Taking AP Exams in the Time of COVID-19

AP Exams Covid-19

By Elizabeth LaScala, PhD

In response to the major and sometimes tragic disruptions to life that have accompanied the spread of the COVID-19 virus, CollegeBoard has arranged new testing schedules, exam features and even at home testing options, to help students take these exams. There are security guidelines in place for AP coordinators and new remote teaching resources for teachers as well as study resources for students. Given the many advantages of taking Advanced Placement (AP) exams and performing well on them, it seems like a good time to review the benefits in detail.

I have always stated that if you take an AP class, then you should also plan to take the corresponding AP exam. Otherwise you are waving a red flag in front of admission officers; they will wonder why you did not take the AP exam associated with that class?  In my experience, when admission officers are left to ponder this, more times than not they will assume the student did not think s/he would do well.

Because AP exam scores are established through the national administration of each exam, the scores may mean as much, if not more, than course grades to admission officers (the scores are based on large samples, free of grade inflation/deflation, or extra credit offered to lift student grades).  Since many school districts are leaning toward pass/fail options for spring grades, it is especially important for students to show that they have both challenged themselves with rigorous coursework and shown their readiness for college by taking and doing well on AP exams. Also, college applications have a place for awards and honors and students who perform well on AP exams can win different levels of academic awards.

Another benefit of taking AP exams that is available every year is that most public universities and some private schools offer college credit. Most times, you need to score a 4 or 5 to get credit, and sometimes there is a limit to how many total credits you can get. Even if your college does not accept AP exams as credit, they may use your AP scores for placement or to fulfill general education requirements. For example, if you got a 4 on the AP statistics exam and your college has a quantitative reasoning requirement, you may be able to use your AP score to fulfill the requirement.  Or, if you got a 5 on the AP English Literature exam, you may be able to start taking upper level English classes without having to take the introductory classes.

AP tests may cut the cost of your education by helping you advance more quickly through your coursework, and free up time so you can take classes that you really enjoy.

A plus for students who go to big state universities is that APs can help you get into smaller class sizes faster. I worked with a student who is now completing her premed education at UC Berkeley. She entered school as a sophomore and had the time to gain perspective on a different healthcare system abroad as well as take on laboratory research outside of classes. This results in a more powerful profile for her medical school applications.

There are many good reasons for juniors and seniors to take their AP exams this spring. There will be good times again after COVID-19 and many high school students will be happy they put in the effort now to perform well on these important exams.