Answers to Common Questions

by Alayna Vernon

We get it. Parenting is hard! Especially once your child is in high school and AP® classes are on the table. You could hand the wheel over to a guidance counselor, wish your teenager luck, and hop in the back seat—or we could just break it down for you to help make your journey with AP® that much easier.

What is AP® anyway?

You might be in the same boat as a lot of parents. Parents who have no idea what the AP® program is, how to get the most out of it, and why students struggle with so much with AP®. Don’t panic, we’re here to clear things up for you.

The AP® Program is a college-preparedness program made by the College Board (yup, the same College Board who makes the SAT). It gives high schools the opportunity to offer challenging courses to their high-achieving students, and in turn gives students the opportunity to earn college credit before they even step foot on a university campus.

There are 38 AP® courses to choose from. Topics range from art to science, from music to world languages—and cover everything in between. These courses are designed to expose students to what they are likely to face in college, so the curriculum is extremely challenging. And that’s just the classes! The exams are just as difficult. They take place in May each year, once most of the AP® courses are finished, but are nothing like a final exam you might be used to from regular high school classes.

So, how is the AP® Exam different from normal exams?

There is a largely unspoken expectation that if a student takes an AP® course, she must also take the exam. That’s actually not true at all! The exam is an option given to all AP® students. That’s pretty important to know, because it means a student has to register in the fall with a guidance counselor in order to take the exam. There is a standard cost of $94 per exam, and we understand that cost can be an issue, so that’s something to consider, especially as students take multiple exams. Extra costs can be incurred if you don’t register on time and have to pay late fees. Keep in mind that one credit hour in college is $594 on average. That means that a three-credit course in college can have a price tag of $1,782 before books and materials.

Students interested in earning college credit for the AP® course must take the exam to do so. The class alone is not enough. You must get a certain score to earn college credit with an AP® exam—and that can sometimes vary depending on the college.

Regardless, a student can take the course without taking the exam and still benefit from the rigor of a curriculum that gives them a glimpse of what to expect in a college course. On the other hand, a little-known fact is that students can take an AP® Exam for a class that they haven’t taken.

Should my child take AP® courses?

That decision should really be based on your child and what he or she wants to do in college. It’s completely personal, so there is no right answer for everyone.

In general, it’s good that a college-bound student shows admission counselors that he or she can handle a challenging course load, but you don’t want your child to become overwhelmed and perform poorly in the courses. The best advice we can offer is this: If your child feels prepared to accommodate the rigors of AP® into her schedule, then make sure it’s in subjects that she can perform well in and will benefit from in college.

Earning credit for college can be pretty complex, so we’ll make it simple and get into detail here. Many schools will accept a score of 3 or above to award some credit. Highly selective schools will expect a 4 or 5 before they consider giving a student credit. So it doesn’t hurt to do a little research beforehand to see if a prospective college or university grants college credit in the courses your child is thinking of taking.

My child is taking an AP® class. Now what?

If you and your child have already decided that AP® should be a part of his journey to college, this is where planning ahead can really save time and sanity later. Help your busy student set (and stick to) a routine that covers all of his responsibilities—from school work to walking the family dog. Understand that you’ll need to be flexible about how much time he should dedicate to studying for each AP® course.

Make a plan to organize and summarize notes at the end of each week and at the end of each unit. This will help your child stay on top of the content and not get swallowed up by it as the year progresses.

Look over the course curriculum on the College Board website and know (in advance) what your student will be tested on in May so they can be efficient with their study time.