What is AP?
Advanced Placement is a program brought to you by the good people at College Board (SAT, CLEP, etc.) that allows high school students to take classes designed to provide the experience of an introductory level college course. A qualifying score on an AP Exam can earn you:
Your AP score could earn you college credits before you even set foot on campus.
Your AP score can let you skip introductory courses in college.
Money and Time
Earning credit or placement can open up time on your schedule or even let you graduate early.
“AP” on your high school transcript shows colleges you’ve tackled college-level work.
Choosing AP Courses and/or Exams
College Board currently offers 38 AP courses/exams. The registration fee for most exams is $95.00. While they “strongly recommend” that students enroll in the AP course prior to taking the AP exam, it is possible to study independently and take the AP exam. During my time as AP Coordinator in the public school system, we had a few students every year who would take an AP exam without enrolling in the class. Those students tended to be self-motivated and strong academically, and would generally utilize Khan Academy to prepare for the exam.
Narrowing down your options and choosing which AP course(s)/exam(s) to take each year can be a difficult process for homeschool students. One option is to utilize the sequence schedule used by your local co-op, private or public school (often course availability is determined by grade level size and teacher/classroom availability, so sequence may vary widely between school districts). College Board offers a worksheet, that while obviously not designed for homeschool, can still assist the homeschool student and parent with the process.
The most important factor in selecting AP course(s)/exam(s) may be determining which will be accepted for credit at the college or university you are interested in attending. This search tool is helpful and it is always in your best interest to verify the information directly with the college admissions office.
Course registration & AP Exam logistics
Options for taking AP courses and preparing for AP exams:
Local Public/Private High School
Homeschool students may have the option of attending AP classes at their local public or private school. Contact the admissions or district office to see if that is a possibility.
There are many online AP course options available. If taking an online course interests you I would recommend that you read this article first. It is from one of my favorite college prep blogs and gives a very honest review of some great options and others that you should avoid.
Khan Academy is the official partner of College Board for AP prep and it is what I recommend to students who plan to prepare for AP exams on their own. All aspects of Khan Academy are free and it does a great job of preparing you for what you will see on the AP exam.
It is extremely important to plan out which AP courses/exams you plan to take prior to the beginning of the school year. This will ensure that you have plenty of time to register for the AP exam(s) through the local school system. AP exams are administered in May, but the registration deadline is in November. This breaks down the registration process for homeschool students. It has been my experience that early contact with the public/private school AP coordinator is key.
Traditionally all AP exams have been paper exams taken in person, and each subject exam has been administered on the same date and the same time across the United States. As a result of the reaction to Covid 19 in the spring of 2020, AP exams were abbreviated and moved online. The plan for 2021 is a combination of full-length paper and online exams. College Board expects that 2022 AP Exams will be administered during the first two full weeks of May 2022, with late testing occurring during the 3rd week of May.
AP Scoring Scale
Each AP test is given a score from 1 to 5. According to College Board these numbers translate in the following ways:
5: Extremely Well Qualified
4: Well Qualified
2: Possibly Qualified
1: No recommendation
Any score 3 or higher is considered a passing score, though some colleges only accept 4 or 5 for credit. View the AP college database for specific policies at each university here.
Downside to AP?
- AP exams are only administered one time each year
- Must register for AP exams through your local school system
- Colleges and universities vary on how/if AP exam results are accepted for credit
- Students must score well on the AP exam to be considered for college credit
AP can be a good tool for homeschool students who want to experience the rigor of an introductory level college course. AP courses tend to force students to develop and sharpen their time management, critical thinking, and scholarly writing skills. They also give students a way to demonstrate real academic interest in a certain subject.
AP is not the fastest, most efficient way for high school students to stockpile college credits. The intensity of the courses, combined with the magnitude of the exams and the fact that they are only administered once each year can be overwhelming.
It is important to research colleges/universities ahead of time to verify how (if) AP exam results are accepted. AP courses are not to be taken lightly as they are some of the most academically rigorous available. Scoring well on AP exams can save students (and parents) thousands of dollars in college tuition and many hours in the college classroom.
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