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Demystifying AP Courses & Exams

It was the last day of February 2016, when my phone rang. Without taking a breath, the father of one of my freshman began:

“I have some questions about Advanced Placement.  My daughter doesn’t want to sign up for AP World, but I have heard that taking an AP class will help her get into college.  If she takes this class, she has to get an A or B because I don’t want this class to negatively impact her GPA. 

And, I don’t think she needs to take the AP exam because I heard that taking the exam won’t help her with college.  Is all of that correct?  What do you think?”

As a high school counselor and, now independent educational consultant, the questions this father asked me are not unusual.  Parents want their children to take whatever classes will enhance their child’s transcript and help them get into college.

Here’s what you need to know about Advanced Placement courses, exams and their impact on college admissions in 2018.

  1. What is an Advanced Placement course? Advanced Placement is a program run by College Board (the makers of the SAT) that allows you to take courses in high school that can earn college credit and/or qualify you for more advanced classes when you begin college.

2.  Do all high schools offer Advanced Placement Courses in all the subjects? No –  check with your child’s counselor for a list of AP courses offered at your school.  Click on the link below for a list of all AP courses offered through College Board and the exam schedule for 2018.

3.  Should I take AP courses vs honors or regular courses? YES, YES, YES! By taking AP classes, you are showing the world and colleges that you are prepared to take the hardest courses offered.  This shows you’re confident to challenge yourself with rigorous content and expectations for an entire year.

4.  What if I take an AP course and get a final grade of C. Will that impact my chances of getting into college?    College admissions’ counselors across the country consistently report that they give more serious admissions consideration to students who challenge themselves by taking more rigorous courses, such as AP.  These courses are definitely more challenging than honors or regular courses.

5.  If I take the AP class, do I have to take the exam? In my opinion YES. Taking the test validates your grade in the AP class and is another indication that you are ready for college-level work. Even if you receive a 2 on the exam, admissions counselor recognize that you are more prepared for college than students who didn’t take the exam.

In addition, there are several benefits to taking the exam:

  • Students can receive college credit for their AP exams at most public universities;
  • Even if your college doesn’t accept AP exams as credit, they may use your score to satisfy general education requirements;
  • Finally, some colleges may offer scholarships for scoring high on a designated number of AP exams.
  1. When should I start studying for AP exams? Your goal in preparing for these exams is to give yourself enough time to get used to AP questions, take a few practice tests, and fine-tune your test taking strategy.  With that goal in mind, when do you think you should start studying?

7.  How would you suggest I study for multiple AP exams all at once? Start early and make a schedule to map out your time. For example, studying AP Bio on Mondays from 4 to 5pm. Create a group from your AP class and study together.  Review any old material that you have completed, including old exams and quizzes.  If you think it will help, invest in an AP book, such as Cracking the AP, which you can find at Amazon or B&N.

I hope you find this information helpful.  If you have any other questions about AP or need help with any aspect of the college admissions’ process, please get in touch with me at 240-285-1920 or

Click on the link below for the AP exam schedule for 2018

Duke University Promises

Last week, I toured this very prestigious college in Durham, North Carolina. The campus is large and very beautiful. If you have a chance, check it out.   I was very impressed with all of the educational opportunities offered to the students, including:

  • The firm commitment to graduation within four years
  • Students having the opportunity to participate in research beginning as freshman and be published in leading journals
  • The Duke Engage program – free, summer-long, non-credit program offered to all students to participate in internships and projects within the US
  • The study abroad opportunities
  • The commitment to having all students graduate debt-free.