AP Test Scores Explained

So you’re revving up for three AP tests, wondering how much studying will yield a good score -- but what even constitutes a “good AP score”?  

Or maybe you’re still an underclassman, planning ahead to next year’s schedule -- how many AP classes should you take?

Maybe you’re just an inquisitive student wondering what are these AP tests I keep hearing about? Time to learn more about the Advance Placement and the scores you need.

AP Tests: What Is It?

Advanced Placement (AP) is an advanced academic program for high school students run by College Board (the team that run the SAT), which consists of AP courses (classes) and AP tests (exams).

Completing an AP test is not only a great way to get ahead of your peers, but they also offer the opportunity to gain college credit points and qualify for advanced college classes upon admission.

Pretty impressive, really.

The concept of the AP program originated in the 1950s in a bid to close the widening gap between high school and college. Originally, there were just 11 subjects available, however, in the 60 odd years since its inception it has grown to offer 38 subjects, with almost 3 million students taking AP exams every year.

In order to gain college credit with AP, you need to successfully pass an AP exam, though you do not have to complete AP courses. 

Yep, it is possible to forego the AP courses and study independently for your AP Exams; yet, it’s recommended students prepare for their exams by taking AP courses as they’re specifically designed to help students complete the exams.

AP test scores are marked on a scale of 1-5, with anything over 3 considered a pass.

Depending on the school, you are eligible for college credit for scoring a pass or greater. If you do qualify for credits, you might exempt from the equivalent college course or be allowed to skip introductory level classes.

At Princeton, for example, a 5 on AP language exams will satisfy the AB language requirement. Not all colleges offer credit for AP tests, so check College Board (or the individual college websites) to find out individual policies.

Want to know more about Princeton? Take a look at a day in the life of a real Princeton student!

Complete list of AP Courses and Exams

When it comes to AP courses, not all schools will offer all courses. For this reason, if there’s a particular course you have your heart set on, make sure you do some research and know where you’ll be able to sit the course and exam.

In total, there are 38 courses available via the AP:


AP Research
AP Seminar
Art History
World History
US History
Studio Art 3-D Design
Studio Art 2-D Design
Studio Art Drawing
Spanish Literature and Culture
Spanish Language and Culture
Physics C: Mechanics
Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism
Physics 2: Algebra-Based
Physics 1: Algebra-Based
Music Theory
Japanese Language and Culture
Italian Language and Culture
Human Geography
Calculus BC
Calculus AB
Chinese Language and Culture
Computer Science A
Computer Science Principles
Government and Politics (Comparative)
Government and Politics (US)
German Language and Culture
French Language and Culture
European History
Environmental Science
English Language and Composition
English Literature and Composition

AP Scores: Do Colleges Care?

So, while it’s a lot of extra work on top of your high school curriculum, do colleges and universities actually care if you complete AP exams?

Of course, the short answer is yes. At the end of the day, It’s a very real and tangible way of knowing that you’re going to be able to handle the workload and basic theories involved in your first few semesters of university.

But, just like other aspects of your application, AP Scores won’t make or break you.

Colleges assess all applications holistically and look for well-rounded students, which means one single component (such as AP scores) won’t dictate their decision.

Still, a great AP test score is not going to do you any harm and will give your application an extra edge, while a low might be a red flag.

By no means are we suggesting AP tests are an absolute must to gain admission into college. There are plenty of student that gain admission each year with below average GPAs.

At the end of the day, admissions officers will assess your transcript contextually  - taking time to understand your circumstances. For many high school students this means taking AP classes, which signifies to admissions officers your strong work ethic and commitment to taking on a rigorous schedule.

However, for many others it means excelling in other areas. Some high schools don’t actually offer as many AP classes (or any at all), especially if you’re from outside the US. Don’t worry, though, admissions officers understand this and will assess your transcript in the context of the courses that were available to you. Same goes for IB programs and classes.

The bottom line is that the classes and grades you get do matter. What stands out to admissions officers is how you challenge yourself and whether you perform well with that challenge - it’s not only about your report card.

Another key to consider is what your peers – in your high school and in other high schools nearby – are doing when it comes to AP tests. If the top students in your school take one or two tests each year, and there’s a history of those students getting into top colleges, then you should take try to replicate that - or maybe go one or two extra in order to stand out!

If you want to go to a top college and your peers (those with similar grades, taking similarly difficult classes, with similar levels of extracurriculars) are taking 8 AP exams, then, unfortunately, you’ll probably need to take around that many – and do well – in order to show colleges that you’re at ‘the top of your class’ along with your peers.

AP Scholar Awards

If you’re really wanting to make a statement with your AP test results, the College Board also offers a few different honorary distinction AP awards (you don’t receive any money) to students who demonstrate high level achievement in their AP tests.

The AP Scholar award is given to students who score a three or higher on three AP Exams. The Award will show up on your online score report when it’s released..

There are nine other AP awards for different score thresholds, including the State AP Scholar and the National AP Scholar. Though the awards are an indication to you of how well you did on the exams, they won’t really affect your admissions chances. The awards basically reiterate the scores themselves -- which your college or university will already see (if you choose to report).

When Do AP Scores Come Out?

So know you know a bit more about the AP, you might be feeling confident to go sit a few tests. But once you’ve sat the AP exams, how do you get your results?

First, a machine (or as I like to call them, robot scorers) will scan and grade the multiple choice portion of the exam. Then AP readers (real people, not robots) from around the country assemble to read the written portion of your exam.

Finally, your AP scores are released, based on geographic location, in July. Check out the chart below to see when your specific exam will be released this year!

2018 AP Scores Release Date


Date & Time

Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington

Thursday, July 5

8 a.m. ET/

7 a.m. CT/

6 a.m. MT/

5 a.m. PT/

4 a.m. AKT/

2 a.m. HAT

Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin

Friday, July 6

8 a.m. ET/

7 a.m. CT

Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont

Saturday, July 7

8 a.m. ET

Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia

Sunday, July 8

8 a.m. ET/

7 a.m. CT/

6 a.m. MT

Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, Wyoming

Monday, July 9

8 a.m. ET/

7 a.m. CT/

6 a.m. MT/

5 a.m. PT

Canada, U.S. Territories, International

Monday, July 9

8 a.m. ET/

International - local time varies

How to Report AP Scores

You have a couple options for reporting scores, the first option is not reporting them at all. If you’re unhappy with how your exam results turned out, you are allowed to withhold your results.

If you do want to share your results, there’s a section on the AP exam answer sheet where you can indicate which college(s) you’d like to report to, and College Board will send your scores to that college or university automatically.

Alternatively, you can request your AP scores to be sent from the AP score (College Board) website once scores are released and you can manually pass them on to select colleges.

In either case, reporting AP scores mean colleges will see your results. So, to reiterate, if you have a low score you’d rather not show off to college admissions, you might consider not self-reporting for that subject. If you’ve done well, go ahead and show them off.

What’s the old saying … ahh yes, that’s it: ‘if you’ve got it, flaunt it’ - the same logic applies with sharing AP results.

AP Test Scores: Final Thoughts

All in all, remember that while AP test scores are a chance to show colleges the hard work you’ve put into your AP classes throughout the year, your results will not be the one thing determining your admissions chances.

Do take on a rigorous class load to leverage your transcript, but don’t let the Advanced Placement be the thing keeping you up every night. You need to allow plenty of time for your standard curriculum coursework, extracurricular activities, essay preparation and, of course, standardised tests.

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