AP Exams 101: Everything You Need to Know

Updated on 2/12/2021.

What are AP Classes and Exams?

Advanced Placement (AP) is a program run by the College Board that offers college-level courses and exams to high school students.

Each May, nearly 3 million students across the nation take AP exams in subjects ranging from Calculus and Chemistry to Music Theory and Studio Art.

Schools registered with the College Board may offer year-long AP courses designed to simulate introductory-level college courses in respective subjects and prepare students for the final AP exam in May. Competitive students typically take anywhere between 3-10 AP classes throughout the course of their high school career.

Why Should You Take Them

1. Earn College Credit

Taking AP courses and exams may earn you college credit. Although each school has their own policy for awarding credit, passing the AP test typically allows you to skip introductory courses and perhaps even graduate early, which saves both time and money.

Instead of paying thousands of dollars a semester to sit in a lecture hall every day, you can learn the same material in a high-school classroom through AP. Colleges that don’t offer course credit for AP may still honor your accomplishment by placing you in higher-level classes.

2. Boost Your College Application

Top universities are always looking for students who challenge themselves in high school.

AP classes contribute to “weighted GPA,” a system that many schools use to reward students for taking difficult coursework. Standard-level high school classes typically run on a 4.0 GPA scale, but AP classes are graded on a scale that goes up to 5.0.

This means that with high scores in AP classes, you can actually raise your GPA beyond 4.0 and potentially even max out at 5.0!

Additionally, a streak of 5s on the “standardized testing” section of your college app will impress even the most competitive schools! High scores on these exams demonstrate your ability to handle university-level coursework. AP also offers national and state-level awards to outstanding students in their program, which can boost any application or resume.

3. Find Your Passion

Learning advanced material and higher-level concepts may spark your interest in a particular subject.

If you already know your academic area of interest, that’s great. AP classes will further your knowledge in that field and prepare you for your intended major in college.

If you don’t know what you want to study, AP classes may even help you find a direction.

Student writing in lecture hall

Exams and Scoring

In total, there are 36 different AP exams that span across 6 academic disciplines: Arts, English, History and Social Sciences, Math and Computer Science, Sciences and World Languages and Culture.

In addition, AP offers a Capstone Diploma Program, which includes two additional AP courses: AP Seminar and AP Research.

All AP tests are scored from 1-5, with 5 being the highest mark and 3 typically considered a “passing” score. Many colleges offer credit for scores of 3 and above.

There is no general format or rubric for AP tests, which are all timed and structured differently and have different scoring criteria. Each individual test has a unique set of guidelines, which we will explore further in our upcoming series on AP Exams — keep an eye out!

Test Dates

After all your hard work in the school year, it’s time to put your knowledge to the test!

All AP assessments are administered within a two-week window in May (beginning on the first Monday of the month). Each exam is offered only once. Depending on your course schedule, you may need to take multiple tests in one day, so plan accordingly. If you are absent on test day, late-testing dates are also available.

Also note that you can retake an AP exam, but this is very uncommon, since you must wait until the following May to do so.

If you have any specific questions, feel free to reach out to your school’s AP coordinator, who is in charge of exam registration, fee collection, test sites, and proctoring services.

If you want to self-register for the exam, you must directly contact the College Board’s AP Service. A coordinator will provide you with instructions and materials for the exam as well as information about test dates and nearby testing centers.

Phone: 888-225-6474

Email: apstudents@info.collegeboard.org

Books and supplies on table

What’s Next?

Don’t go at it alone! Save time and energy with the guidance of our  AP Course & Exam Prep courses. 

Our Framework for a Perfect 5

Here’s how our test prep framework at MEK Review helps you achieve top AP exam scores:

Expert Coaching: Our teachers explain key concepts and efficient problem-solving techniques. They also teach students valuable test-taking strategies: how to avoid making silly mistakes, increase mental endurance, and recognize common test traps.

Hands-On Practice: After lessons, students apply their knowledge through various skill-drills. This includes problems sets, and quizzes to practice and reinforce what they have learned.

Direct Application: Throughout the course, students take several full length AP exams under simulated testing conditions. This helps them feel more comfortable and confident in a test-taking environment.

Personalized Feedback: Each simulated test is returned with a detailed score report analysis. The score report indicates patterns and trends that will help identify the student’s strengths and weaknesses. Student progress is constantly monitored through comprehensive feedback and communication between teacher, student, and parents.

Students can sign up for AP course programs so they can ace the AP exams in May! 

Contact us to speak with an expert counselor (for free!) about your test prep plan.

MEK Review

MEK Review is the top learning center in North Jersey, dedicated to helping students of all ages begin an incredible success story. With our guidance, students have gained acceptances into the best schools in the country, earned top test scores, prepared for difficult admission tests, and transformed into their best selves in the classroom. To find your perfect solution, explore our programs or book your free consultation with an expert counselor!


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