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With all the heightened expectations and more rigorous classwork that high school brings, you might be wondering, “What are Advanced Placement (AP) courses?” and “Are APs important?” First, let’s overview the AP and the benefits that come with it. Then, we’ll unpack what the SAT and ACT tell colleges and how that might affect your choice to take AP courses.

Are AP's important?What is an AP Course?

Advanced Placement denotes that a course is a college-level standard of curriculum. Consequently, some colleges allow students to bypass introductory courses if they have taken an AP course in that subject. These colleges count AP classes taken in high school towards college graduation credits. This varies by school, so check the website of prospective schools to see if they accept APs for college credits. Usually, you need to score a 3 or higher on an AP to be able to use it for college credit.

There are dozens of AP exams for a wide variety of subjects. Taking an AP course indicates you are interested and invested in a particular subject. For instance: if you are intending to major in Biology in college, taking the AP Biology course and exam indicates to prospective colleges that you care enough about the subject to take it at a more advanced level even in high school.

Demonstrating investment and earning college credit early are two more substantial reasons to take an AP in high school. Taking APs during your sophomore and junior years, especially, will bolster your transcript and application overall.

What Do the SAT and ACT Tell Colleges?

The SAT and ACT both test different skills in each of their sections. We’ve gone in-depth on the SAT’s sections before, but for a quick recap:

The SAT’s Subscores report students’ skills in vocabulary, writing clarity, grammar, Algebra I and II skills, and ability to interpret information (mean, median, mode, percents, statistics, and reading tables and graphs).

Each of the ACT’s main four sections focuses on either English, Math, Science, and Reading. The English section tests vocabulary, grammar, and rhetorical skills. Math from pre-algebra to trigonometry are the focus of the Math section. Using historical, social science, and literary passages, the Reading section tests students’ reading comprehension coupled with analytical and interpretive skills. The Science section tests students’ understanding of how to interpret lab data of different kinds.

While standardized tests can be somewhat reductionist, those scores let colleges know roughly how you’re doing as a student in key skills. The numbers are a fast and convenient way for them to get an idea of your reading comprehension or analytical skills.

Why Are APs Important?

Since test-optional has become the standard practice since the pandemic started, everything else in your application is more crucial. Consequently, we would recommend that you do take AP courses, if given the opportunity. Without the SAT or ACT grades they normally ask for, taking AP courses tells colleges that you are able to take on academic rigor. Maintaining a good grade in an AP course and earning a score of 3 or higher on an AP exam will tell colleges that you have academic discipline and resilience.

Is Your AP Course Preparing You for the Exam?

Every class and course is structured and taught differently. However, there are definitely things you  can ask yourself going into your AP, like:

  • Are you familiar with the structure and layout of the test?
  • Do you have a good idea of the main material that the AP will be expecting you to know?

For the AP Calculus AB/BC exams, for instance, have you practiced both no-calculator and calculator-allowed questions in class? In AP science courses, do you know what the Free Response section of the exam looks like? Have you practiced and/or had guidance on how to answer them? For the AP history exams, have you seen and worked on a Document-Based Question (DBQ) in class with your teacher? Have you analyzed both primary and secondary sources before?

Your recognition and comfort levels with each of the main components of the exam are good gauges of how well prepared you are. Even if you recognize the main parts of the exam, if you don’t feel comfortable with them, getting more help and practice is a good idea. While course and exam descriptions are available from the AP Central website, we don’t recommend you read through your course description alone; those documents are several hundred pages long, and not great for pre-test anxiety. Your teacher or one of our tutors can break down the constituent parts of the exam and let you know the main concepts you need to know. Consider approaching your teacher about any questions you may have, or reach out to us at any time for help preparing for your AP exam.

You can read more about choosing the right APs for you in our complementary blog post here.