Important Things to Remember About Your AP Exams

Consider these last minute items to bear in mind when preparing for your AP exams.

By Tiffany Sorensen, Varsity Tutors' Contributor

May 03, 2016

Important Things to Remember About Your AP Exams

The month of May is here! For many high school students, this signals the season for taking AP exams. You have already done much of the preparation and studying that will help you excel on your exams.

Let’s look at a few last-minute points to bear in mind as you get ready to test your knowledge.

1. You can make mistakes and still earn a 5
In typical grading standards, earning a 5 out of a maximum of 5 would imply getting 100% of the questions right. But the grading scale for AP exams is different. Your score on the AP exam is meant to reflect not only your mastery of the subject matter, but also your readiness for college-level material.

AP exams are graded on a scale of 1 to 5. According to the College Board, a 1 indicates “no recommendation,” a 2 indicates “possibly qualified,” a 3 indicates “qualified,” a 4 indicates “well qualified,” and a 5 indicates “extremely well qualified.” You can still end up earning a score of 5 even if you get some questions wrong on the AP exam. AP material is challenging and rigorous, so the College Board does not expect students to do perfectly on AP exams. Don’t be so hard on yourself!

2. Many schools will accept a score of 3
You probably already know that you do not need to score a 5 on your AP exam to earn college credit for it. Nearly all colleges will accept a score of 4, and of course, a 5. In theory, you should earn the same number of credit hours whether your score was a 4 or a 5. But many colleges will also accept a score of 3, except for some stricter and more prestigious schools.

Bear in mind, however, that each college has its own policy on credits for AP exams, so be sure to do your research. As you can see, you don’t necessarily need to perform extraordinarily well to get credit for your AP exam. Colleges allow a decent margin for error. Of course, it is admirable to try to do the best that you can on your AP exam. Earning a 5 is an honorable goal that will certainly make you a more competitive college admissions candidate, but it is certainly not a necessity.

3. You must show your work on free-response questions to get full credit
The College Board believes it is extremely important not just to arrive at the correct answer, but to also show your steps in solving the problem. Only partial credit tends to be given when a free-response answer is supplied without work shown. As such, be sure you include notes, formulas, diagrams, math problems, or any other methods you use to arrive at an answer. It would be a shame to lose points over a correct answer just because you left out the work!

4. Testing procedures are strict
To ensure that everyone has the same opportunity to succeed on AP exams, there are strict guidelines surrounding testing. Such guidelines include not opening the test until you are told to do so and not removing materials from the testing room. You may not discuss the specific questions on the AP exams, as the College Board may choose to reuse questions on future tests. Also, do not under any circumstances bring a cell phone into the testing room!

Failure to follow the College Board rules could result in your exam being disqualified altogether. You have worked hard to prepare for the AP exams, so do not jeopardize your score over something trivial. Consult the College Board’s website for more information on testing procedures.

While the AP exams are hard, the grading policy is designed to give you some flexibility. This can be a refreshing thought as you buckle down for exam day. Also, remember to show as much work as you can and to always follow testing procedures. The worst is behind you!

Tiffany Sorensen is a professional tutor and contributing writer with Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.

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