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It’s a whole new ballgame this spring!  With the SAT Subject Tests now eliminated, colleges are looking to AP Exams as a measure of students’ mastery of academic work. AP Exam scores will play a more prominent role in the college admissions process.

The purpose of the AP Exams is to validate a student’s academic achievement in high school, thus providing insight into their potential to excel at the college level.  Whereas GPA might vary from school to school and teacher to teacher, the College Board’s grading of these exams ostensibly does not. In theory, the exams offer a more standardized measure of student achievement across the country and beyond.

Colleges utilize AP Exam scores for more than just admissions purposes, however.  High scores on these exams can help students earn course credit at some schools. At others, they’re used as a method of placement in order to exempt students from lower-level prerequisites. This function can help you skip over that introductory Calc class so you can get into the higher level courses, or bypass the US History 101 to make more room for elective courses that speak more specifically to your interests.

While colleges have adopted these policies of using AP scores for credit and placement for a long while, with Subject Tests falling by the wayside and SAT/ACT scores becoming temporarily “optional” at many schools, AP Exam scores are now particularly meaningful variables in the admissions process. Boston College recently stated, “In reviewing applications that do not include standardized test results, the Admission Committee places greater emphasis on other required application credentials including academic performance, rigor of coursework, placement in class, personal statements, recommendations, and co-curricular involvement. Students who wish to further quantify their academic successes are welcome to submit non-required credentials such as Advanced Placement scores, predicted IB scores, or SAT Subject Test results (if previously taken).”

We know that the curves for the AP Exams are challenging – in most cases, more challenging in fact than the previous Subject Test curves. You can see a full list of score breakdowns (that is, how many students receive 5s, 4s, 3s…  by percentage) here.  Bear in mind that almost any student that actually takes an AP exam is high-achieving and high-aptitude in the first place, so those test-takers that actually land 4s and 5s are really distinguishing themselves from their fellow high achievers.

So how should a student endeavor to do well on these challenging exams, especially after a year of learning affected by the global pandemic?  For starters, students should ensure they have total mastery of each course’s content in order to apply it effectively to the AP Exam’s challenging problems. In the words of our AP Chemistry Course teacher, Meg Doty, “Comfort and confidence in your ability to apply your understanding of what is happening at a molecular level to a new situation will be what sets you apart from others.“ Especially this year, “comfort and confidence” will be more important than ever. (P.S., if you’re looking for guidance, we just posted our AP Course schedule for this spring).

In addition to putting a plan in place to succeed on this year’s AP Exams, students may want to plan ahead for Advanced Placement courses in future years.  Course selection, especially AP course selection, plays a crucial role in showcasing your academic strengths in the college admissions process.  Try to space out the number of AP courses that you take throughout your high school years. If your school offers them for 9th and 10th grade, consider enrolling. Not only does this help spread out your exam schedule, but also shows your academic commitment across all four years of high school. As you start to choose your courses for next year, think back on your previous high school courses: Where have you succeeded?  What subject has been the most compelling?  Make sure you strike a balance between challenging yourself and finding subjects that pique your interest.  If you have a sense of what you would like to study in college, guide your course selection to reflect those future interests. Finally, it’s important to show your diverse skill set. If you’re focusing on math and science but also able to score a 5 on the AP US History exam, colleges gain a bit of insight into your varied passions and academic strengths.

The world of high school academics and college admissions is always changing, and there’s no question that AP Courses and Exam scores have become more prevalent and prominent. At Carnegie Prep, we are here to help you on this dynamic journey. If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at 203.352.3500 or email us at [email protected].

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