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. Generally speaking, it is unusual for freshmen and sophomores to take AP exams, as they are rarely enrolled in advanced-level courses. While CA does not teach the College Board’s AP syllabi, a few courses (e.g., calculus A/B/C, advanced statistics, advanced computer science, music theory, advanced physics, some advanced-level language, some advanced-level literature) may cover a portion of AP test material. A student who has performed well in 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 is required; students are better served by focusing on their academic coursework and earning strong grades.
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, they should speak with their teacher. Teachers (and/or department heads) are an excellent resource; they can provide good advice about a student’s exam readiness and what the student will need to study independently in order to perhaps earn a score of 4 or 5. If you have performed well in a class that covers a portion of the material on the AP exam and you are able to set aside time to supplement your classwork with independent study, you could consider taking an exam. Remember: at no time should AP exam preparation ever take precedence over your coursework! Also keep in mind that because APs cover advanced-level material, it's unlikely you'll be prepared to test as a tenth-grader, and therefore CA requires sophomores to obtain written permission from a teacher in order to register for an exam.
I’m still on the fence…
If, after reading this, you still don’t feel prepared to make a decision by mid-November 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 register, you will not be able to test. If you do register, and decide later not to test, it’s no problem (be aware, however, that you may be assessed a cancelation fee).
What is the average number of AP exams taken by CA students?
AP exams are not college entrance exams. The majority of CA students graduate never having taken a single AP exam! These students matriculate at selective colleges where they are very successful. In fact, in 2020 only 90 AP exams were taken by CA students. National research has shown that the single biggest predictor of college success is strong high school grades.
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 many years ago to step away from AP curricula; college representatives 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's profile, which states that CA does not offer AP classes.
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; however many colleges do not recognize AP performance in any way. Refer to this site for more information. Bottom line: if your primary 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, start a blog or YouTube channel, learn a new language/sport/musical instrument/skill…. Students who use their free time to follow - or develop - their own unique passions make very interesting college applicants!
OK, I get it. But are there any exceptions to the advice you’ve given above?
Yes, one: students who are considering applying to overseas universities may need to prepare, and sit, for several AP exams. A number of European schools require qualifying scores on two or more AP exams. We suggest you investigate the requirements of the schools in which you're interested by visiting their websites and searching for "international entry qualifications" to learn more about what tests you will need.
After reading this carefully, I think it makes sense for me to sign up for an AP exam. How can I do that?
Please refer to all_school_FYI, where CA's AP Coordinator, Reid Young, has posted sign-up instructions (see October 7). Please contact Reid with any registration-related questions.