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Three Questions to Ask Before You Pay for the AP Test

Registration for AP testing has opened. At $94 a test, the first two weeks of May can be expensive. That expense can lead to a big payout of college credits, or it can not.

AP TestHere are 3 questions to discuss with your student before forking over the funds:

1. What is your main motivation for signing up for the test, really?

If the answer is, “so I don’t have to take the final exam,” stop right there. Do not go any further. Do not sign up for the test.

At $94 a pop, that is a costly approach to exam exemption. Furthermore, my experience is that students whose focus is exam exemption do not actually care how they perform on the test and therefore perform poorly and do not achieve scores qualifying for college credit.

Ten years ago, the school system used to pay for every AP exam sat for by its students. During one of the exams, the students were convinced their teacher did not adequately prepare them for the test. They gave up and made pictures out of the bubbles in the free response and used the free response space to write dissertations on their ill opinions of their teacher.

In general, high school students don’t see the bigger picture in situations like these. They seek the immediate benefits without regard to bigger goals or their monetary cost.

2. Does the school you are going to or considering going to accept scores for useful credits?

AP tests are scored from 1 to 5 with 3 generally considered “passing” or “qualified”, however not all colleges have the same opinion. Some schools do not give credit at all while others set the bar higher at a 4 or 5 to receive credit. The College Board offers this search tool to help decipher score requirements. 

Remember, not all credits are created equal. Just because a school offers credit does not mean it will be helpful for your major or progress towards graduation.

For example, I taught AP Physics. At the time, for most schools, if you scored a 4 or 5, you received credit for Physics 101 and 102. Six credits plus lab! However, many of my students in my AP classes planned on studying engineering. Engineering students don’t even take Physics 101 or 102. They jump right to 200 level calculus-based physics…AP credit or not. So while, yes, they earned credit, the credit was not actually useful.

Also, if the credit places you out of the foundational course for your major, consider taking the class anyway.

Generally, students score highest in their best and favorite subjects…they also major in these same subjects.

No matter how awesome an AP class and teacher are, there is a difference between learning material in a high school format over a year and a college format over a semester. Classes are run differently. The material is presented differently.

You do not want to be playing catch-up for the next four years in your higher level classes for context you missed in the class you placed out of.

Due to AP testing, I placed out of the first two semesters of college calculus. However, since I knew that calculus was going to be a significant part of the foundation for my major, physics, I opted to only place out of the first semester of calculus and take the second class. This allowed me to “ease in” to college level calculus expectations as I was repeating most of the curriculum.

3. How well do you think you are going to score?

Consider your performance in the class. How much studying, prep, and remediation do you need to be test ready? Is that something you can balance with the rest of your classes, AP tests, and other responsibilities? Consider your ability to cope with academic anxiety. If AP testing is going to have an adverse effect on your mental health, it is certainly not worth it.


If after considering the above, you think that taking the test is a good fit for you, go for it!

The thrill and electricity of AP week are amazing. As a teacher, AP test day was like Christmas morning and the Super Bowl all rolled into one cheering on my students. It is great practice for taking college exams, especially since with snow cancellations and SOL exceptions, many of the current high schoolers have never taken a full slate of exams.

At the end of the day, remember that the College Board is a business (with a recent CEO receiving $1.3 million in compensation in a single year). They want you to take the exam to get your money. You need to decide what is right for you.

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