What is an Advanced Placement (AP) course?

Nov 2022

4 Minute Read

Tagged as: Advanced Placement

An overview of the AP program, why you may want to take these exams, how they are scored, etc.

Advanced Placement (AP) courses are the equivalent of an introductory university course. (This is according to CollegeBoard, the organization that administers the AP and the SAT Subject exams.) The AP program also offers the AP exams, which are required for admission to the most prestigious UK universities, and looked highly upon by US universities. These exams are offered once a year in May, and it takes around 3 hours to complete each one.

The AP exams are scored from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent). A rating of 5 indicates that a student would have earned an A (the top mark) had the student taken a university-level course in that subject. AP courses, on the other hand, are semester-long courses. These courses are excellent ways to prepare for the exams, though you can take a class without taking the exam. Sometimes, students choose to take the courses just to understand a particular subject better, and that is an equally valid reason to take them.

Many universities will grant university credit to students who score well on Advanced Placement exams. The credit policies vary from one university to another – some universities will give credit for scores 3 or higher, while others will grant credit only for a 4 or 5.

Completing a high number of Advanced Placement courses – and earning high marks on the exams – is an excellent way to:

  • Earn admission to the most competitive US universities.
  • Take fewer classes in university and still graduate in 4 years.
  • Create flexibility to pursue more than one major while in college.
  • Graduate early or study abroad (especially useful for pre-medicine, business, and science majors).
  • Become eligible for competitive UK universities.

The London School of Economics, for example, requires 4 AP exams. Oxford University requires students to earn a 5 on at least 3 exams. Cambridge advises that successful applicants will normally have scored 5 on at least 5 exams. Certain exams, like the AP Spanish exam, are notoriously difficult to get a score of 5 on, so it is a good idea to choose subjects the student is confident with.

In addition to helping with college admissions, AP courses are an excellent way to begin developing cultural awareness or fluency in a language, both of which are increasingly in demand in globalizing fields such as business, hospitality, and medicine. Some universities will grant up to three semesters’ worth of college credit for AP language scores of 4 or higher. We will discuss what courses you can take at the AP level in our upcoming post on the International AP Diploma Program.

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