than others and get to more advanced courses (sometimes taking courses at the graduate school level while still in undergrad).
  • Scholarships: To a lesser extent, AP exam scores can support the case to give a student more merit aid or a merit scholarship (a few public universities even consider AP exam scores in scholarship decisions).

What is a good AP Exam Score?

AP exams are scored from 1 to 5 (you can find the percentile distributions at each score: here). All students should strive for 5’s (obviously), but students applying to top schools will often need a 5 on an exam in order for that score to help them in admissions, and they will almost always need at least a 4 for that score to give them course credit at the college. Colleges vary substantially on whether they will provide course credit for AP exam scores, so you’ll need to check on that school’s website for what AP exam score a student will need in order to get course credit (the more selective the school, typically the higher the requisite score). Here is an example of what the AP course credit page will look like: AP course credit webpage.

How Important Are AP Exam Scores for Admissions?

Moderately important for highly selective colleges, particularly if a student’s high school offers a lot of AP courses. Previously, AP exam scores were relatively unimportant; however, when the College Board discontinued SAT subject tests in 2021, top colleges shifted their focus from SAT subject test scores to AP exam scores. If a student’s high school does not offer AP exams, then a student will either not be disadvantaged relative to other applicants or only slightly so for not submitting AP exam scores. But, if a high school offers a lot of AP courses, then highly selective colleges will wonder why a student did not challenge themselves more by taking more difficult classes that were available to them. More opportunity = higher expectations.

How Can I Take Practice Tests?

We can provide students with practice tests and tutoring for most AP exams. Feel free to reach out to us via email (welcome@summitprep.us) or phone (908-277-0128). We’re happy to help and serve, and we encourage all students to try to take a practice test in early May so that they know how much (if any) preparation they will need in order to achieve their desired score on their AP exams.

Wondering what the top colleges say in their own words about AP scores?

Princeton University

Stanford University

Columbia University

Harvard University

Yale University

University of Chicago

California Institute of Technology

Duke University

Johns Hopkins University

Northwestern University

Dartmouth

Vanderbilt University

Rice University

University of Notre Dame

Georgetown University

University of Michigan – Ann Arbor

New York University

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