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What to Know About AP Subject Tests

Monday, November 23, 2020

An Overview for Students Who Are Interested in AP Subject Tests

AP Subject Tests are likely to be a part of many students’ high school experience as students take advanced courses in order to boost their course rigor. These exams can be an excellent opportunity to demonstrate your expertise in a subject that you are passionate about and maybe even earn some college credit.

If you’re considering taking an AP Subject Test as part of your college prep, it’s important to do your research and prepare as much as possible before exam day. Keep reading to learn more about how these tests work, who is eligible to take them, and some tips for achieving your best score possible.

The Basics

AP exams are standardized tests that are designed to measure how well students have mastered the content and skills of a specific AP course. The tests are administered by the College Board and are intended to assess competence with material that would be presented in a first-year college class. There are 38 AP courses and corresponding exams.

AP Exam Timing and Logistics

AP Subject Tests are only offered once annually, normally towards the end of the academic year. For the 2020-2021 academic year, exams will be held during May 3-7 and May 10-14. Each test has its own specific time slot within this window: for example, Calculus AB will take place at 8:00am local time on May 4th and Art History is scheduled for 12:00pm local time on May 6th.

Students generally take AP exams at their high school. However, if your school doesn’t offer an exam you wish to take, you can arrange to take it at another school. Check the AP Course Ledger to find a school nearby where you will be able to take the test you’re interested in. In 2020, AP exams were administered online due to COVID-19 restrictions. There is a chance this might happen again in 2021, so students need to stay informed on how the exams will be administered in the spring.

AP Subject Exam Structure and Strategy

AP exams are generally two to three hours in length and are comprised of both multiple-choice and free-response questions. There is no penalty for guessing and students can receive partial credit for free-response questions. While most AP courses have an end-of-the-year, paper and pencil exam, there are a few courses that differ from this model. For example, AP Art and Design students must submit a portfolio of work for scoring.

AP Subject Tests are scored on a 1-5 scale. According to the College Board, the mean score for the 2019 AP exams was a 2.91, with 60% of all exams taken earning a score of 3 or higher. Different colleges have different policies regarding the minimum AP score students must achieve to earn course credit, but generally, applicants must score a 3 or higher or a 4 or above (depending on the institution).

Tips for Test-Takers

  • If you’re also planning on registering for SAT Subject Tests, we recommend taking them around the same time as AP exams. While SAT Subject Tests and AP exams have several distinct differences, many exams cover similar topics. Consequently, the topics you’ve reviewed for an AP exam in May will be top of mind when you take a corresponding SAT Subject Test in June.
  • While you don’t need to be enrolled in an AP course to register for the corresponding exam, it can be advantageous. If your school offers an AP course for an exam you’re interested in taking, giving this class your all can help set you up for success on test day.
  • If you’re interested in registering for an AP exam but view the $95 cost per exam as a barrier, don’t get discouraged. Students with significant financial need may be eligible for a $33 College Board fee reduction per AP exam.

AP Subject Tests are an excellent opportunity for students to demonstrate their college readiness and prepare for advanced coursework. If you’re interested in registering for an exam and looking for personalized guidance, our team of tutors can help you feel confident on test day.


Related Topics

AP Exams
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