Why You Should Take AP Exams: Your Questions Answered

This article was written for Raise.Me, AP Exams Explained, permission for use granted. 

Thea Lee,  Thea Lee is on the District Partnerships team at RaiseMe. Prior, Thea taught at KIPP Central City in New Orleans. In her free time, she enjoys getting outdoors, going to the movies, and reading about public education in the U.S.

Thea Lee, Thea Lee is on the District Partnerships team at RaiseMe. Prior, Thea taught at KIPP Central City in New Orleans. In her free time, she enjoys getting outdoors, going to the movies, and reading about public education in the U.S.

It’s that time of year again. The school year is starting to wind down and AP exams are right around the corner. You’re likely aware that if you pass an AP exam you can earn credit at most colleges and universities. However, each exam costs money and will be a big investment of time not only to take the test, but to study and prepare well in advance. 

So should you take the exam? Here’s what you should know about the exams and some factors to consider before opting in to the test administration.

What do I need to know about the AP exams?

1.    You don’t have to take an AP course to take an AP exam.
2.    You cannot take both Calculus AB and Calculus BC in the same year.
3.    If two of the exams you want to take are on the same day, contact your AP teacher for information on the late-testing period.
a.    You may be required to pay an additional $45 for taking the exam later.
4.    You may not repeat an exam in the same year but you can take the same exam in the subsequent year. Both scores will be on your report unless you request one be withheld.

How do I register?

Your AP teacher/coordinator will facilitate the test administration for your school. Let them know which tests you intend to take so they can order the exams and collect the fee from you. They will let you know when and where the test will take place.

There are currently just over 200 colleges on RaiseMe that award a micro-scholarship for high AP exam scores.

How much does it cost?

Each AP exam costs $94. This cost will either be covered by your school or by you. Check with your AP teacher to learn more. Should you sign up for a test and then not take it, you will be charged an additional $15 fee for the unused exam.

For eligible students, it’s possible to apply for a fee reduction. Be sure to speak with your AP coordinator for more information about AP exam fee reductions.

How do your scores translate to college course grades?

-    A 5 is considered equivalent to an A+ or A in the corresponding college course.
-    A 4 is equivalent to an A-, B+, or B in the corresponding college course.
-    A 3 is equivalent to a B-, C+, or C in the corresponding college course.
-    A score of 2 or below is considered not passing, and will not count for college credit.

What are the benefits of taking an AP exam?

1. You can demonstrate your ability to master college-level coursework
The main reason to take an AP exam is to demonstrate mastery of rigorous college-level material. And, by scoring a passing grade on an AP exam (3 or above), you can earn college credit at the majority of colleges and universities in the US and Canada. 

2. You can earn micro-scholarships for scoring well on AP exams.
Scoring well on AP exams is a strong indication of college readiness and is looked upon favorably by colleges. There are currently just over 200 colleges on RaiseMe that award a micro-scholarship for high AP exam scores. Log in to your student account to see which colleges offer this award!

3. Your college might accept your AP score as college credit
Which exams the institution will accept as college credit (if they honor AP exam scores at all) and the score they are looking for varies depending upon the institution. You can get more information at the College Board website.

Will taking the AP exam save me time and money in college?
The answer, as you probably guessed, is that it depends. Let’s run through a scenario to explore the tradeoffs.

I ran an experiment for myself to learn the specifics at one particular college - The University of Texas at Austin. I went to their website, which you can do too here, and looked up AP U.S. History as an example exam. At UT Austin, if you get a 3 or above on that exam you can get credit for HIS 315L, a semester-long introductory U.S. history course. 

Is it worth it to test out of an introductory U.S. history course? From a financial standpoint, the answer is yes (for the most part). I looked up the cost of tuition by semester at UT and, for Texas residents, the cost for your semester coursework will range between $4,957 - $5,696. If we estimate that a freshman student takes 6 courses in a semester, the cost to take HIS 315L is about $833. If the AP exam costs $94, getting college credit for AP coursework in high school seems like a pretty big cost saver (Disclaimer: this is without factoring in financial aid/scholarships, which could save you considerably on tuition costs).

We looked it up and, according to Student Loan Hero, data on tuition costs at public 4-year universities across the country suggests that the average cost per course credit is about $325. For a 4-year private college, the average cost per credit is $1,039, meaning the potential savings from AP credit can be even higher at private schools! 

What else should I consider?

Besides cost, another factor is your personal academic interests. Let’s continue with the AP U.S. History example. Assuming I scored a 3 or above on the exam, I’m able to apply credit for HIS 315L at UT Austin, making room for a different course in my schedule. Is this a good thing? Again, it depends on the person. If you’re really interested in history, and may pursue it as a major, it might be advantageous to test out of the introductory course so you can progress to more advanced coursework. Alternatively, maybe you aren’t going to be a history major, but you enjoyed studying it in high school and might like the opportunity to take the general education class in college to go even deeper in the subject, especially at the direction of a UT professor.

To evaluate the pros and cons of taking HIS 315L, I wanted to learn more about the course and what I might be missing if I tested out. So I googled “UT Austin + HIS 315L” and found some reviews of the course by recent undergraduates. Here’s what one student said about the course:

As you can see, applying AP exam scores as college credit isn’t always a straightforward decision. So how should you proceed?

Here’s the bottom line

If you and your family are comfortably able to cover the cost of an AP exam and you feel confident in your mastery of the content, there isn’t much downside to taking the exam. You’ll get to decide once you get to college whether or not you want to apply the college credit, and you can seek out college advisors to help you decide which courses you might want to take anyways, given what they know about the quality of the instruction and your academic aspirations.

Taking multiple AP exams can add up in cost, and if that’s the main barrier keeping you from taking an exam, I recommend you reach out to your AP teacher or academic counselor. 

The College Board accommodates a fee reduction to $53 per exam per eligible student. Your AP teacher/coordinator will need to submit some paperwork to make that happen, so make sure to reach out if you’d like to explore that option.

The administration of AP exams begins Monday, May 7 so make sure to check in with your AP teachers to confirm the details specific to your school. If you are taking an exam - best of luck! And if you’ve decided you’d rather not test in the subject, you should be proud of the rigorous coursework you’ve opted to pursue in high school. Your participation in an AP course is a strong step in your college-going journey.