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How to Choose AP Courses

While we’ve talked previously about why APs are important, we haven’t addressed other questions, like how many APs you should take, and which ones. Today, we’ll discuss how to choose AP courses based on these two main factors. We’ll also reiterate our segment from last month’s blog about how to tell if your class is preparing you for the AP exam.

Photo by Letizia Bordoni via Unsplash

How Many APs Should I Take?

The number of AP courses you take depends on your ultimate goals. Are you planning on applying to more Ivy League colleges? In which case, you should be aiming to take as many APs as you think you can succeed in. For instance, 8 is the average reported at Harvard; this would mean taking at least one AP in your freshman year, then two to three APs in each year after that.

However, most students aren’t aiming for a full roster of Ivy League schools, nor do all schools offer AP courses equally. To demonstrate your ability to succeed under academic rigor, we recommend 3-5 APs for the majority of students. However, this number also depends heavily on your school’s offerings. The overall recommendation is that you take advantage of the opportunities available to you. If your school does not offer a large range of APs, then taking whatever ones you can and which apply to you and your goals is great!

If you’re concerned about maintaining straight-A grades, B’s in an AP course are usually preferred over A’s in a non-AP course. The fact that you are willing to take on the extra discipline and rigor of an AP course makes a statement about the kind of student you are. Demonstrating perseverance through a challenge is more valuable than breezing through an easier course.

Which APs Should I Take?

Preferably ones that you enjoy! Of course, the APs you take also depend on what you are trying to communicate to colleges with your courses and what courses are available at your school.

In general, students tend to use AP classes to indicate what subjects they’re most interested in taking in college and/or majoring in. Taking an AP course in a specific subject demonstrates interest in that subject and intent to pursue it in college.

However, many students also take some APs to use the credit to opt out of certain requirements in college. Some colleges accept AP courses as college credits, so if you don’t want to take more English classes, you could take AP English Language and/or AP English Literature. A grade of 3 or higher on the exam can be used to opt out of English requirements in certain colleges. Check your prospective schools’ websites to confirm whether or not they accept certain AP grades as credit towards those requirements. Unfortunately, if you have your heart set on an Ivy League school, they don’t accept APs as credit for classes.

Is Your AP Course Preparing You for the Exam?

We hope the our recommendations help you decide how to choose AP courses that are best for you. While choosing your APs is important, you also want to make sure the time and effort you spend in this more challenging class pays off. While every class and course is structured and taught differently, there are two main questions you can ask yourself going into your AP:

  • Am I familiar with the structure and layout of the test?
  • Do I have a good idea of the main material that the AP will be expecting me 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) or a Long-Essay Question (LEQ) in class with your teacher? Have you analyzed both primary and secondary sources before?

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Help

Your recognition and comfort levels with each of the main components of the exam are good gauges of how well prepared you are. However, even if you recognize the main parts of the exam, get more help if you don’t feel comfortable with the components or concepts. 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 overview 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!