How do you determine the importance of AP test scores? This question is a difficult one to answer! Unlike with SAT Subject Tests, very few colleges require that a student submit AP exam scores, and many high schools do not even offer AP courses. You may also take AP exams and never reveal your scores to universities if you’re not happy with your results. This means that even a bad AP score can’t negatively affect your application. Every year, students get into top universities without any AP scores on their resumes.
That said, however, solid AP test scores certainly do not hurt an application (as you might have learned in our Ultimate Guide to the AP Tests); in fact, they are one of the most common ways that elite students stand out from a crowded applicant pool. 4’s and 5’s on AP tests show intelligence, but they also show initiative. They signal to a college that you are willing to challenge yourself, even when doing so is not mandatory. They also show admissions officers that you're already prepared for college-level work. In fact, a 4 or 5 on an AP exam usually allows you to place out of certain introductory courses at most universities.
The college application process as competitive as ever, and AP exams are not mandatory. However, we at Occam think that a strong slate of AP scores is vital for an impressive application. If your school does not offer AP courses, or if you did not place into an AP course that you want to take, then fear not. Occam offers AP intensives to get you ready to take the exam by May.
There are also alternatives to the AP exam system that also show a university your smarts and initiative if you find that taking the AP test is just not for you.