Student in an AP course

If you’ve read our Ultimate Guide to the AP exams, you’ll know that a few good AP scores will look excellent on your resume. But what if your high school doesn’t offer AP courses? Can you still take the AP exams?

There are really two answers to this question: an academic answer and a logistical answer. Academically, we strongly recommend that you pair the AP exam with a semester- or year-long AP course in the subject you’ll be testing for. That said, some AP exams are easier to self-prep for than others! It would be very difficult, for instance, to sit for the AP Calculus BC exam without taking the requisite course: the material is just too complicated for most students to master on their own, and the College Board notes that this is one of the most difficult AP classes they offer.

Other subjects, however — like AP Microeconomics and Macroeconomics — are much easier to tackle in a short amount of time, as they are only semester-long courses. In fact, Occam Education offers quick intensive courses for these types of subjects, if you feel so inclined.

Logistically, however, the answer to this question is a little bit more complicated. Technically, the answer is no: you do not need to take an AP course in a subject in order to take an AP test in that subject. However(!) It can be difficult to find a testing center that offers AP exams if you haven’t taken an advanced placement class at that location. Most high schools offer the APs, of course, but they usually reserve these slots exclusively for their own students. Or they offer AP exams, but only for the subjects in which they also offer year-long courses.

So what should I do if I want to take an AP course?

We’d suggest checking in with your guidance counselor about how your school administers Advanced Placement courses. Try to get answers to these questions:

  • At our school, can I take an AP exam if I haven’t taken the AP course?
  • Does our school offer all of the AP exams, even if we don’t offer the course?
  • I’m sure I’m not the first student that has come into your lovely office with this question. Is there another testing center nearby at which I can take an AP exam?

Good luck!