How many AP exams should I take? When should I take them?
CA encourages students to engage in sensible and strategic standardized testing. With respect to AP exams, this means taking exams only if and when the subject matter significantly overlaps with what a student has learned in class. While CA does not teach the College Board’s AP syllabi, a few courses (e.g., calculus, statistics, comp sci, music theory, and some advanced-level science and language classes) cover a portion of AP test material. A student who has performed well in one of these classes and is truly interested in the subject matter may choose to spend a modest amount of time studying independently in order to sit for an AP exam. We strongly discourage students from taking an AP exam if extensive independent preparation will be required; students are better served by focusing on their academic coursework and earning strong grades. Grades are far more important in the admissions process than AP exam scores.
OK, but how do I know if I am a candidate for taking an AP exam?
If a student is enrolled in one of the courses mentioned above, and has done well, s/he should speak with the teacher. Teachers are an excellent resource; they can provide good advice about a student’s exam readiness and what s/he will need to study independently in order to achieve a 4 or 5. If you have performed well in a class that covers a great deal of the material on the AP exam, it could be a good idea to take the exam. Generally speaking, it is unusual for freshmen and sophomores to take AP exams, as they are rarely enrolled in advanced-level courses.
I’m still on the fence…
If, after reading this, you still don’t feel prepared to make a decision in February or March about whether to take an AP, your best bet is to register. It is most definitely easier to opt-out of an exam than opt-in. CA orders only the number of AP exams requested by students, so if you do not pre-register you will not be able to test. If you do register, and decide later not to test, it’s no problem (you will be assessed a small “unused test fee,” however).
What is the average number of AP exams taken by CA students?
Many students graduate from CA never having taken a single AP exam. These students matriculate at selective colleges where they are very successful. In fact, last year at CA, only 61 kids took 101 AP exams. National research has shown that the single biggest predictor of college success is a student’s academic performance in high school.
Will college admissions officers penalize me for not taking AP exams?
Colleges do not expect CA students to take AP exams because Concord Academy does not offer AP classes. The AP curriculum is specified and standardized by the College Board, while CA’s curriculum is flexible, varied, and invites in-depth investigation, critical thinking, hands-on learning, and the application of knowledge. CA made the deliberate and thoughtful decision years ago to step away from AP curricula, and the college representatives with whom we work are well aware of this and recognize the rigor of CA’s program. In addition, each transcript sent as part of a college application is accompanied by the school profile, which states that CA does not offer AP courses.
But can’t I earn college credit for performing well on AP exams?
It depends. Some colleges award credit for strong AP scores, or allow students to skip introductory-level classes. But many colleges do not recognize AP performance in any way. Here is an interesting article on this topic: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/12/10/colleges-vary-on-credit-for-ap-ib.html Bottom line: if your sole reason for taking an AP exam is to earn college credit, you may be disappointed.
I understand what you are saying about CA not offering AP classes. But what about prepping for an AP over the summer when I have a lot of free time?
Colleges want to enroll bright, creative, curious, and interesting students, and learning an AP curriculum independently is not a particularly unique or dynamic way of demonstrating one’s abilities. Instead, students can showcase their talents and interests in ways that don’t involve spending hours sitting at a desk hunched over a study guide memorizing material for a standardized test. Get an internship, do volunteer work, hold a job, learn a new language/sport/musical instrument/skill…. Students who use their free time to follow – or develop - their unique passions make very interesting college applicants!
OK, I get it. But are there any exceptions to the advice you’ve given above?
Yes, just one. If a student is even considering applying to overseas universities (e.g., Oxford, Cambridge, University College London), s/he should plan to prepare, and sit for, several AP exams. A number of European schools require qualifying scores on three or more AP exams.