by Chelese Belmont
Each year, spring rolls around, and high school students everywhere crack open their cram books, pour over their class notes, and prepare to sit for their AP exams during two weeks in May. The culmination of a year’s worth of material is stuffed into a few hours of multiple choice and free-response questions (as well as listening and speaking if you’re studying a language), all of which yields a score between 1 and 5 that indicates a student’s level of mastery.
It’s definitely stressful after a year of rigorous assignments and classes, and over the years, students have asked me if AP classes are really worth it and if they really have to take the tests.
The answer? A resounding YES on both counts, and as someone who took nine AP classes myself once upon a time, I’ll tell you why. But first, it’s worth noting that not every school offers AP courses, and if your school doesn’t, no need to fret – admissions officers will know your school’s course offerings and not hold it against you when they assess your application. But if your high school does offer them and you don’t choose to take them, admissions officers will hold it against you, as they’ll wonder why you chose the easy road when the more challenging one was wide open to you.
So now, in the spirit of the highest score that you can get on an AP exam, here are five reasons to take AP classes and their corresponding tests:
The first reason is that AP classes are an important part of a college application. Admissions officers see that you have challenged yourself with rigorous, advanced classes, and if you excel, it demonstrates that you are academically prepared for higher education. If you ask admissions officers if they’d rather you get an A in a regular class, or a B in an AP class, a typical answer is “an A in an AP class” (thanks for that one, peeps). But even if the A isn’t in the cards for you, a B in an AP class is preferable over an A in a regular class because the coursework is more demanding, which teaches you time management, study skills, and analytical techniques that you will use in higher education.
The second reason to take AP classes is that they will also likely help boost your GPA, since most high schools give additional points for advanced coursework. And who doesn’t want a higher GPA?!
Okay, I hear you asking, “but why take the AP test if the classes show that I challenged myself?”
There are a couple compelling reasons that the AP tests are just as important as the classes themselves. The first (and if we’re keeping count, my third overall reason on this list) is grade inflation. A college may not know whether your high school grades easier or is more forgiving when assessing your work (leading to higher grades than peers at other schools), but if you get a 4 or a 5 on an AP exam, it demonstrates your mastery of the subject, since the test is standardized, and if you got an A in the class, it validates that performance.
My fourth reason is that with more and more colleges moving away from requiring the SAT or ACT as part of the admissions process – either by going test-optional or test-blind – the AP exams fill the void that was left by these standardized tests in assessing a student’s suitability for admission. On top of that, the College Board discontinued the SAT Subject Tests in January 2021, and so another element that students used to have to help demonstrate proficiency in a particular subject is no longer available to them. All of this means that the AP exams now have more weight in the admissions process, as it’s one of only a few metrics (other than your GPA, activities, essays, and letters of recommendation) that colleges have to use when making admissions decisions.
The fifth and final reason to sit for your AP exams is that depending on your scores, they may help you to get ahead in college! Whether a school uses your scores for placement out of certain introductory-level classes, like Math and Writing, or they offer college credit for the subjects that you scored well on, the AP exams may help you to make room in your college schedule for some additional electives since you’ll have fewer credit or course requirements to fulfill. While the policies differ at each college, the College Board allows you to search for credit policies of each AP class that you take here: https://apstudents.collegeboard.org/getting-credit-placement/search-poli....
So, if you’re wavering between taking AP classes or not, really ask yourself what you’re capable of committing to and what your goals are in your college application process – no one wants you to burn out, but we do want you to challenge yourself instead of skating through easier classes. Are you able to put in the time and work to succeed in the classes and on the tests, and are they subjects that you enjoy and/or do well in? Then take the AP classes. Is one of them something that you’re considering majoring in? Then take the AP class. Do you have goals of getting into selective colleges and universities? You know what I’m going to say: take the AP classes. And definitely take their corresponding exams! You’ve worked all year to learn the material – what’s a few more hours spent answering some multiple choice and free-response questions?