Advanced Placement exams
Logo since 2017
AcronymAP
Developer / administratorCollege Board
Year started1952 (1952)
DurationMostly 2–3 hours[1]
Score / grade range1–5 (details)
Score / grade validityScores archived after 4 years, but remain valid[2]
OfferedYearly
Countries / regionsUnited States and Canada
Fee2024 exams (USD):[3]
  • $98 (US, Canada, DoDEA schools)
  • $128 (elsewhere)
  • $146 (AP Capstone)
Websiteap.collegeboard.org

Advanced Placement (AP)[4] is a program in the United States and Canada created by the College Board. AP offers undergraduate university-level curricula and examinations to high school students. Colleges and universities in the US and elsewhere may grant placement and course credit to students who obtain qualifying scores on the examinations.

The AP curriculum for each of the various subjects is created for the College Board by a panel of experts and college-level educators in that academic discipline. For a high school course to have the designation as offering an AP course, the course must be audited by the College Board to ascertain that it satisfies the AP curriculum as specified in the Board's Course and Examination Description (CED). If the course is approved, the school may use the AP designation and the course will be publicly listed on the AP Course Ledger.[5]

History

20th century

After the end of World War II, the Ford Foundation created a fund that supported committees studying education.[6] The program, which was then referred to as the "Kenyon Plan",[7] was founded and pioneered at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, by the then-college president Gordon Chalmers. The first study was conducted by four prep schools—the Lawrenceville School, Phillips Academy, Phillips Exeter Academy, and St. Paul's School —and three universities—Harvard University, Princeton University and Yale University. In 1952 they issued the report General Education in School and College: A Committee Report which recommended allowing high school seniors to study college-level material and to take achievement exams that allowed them to attain college credit for this work.[8] The second committee, the Committee on Admission with Advanced Standing, developed and implemented the plan to choose a curriculum. A pilot program was run in 1952 which covered eleven disciplines. In the 1955–56 school year, it was nationally implemented in ten subjects: Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, English, History, French, German, Spanish, and Latin.

The College Board, a non-profit organization[9] based in New York City, has run the AP program since 1955.[10]

From 1965 to 1989, Harlan Hanson was the director of the Advanced Placement Program.[11] It develops and maintains guidelines for the teaching of higher-level courses in various subject areas. In addition, it supports teachers of AP courses and supports universities.[12] These activities are funded through fees required to take the AP exams.

21st century

In 2006, over one million students took over two million Advanced Placement examinations.[13] Many high schools in the United States offer AP courses,[14] though the College Board allows any student to take any examination regardless of participation in its respective course.[15] Therefore, home-schooled students and students from schools that do not offer AP courses have an equal opportunity to take AP exams.

As of the 2024 testing season, exams cost $98 each,[3] though the cost may be subsidized by local or state programs. Financial aid is available for students who qualify for it; the exam reduction is $36 per exam from College Board plus an additional $9 rebate per fee-reduced exam from the school. There may be further reductions depending on the state.

On April 3, 2008, the College Board announced that four AP courses—French Literature, Latin Literature, Computer Science AB, and Italian Language and Culture—would be discontinued after the 2008–2009 school year due to lack of funding.[16][17] However, the Italian Language and Culture test was again offered beginning in 2011.

Starting July 2013 AP allowed students for the first time to both view and send their scores online.[18]

The number of AP exams administered each year has seen a steady increase over the past decade. In 2003, 175,860 English Language and Composition exams were administered. By 2013, this number had risen to 476,277, or an increase of 171%. Such an increase has occurred in nearly all AP exams offered, with the AP Psychology exam seeing a 281% increase over the past decade. In 2022, the most taken AP exam was English Language and Composition with 520,771 students and the least taken AP exam was Italian Language and Culture with 2,194 students.[19]

In the 2022–2023 school year, College Board launched a pilot AP African American Studies course. The course is currently acknowledged credit at about 75 colleges and universities.[20]

AP exams begin on the second Monday in May and last ten school days.

Scoring

AP tests are scored on a 1 to 5 scale as follows:[21]

The multiple-choice component of the exam is scored by computer, while the free-response and essay portions are scored by trained Readers at the AP Reading each June. The scores on various components are weighted and combined into a raw Composite Score. The Chief Reader for each exam then decides on the grade cutoffs for that year's exam, which determine how the Composite Scores are converted into the final grades. During the process, a number of reviews and statistical analyses are performed to ensure that the grading is reliable. The overall goal is for the grades to reflect an absolute scale of performance which can be compared from year to year.[22]

Some colleges use AP test scores to exempt students from introductory coursework, others use them to place students in higher designated courses, and some do both. Each college's policy is different, but most require a minimum score of 3 or 4 to receive college credit.[23] Typically, this appears as a "CR" grade on the college transcript, although some colleges and universities will award an A grade for a 5 score.[24] Some countries, such as Germany, that do not offer general admission to their universities and colleges for holders of an American high school diploma without preparatory courses will directly admit students who have completed a specific set of AP tests, depending on the subject they wish to study there.

In addition, completing AP courses helps students qualify for various types of scholarships. According to the College Board, 31 percent of colleges and universities look at AP experience when making scholarship decisions.[25]

Beginning with the May 2011 AP Exam administration, the College Board changed the scoring method of AP Exams.[26][27] Total scores on the multiple-choice section are now based on the number of questions answered correctly. Points are no longer deducted for incorrect answers and, as was the case before, no points are awarded for unanswered questions. However, scoring requirements have also been increased.

Score reporting

Starting with the May 2013 AP Examination Administration, the College Board launched an Internet-based score reporting service.[28] Students can use their 2013 AP Number or Student Number (if one was indicated) along with a College Board Account[29] to access current and previous years' exam scores. This system can also be used to send scores to colleges and universities for which a four-digit institutional code[30] is assigned.

Exam subsidies

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Recognizing that the cost could be an impediment to students of limited means, a number of states and municipalities independent of the College Board have partially or fully subsidized the cost. The state of Florida reimburses school districts for the exam costs of students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses.[31] The Los Angeles Unified School District, the Montebello Unified School District, the Hawaii Department of Education, New York City Department of Education, and the state of Indiana subsidize Examination fees in subjects of math, science, and English,[32] and the Edmonds School District in suburban Seattle currently subsidizes Advanced Placement fees of students who enroll in the free school lunch program. Some school districts, such as Fairfax County Public Schools, will fully cover the cost of a limited number of exams, after which point the student must pay. In addition, some school districts[which?] offer free tests to all students enrolled in any Advanced Placement class.

Courses

There are currently 38 courses and exams available through the AP Program.[33]

Arts

English

History and Social Sciences

Math and Computer Science

Sciences

World Languages and Cultures

Recent and upcoming exam changes

2016–2017

2018–2019

2019–2020

2020–2021

2021–2022

2022–2023

2023–2024

2024–2025

Recent exam information

AP Exam Taken by Subject 2019

Below are statistics from the 2022 exam cycle showing the number of participants, the percentage who obtained a score of 3 or higher, and the mean score. Students generally need a score of 3 or higher to receive credit or benefit.

2022 scoring results
Exam name Number of students Scored ≥3 (%) Mean score
2-D Art and Design 37,045 86.6 3.43
3-D Art and Design 5,377 73.6 3.12
Art History 20,970 61.5 2.99
Biology 237,338 67.9 3.11
Calculus AB 268,352 55.7 2.91
Calculus BC 120,238 76.9 3.68
Chemistry 124,780 54.0 2.73
Chinese Language and Culture 15,277 86.9 3.97
Comparative Government and Politics 20,949 70.5 3.14
Computer Science A 77,753 67.5 3.20
Computer Science Principles 134,651 63.5 2.91
Drawing 19,210 88.3 3.54
English Language and Composition 520,771 55.7 2.83
English Literature and Composition 339,401 77.9 3.31
Environmental Science 179,957 53.8 2.79
European History 80,152 58.9 2.95
French Language and Culture 19,554 71.6 3.16
German Language and Culture 4,450 65.5 3.13
Human Geography 221,815 53.2 2.70
Italian Language and Culture 2,194 70.5 3.26
Japanese Language and Culture 2,765 75.5 3.65
Latin 4,832 57.0 2.77
Macroeconomics 134,413 51.8 2.71
Microeconomics 84,386 59.0 2.93
Music Theory 15,594 61.9 3.03
Physics 1: Algebra-Based 144,526 43.3 2.47
Physics 2: Algebra-Based 17,842 69.7 3.14
Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism 19,978 69.4 3.44
Physics C: Mechanics 46,301 73.4 3.41
Psychology 292,501 58.3 2.86
Research 26,947 82.7 3.30
Seminar 56,766 82.6 3.19
Spanish Language and Culture 155,931 81.7 3.54
Spanish Literature and Culture 23,009 64.2 2.91
Statistics 216,968 60.5 2.89
United States History 456,520 53.7 2.71
United States Government and Politics 298,118 48.2 2.57
World History 314,716 62.1 2.96
Total 4,762,347 * *

The College Board estimates that about 2/3 of students enrolled in an AP course take the course's AP test.[51] On the other hand, a study of University of California system students found that only about 55% to 60% of AP students took their course's exam.[52]

One 2014 study of math and science AP courses showed that participation rates were 52.7% for AP Chemistry, 53.6% for AP Physics, 57.7% for AP Biology, and 77.4% for AP Calculus.[53] A 2017 study found similar participation rates (49.5% for AP Chemistry, 52.3% for AP Physics, 54.5% for Biology, and 68.9% for Calculus). History exams were found to have slightly higher participation rates (57.9% for AP European History, 58.5% for AP World History, and 62.8% for AP U.S. History), and 65.4% of AP English students took either the AP English Language or AP English Literature exam. This study found that for "core AP subjects (i.e., no arts or language subjects)", the overall test participation rate was 60.8%.[54]

In February 2014 College Board released data from the previous ten years of AP exams. College Board found that 33.2% of public high school graduates from the class of 2013 had taken an AP exam, compared to 18.9% in 2003. In 2013 20.1% of graduates who had taken an AP test achieved a 3 or higher compared to 12.2% in 2003.

Criticism

Decreasing quality

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Researchers[who?] have begun to question[neutrality is disputed] whether AP can maintain high academic standards while experiencing explosive growth.[55] Research[which?] has shown that the most popular AP tests tend to have the lowest passing rates, a possible indication that less academically prepared students are enrolling in AP classes.[56] Whether the AP program can serve large numbers of students without decreasing academic rigor is a matter of debate within the education field.[55][57]

Passing scores and university credit

University faculty, such as former professor and high school teacher John Tierney, have expressed doubts about the value of a passing AP score.[58] Students who receive scores of 3 or 4 are being given college credit at fewer universities.[when?] Academic departments also criticise the increasing proportion of students who take and pass AP courses but are not ready for college-level work.[59]

Website performance

Several users and developers have criticized the poor performance of AP classroom's website for being unresponsive and slow.[60]

Academic achievement

Researchers have since 2010 studied the impact of the Advanced Placement program on students' academic achievement. An early study published in AP: A critical examination of the Advanced Placement program found that students who took AP courses in the sciences but failed the AP exam performed no better in college science courses than students without any AP course at all. Referring to students who complete the course but fail the exam, the head researcher, Phillip M. Sadler, stated in an interview that "research shows that they don't appear to have learned anything during the year, so there is probably a better course for them."[61]

Two other studies compared non-AP students with AP students who had not taken their course's AP exam, had taken the AP exam but did not pass it, or had passed the AP exam. Like Sadler's study, both found that AP students who passed their exam scored highest in other measures of academic achievement.[62] The largest study of this sort, with a sample size of over 90,000, replicated these results and also showed that non-AP students performed with equal levels of academic achievement as AP students who did not take their course's AP exam—even after controlling for over 70 intervening variables.[63] This led the authors to state that AP participation "is not beneficial to students who merely enroll in the courses..."[63]: 414 

Some researchers have questioned the validity of Advanced Placement scores or Advanced Placement as an effective form of positive reinforcement. It is argued that the pursuit of extrinsic reward is not an accurate reflection of intrinsic interest in course material. Many other criteria should also be employed to judge a student including standardized test scores, research experience, breadth and the level of courses taken, and academic-related extracurriculars performance. Writing honors thesis or semi-independent research in a subject may be more signal of interest or academic potential than achieving the label of "Advance Placement" student. There are also questions on the effectiveness of separating high-achieving students from their peers, in the form of Advanced Placement courses.[citation needed]

See also

References

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Further reading