Last year, the College Board made the controversial decision to move up the registration deadline for AP exams (which take place in May) from March to November. Now that the school year is well underway, you might have suddenly realized that there's only about a month left before you reach this important deadline. How do you approach this complicated decision about AP exam registration when the test date is a whole eight months away? Let's take a look at the various factors you should take into account as you approach this decision.
It sounds obvious, but you have to consider how well you're doing or have done in your AP classes. What is your comfort level with the material? What grades are you getting on quizzes and assignments? Have you looked at any AP exam practice tests? Of course, if you're currently taking an AP class or two this semester, you're only a month in, so it's hard to know if you'll feel prepared enough for the AP exam by the end of the class.
According to Ian Fisher, who serves as director of Educational Counseling and Strategic Partnerships at Bright Horizons College Coach, having just one month to decide about AP exam registration is still okay, but students "should have a reasonable sense for their understanding of the material before then."
If you're still a junior, Fisher suggests taking an AP exam for every single class "where you feel reasonably confident in the material."
You also have to understand the credit and placement policies at your target schools. If you're aiming for placement or credit at your target schools, you'll need to at least score a 3, although some colleges require a 4 or 5.
If you're a high school senior, Fisher highly recommends that you investigate the AP credit policies at the schools where you've been admitted or where you plan to apply.
Fisher says that if the college does not offer credit for AP exams, the AP test scores are potentially only valuable if they allow you to take a higher-level course in college without having to take the prerequisite. However, Fisher adds that sophomores and juniors should make the decision to register "under the assumption that they might one day attend a school that accepts AP credit."
Probably the most important thing to remember is this: Unlike the SAT or ACT, colleges do not require you to report the scores from any or all of the AP exams you have taken in high school. Unless you are applying to a university abroad, where there is often a requirement to take AP exams and SAT Subject Tests that correspond to your intended major, you do not typically have to take any AP exams to apply for college admission. This means that you can report scores that work to your advantage and withhold scores that don't. Fisher says that this distinction between AP exams and other admissions-based exams like the SAT, ACT and SAT Subject Tests is very important.
"The SAT, ACT, and Subject Tests are admissions tests. Their function is to help support an admission office in making a decision. AP exams are credit-based exams. Their function is to award college credit to students after they enroll in college. While AP exams play some role in the college admissions process, that role is minimal. No colleges require students to take AP exams to apply, and no colleges require students to report their AP scores. The mechanism for reporting AP results is to self-report them on the application, in the testing section of the Common App, for example," he explains.
And since AP scores are not a required part of an application, you can skip the exams if you have budget concerns – although you may be eligible to apply for a fee reduction.
You may not be taking any AP courses right now, and you haven't taken any before. Should you still register for an AP exam? Fisher doesn't encourage it.
"I tend to say no. An AP score can be valuable if applying to international schools, like those in the UK, for example, but it's not especially important in the admissions process here in the US. If a student can register for an exam and score well without much prep, then I say go for it! But I would discourage a student from intensive self-study and prep in advance of an AP exam in a subject where they've never taken a class. At the end of the day, American colleges and universities are much more interested in the grades you get in your AP classes than the scores you earn on your AP exams."
Let's say you've just begun the AP course, but you're feeling overwhelmed by it as the registration deadline approaches. Should you go ahead and register in November anyway? Keep in mind that the College Board introduced a $40 cancellation fee if you register but don't take the test.
In this case, you need to decide based on whatever creates less stress for you. You can sign up and take the exam, and in case your score is not high enough to obtain college credit or placement at your target school, there is no requirement to report the exam score.
"Taking the exam really can't hurt you in college admission because you are not compelled to report the score. But you also can't earn credit for an AP exam that you don't take," Fisher says. "For me, taking the exam is a no-lose situation, but a lot of students might feel a little anxiety on test day that they'd rather avoid. I think if you're expecting you'll get a score that wouldn't qualify for credit (a 1 or 2) and you're stressed, it's best not to take the exam at all. If you think you can get a 3 or better, go for it!"
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