AP Exams and College: What You Need to Know

Student in yellow shirt studying for AP Exam
August 28, 2023


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/4/23

Most U.S. high schools offer upper-level classes under the Advanced Placement (AP) Program. Taking AP courses can boost the competitiveness of your college application. If you’re wondering whether to take AP courses or if colleges really care about them, read on! 

At the end of every school year, high school students often worry about their upcoming AP exams. You may wonder whether colleges really care about AP classes. Worry not, because even though colleges do pay attention to AP exams, your scores, and the number of classes you’ve taken, they aren’t the deciding factor on whether you get in.

However, that doesn’t mean you should avoid taking AP courses altogether. You should take an AP course if you have the time, know you can handle the extra work, or are passionate about the subject matter. We’ll cover everything you need to know about AP tests.

Do You Need AP Classes to Get Into College?

No, you don’t need AP classes to get into college. AP courses work best if you can handle the extra work and course intensity. If you can’t take AP courses or your school doesn’t offer them, there are other ways to stand out. However, that doesn’t mean you should avoid AP classes altogether. 

Colleges seek students who challenge themselves academically. AP courses help you prepare for college since they function as early college classes. Taking any AP course can show colleges you can handle rigorous instruction. How many AP courses you should take depends on your workload and what you can manage!

Do Colleges Care About AP Scores? 

Whether or not schools care about your AP scores depends. While not a standard requirement for most schools, some colleges may have space on their applications for you to self-report your scores. 

While your AP scores likely won’t be the tipping point for your application, you should certainly self-report high scores such as a 4 or a 5 to show you aced course material. If you scored lower, you likely don’t need to and shouldn’t report your scores. 

AP scores may matter more if you’re sending them to a test-optional or test-flexible school and don’t plan to report your SAT/ACT scores. If you score high in your classes, there’s no harm in self-reporting your scores; after all, colleges want to see students take the most rigorous curriculum available to them! 

AP Test Dates

The AP exam schedule is released every year ahead of the test dates. All testing dates are in May. Different semester schedules exist in the U.S., with some school systems ending their school year in May and others in June.

If you’re wondering when you’ll take AP exams, these are the upcoming test dates: 

Date 8 a.m. Local Time 12 p.m. Local Time 2 p.m. Local Time
Monday, May 1 U.S. Government and Politics Chemistry
Spanish Literature and Culture
Tuesday, May 2 Chinese Language and Culture
Environmental Science
Wednesday, May 3 English Literature and Composition Comparative Government and Politics
Computer Science A
Thursday, May 4 Human Geography
Friday, May 5 European History
U.S. History
Art History
Monday, May 8 Calculus AB
Calculus BC
Computer Science Principles
Italian Language and Culture
Date 8 a.m. Local Time 12 p.m. Local Time 2 p.m. Local Time
Tuesday, May 9 English Language and Composition
Japanese Language and Culture
Physics C: Mechanics Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism
Wednesday, May 10 Spanish Language and Culture Biology
Thursday, May 11 French Language and Culture
World History: Modern
Physics 1: Algebra-Based
Friday, May 12 German Language and Culture
Music Theory
Physics 2: Algebra-Based

Source: The College Board

Though it’s rare, if you fall into a scheduling conflict, talk to your exam coordinator about the rescheduled dates and plan accordingly.

Pros and Cons of AP Tests During Senior Year

If you’re wondering whether you should take AP exams in your senior year, consider these factors first! 


AP courses may be advantageous during your senior year; some schools only offer specific classes for seniors. As always, your schedule is also impacted by school offerings and availability. 

Taking AP courses can help you earn college credit; if you didn’t take many in your junior year, consider taking more courses in your senior year. Taking AP classes in your senior year also shows your continued commitment to challenging yourself! 


Taking AP courses in your senior year can be stressful. By saving all the AP courses you want to take for your junior year, you may have an easier time focusing on college applications and raising your GPA. Overall, splitting AP courses throughout high school would help you to better plan your workload. 

What AP Classes Should I Take?

If you want recommendations for some of the best AP courses to take after assessing the score distributions below, here are a few: 

  • AP Psychology: Don't be alarmed by the high rate of 1s on the exam. Since this class has such a high number of students nationwide, many have never taken an AP exam. 
  • AP Art Classes: Excluding art history, these courses have high pass rates and are excellent for artists looking to hone their skills. 
  • AP Foreign Languages: Foreign language courses have high pass rates, and many courses have a high distribution of students earning a 4 or 5. 

These are just recommendations; consider your interests and passions before selecting AP courses! 

AP Score Distributions

To help you see how students performed in 2022, here are some AP score distributions categorized by subject. Reviewing these figures can help you decide which AP tests to take.


Course 5 4 3 2 1
AP 2-D Art and Design 10.8% 35.5% 40.3% 12.8% 0.5%
AP 3-D Art and Design 6.4% 28.6% 38.5% 23.8% 2.6%
AP Art History 14.1% 21.0% 26.3% 26.9% 11.6%
AP Drawing 14.6% 38.1% 35.6% 10.3% 1.4%
AP Music Theory 18.7% 17.7% 25.5% 23.7% 14.4%


Course 5 4 3 2 1
AP English Language and Composition 10.4% 21.1% 24.2% 29.8% 14.5%
AP English Literature and Composition 16.9% 27.3% 33.7% 14.1% 7.9%


Course 5 4 3 2 1
AP Biology 15.0% 23.1% 29.7% 21.6% 10.5%
AP Chemistry 12.5% 17.0% 24.5% 23.6% 22.5%
AP Environmental Science 8.9% 27.4% 17.5% 25.9% 20.3%
AP Physics 1 7.9% 17.0% 18.3% 27.1% 29.6%
AP Physics 2 16.3% 18.1% 35.3% 24.1% 6.3%
AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism 31.5% 23.6% 14.3% 18.1% 12.5%
AP Physics C: Mechanics 26.4% 25.7% 21.3% 15.6% 11.0%

History & Social Science

Course 5 4 3 2 1
AP Comparative Government and Politics 15.9% 24.3% 30.3% 16.7% 12.9%
AP European History 13.5% 21.0% 24.4% 29.7% 11.4%
AP Human Geography 14.9% 18.7% 19.6% 15.0% 31.8%
AP Macroeconomics 16.4% 20.0% 15.4% 15.1% 33.1%
AP Microeconomics 17.7% 22.5% 18.8% 16.9% 24.2%
AP Psychology 17.0% 22.2% 19.1% 13.1% 28.5%
Course 5 4 3 2 1
AP U.S. Government and Politics 12.0% 10.9% 25.8% 25.7% 25.7%
AP U.S. History 10.8% 15.6% 21.9% 23.0% 28.8%
AP World History 13.2% 21.9% 27.0% 23.7% 14.3%

Math & Computer Science

Course 5 4 3 2 1
AP Calculus AB 20.4% 16.1% 19.1% 22.6% 21.7%
AP Calculus BC 41.2% 15.6% 20.1% 16.4% 6.8%
AP Computer Science A 27.3% 20.4% 19.9% 10.4% 22.1%
AP Computer Science Principles 11.4% 21.0% 31.1% 19.9% 16.6%
AP Statistics 14.8% 22.2% 23.4% 16.5% 23.1%

World Languages & Cultures

Course 5 4 3 2 1
AP Chinese Language and Culture 49.3% 19.6% 18.0% 5.3% 7.8%
AP French Language and Culture 13.1% 23.7% 34.8% 22.3% 6.0%
AP German Language and Culture 20.0% 19.1% 26.5% 22.9% 11.6%
AP Italian Language and Culture 22.6% 20.6% 27.3% 18.6% 10.8%
AP Japanese Language and Culture 48.5% 9.8% 17.1% 7.5% 17.1%
AP Spanish Language and Culture 23.6% 28.5% 29.7% 15.0% 3.3%
AP Spanish Literature and Culture 8.1% 22.8% 33.4% 23.8% 11.9%

Alternatives to AP Tests

The primary purpose of the AP exam is to award potential college credit based on the score you receive. If your school doesn’t offer AP courses or you’re looking for other options, these are alternatives.

Dual Enrollment

The best way to earn college credit is through dual enrollment. High school students take college-level classes that count toward high school and college credits. Dual enrollment helps students complete core college classes.

Dual enrollment programs vary by state. What classes you take depends on your college. Some states go the extra mile and pay for dual enrollment classes. The only requirement is that you’ll need transportation to attend on-campus classes. If this is an issue, online classes can be taken from anywhere.

Honors Classes

Another alternative is honors classes. Honors classes offer an easier experience than AP classes. High school freshmen and sophomores tend to take these classes as a stepping stone for the AP versions. 

However, you can take them anytime in high school. Picking these classes as a subject of interest is a great way to ensure you’re helping your GPA. 

Independent Study 

In many cases across the U.S., students don’t have the opportunity to take AP, honors, or dual enrollment courses. Consequently, you can take on an independent study using school time to build your class. Showing this effort and dedication to your academic advancement looks good to admission committees.  

Depending on how well you document your independent study and use available resources, you can stand out in the admissions process. 

Extracurricular Activities 

Programs like debate and leadership programs, sports teams, music, and arts can help you stand out on an application. Some of these programs may prepare you for taking AP classes in the same subject. 

FAQs: Should You Take AP Tests During Senior Year?

Still weighing the pros and cons of AP classes and have more questions? Read on for more answers! 

1. When Do Most High School Students Take AP Exams?

Most students take AP exams during their junior and senior years. Your school should have a list of available classes based on the curriculum. 

2. Is a 3 an Okay Score?

A 3 is a passing grade on the AP exam. However, it may take a score of 4 or higher to receive college credit. 

3. Which AP Tests Are the Hardest?

The most challenging AP exams typically fall into the math-based science and the upper levels of statistics and calculus. However, every student has different strengths! 

4. Can AP Exams Affect Your GPA?

No, AP exams don’t affect your GPA. However, your class grade will count towards it and your overall high school credits. 

5. If You Fail the Exam, Can You Retake the Test? 

Yes, but you’ll have to wait a year to retake the test. If you do, ensure you inform the College Board of the new score or cancel your previous score. 

6. When Do You Receive AP Scores? 

Check out our blog on when AP scores are released!  

7. When Should You Start Taking AP Classes? 

Most students start taking AP classes in their junior year. 

Final Thoughts

AP classes can help you stand out to colleges and earn extra credit. While you don’t need them to get into college, taking AP courses can potentially save you money by reducing the amount of time you spend in college. Though AP exams require a lot of effort, they are worth the reward. 

While how many AP courses you should take is up to you, try to spread them out as much as you can throughout high school and build your schedule based on what you can manage. Good luck with your exams!

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