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Articles / Applying to College / Do AP Tests Count ... Even When the Teacher is Terrible?

Feb. 1, 2016

Do AP Tests Count ... Even When the Teacher is Terrible?

Question: What is the impact of AP test scores on college admission? My high school sophomore is in a year long AP class where the teacher was replaced with a new teacher who admits that she does not know the material adequately to teach the class. The school has been looking for a qualified teacher, but nothing has happened so far. We (parents) have been told by school administrators that the AP test scores have no bearing on college admissions so we do not need to worry that a score of 1 or 2 will make our child look bad. However, my daughter is a straight A student with excellent standardized test scores, so a very low AP test score will be out of character for her. She has been maintaining an A grade in the class. What is your opinion?



“The Dean's" opinion is that the administrators at your daughter's school are either pretty clueless themselves or are hoping that you parents are! AP test results can definitely count at college-verdict time. Granted, colleges do not require the scores, and some admission officials will downplay the role of AP tests if asked directly about their importance. But at many colleges—especially the hyper-competitive places where the majority of candidates have tip-top grades and SAT or ACT scores and where hair-splitting decisions must be made—the AP exam results can serve as a “tie-breaker" to help admission committees discriminate among similarly qualified applicants.

Last year there was a situation at my local public high school that was nearly identical to the one you describe. A top-notch AP Bio teacher left unexpectedly and was replaced by an incompetent sub. Soon the sub left, too—recognizing her own inadequacies—and then other short-term fill-ins followed suit.


Because of the major snafu—and due to pressure from parents—the administration agreed to make the AP test optional for this group of befuddled biologists, although the culminating exams are ordinarily mandatory for all AP classes at this high school. I don't know if some of the students took the test anyway … or how they fared, if they did. The scuttlebutt that reached me through the grapevine was all about kids bailing on the test like rats abandoning a sinking ship!

Likewise, I suggest that you and your fellow parents prevail upon the powers that be to offer this AP exam to those who wish to take it, but it should not be an imperative. Then, when it comes time for your daughter and her classmates to apply to college, the transcript should include a brief note explaining that students in this particular AP class did not take the corresponding exam because of staffing problems for which the school accepts responsibility.

Good luck as you fight City Hall!

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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