Advanced Placement

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Advanced Placement (AP) is a program in the United States and Canada, created by the College Board, which offers college-level curricula and examinations to high school students. American colleges and universities often grant placement and course credit to students who obtain high scores on the examinations. The AP curriculum for each of the various subjects is created for the College Board by a panel of experts and college-level educators in that field of study. For a high school course to have the AP designation, the course must be audited by the College Board to ascertain that it satisfies the AP curriculum. If the course is approved, the school may use the AP designation and the course will be publicly listed on the AP Course Ledger.[1]

In 2013, the most taken AP exam was English Language and Composition with 476,277 students, and the least taken AP exam was Japanese Language and Culture with 1,169 students.[2]


After the end of World War II, the Ford Foundation created a fund that supported committees studying education.[3] The program, which was then referred to as the "Kenyon Plan,"[4] was founded and pioneered at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, by the then college president Gordon Chalmers. The first study was conducted by three prep schools—the Lawrenceville School, Phillips Academy and Phillips Exeter Academy—and three universities—Harvard University, Princeton University and Yale University. In 1952 they issued the report General Education in School and College: A Committee Report which recommended allowing high school seniors to study college level material and to take achievement exams that allowed them to attain college credit for this work.[5] The second committee, the Committee on Admission with Advanced Standing, developed and implemented the plan to choose a curriculum. A pilot program was run in 1952 which covered eleven disciplines.

The College Board, a non-profit organization[6] based in New York City, has run the AP program since 1955.[7] From 1965 to 1989, Harlan Hanson was the director of the Advanced Placement Program.[8] It develops and maintains guidelines for the teaching of higher level courses in various subject areas. In addition, it supports teachers of AP courses, and supports universities.[9] These activities are funded through fees charged to students taking AP Exams.

In 2006, over one million students took over two million Advanced Placement examinations.[10] Many high schools in the United States offer AP courses,[11] though the College Board allows any student to take any examination, regardless of participation in its respective course.[12] Therefore, home-schooled students and students from schools that do not offer AP courses have an equal opportunity to take the examination.

As of the 2015 testing season, exams cost $91 each,[13] though the cost may be subsidized by local or state programs. Financial aid is available for students who qualify for it; the exam reduction is $26 or $28 per exam from College Board plus an additional $8 rebate per fee-reduced exam from the school. There may be further reductions depending on the state. Out of the $89, $8 goes directly to the school to pay for the administration of the test, which some schools will reduce to lower the cost to the student.

On April 3, 2008, the College Board announced that four AP courses – French Literature, Latin Literature, Computer Science AB, and Italian Language and Culture – would be discontinued after the 2008–2009 school year due to lack of funding.[14][15] However, the Italian Language and Culture test was again offered beginning in 2011.

Starting July 2013 AP allowed students for the first time to both view and send their scores online.[16]

The number of AP exams administered each year has seen a steady increase over the past decade. In 2003, 175,860 English Language and Composition exams were administered. By 2013, this number had risen to 476,277, or an increase of 171%. Such an increase has occurred in nearly all AP exams offered, with the AP Psychology exam seeing a 281% increase over the past decade.


AP tests are scored on a 1 to 5 scale as follows:[17]

  • 5 – Extremely well qualified
  • 4 – Well qualified
  • 3 – Qualified
  • 2 – Possibly qualified
  • 1 – No recommendation

Grading AP exams is a long and complicated process. The multiple choice component of the exam is scored by computer, while the free response and essay portions are scored by trained Readers at the AP Reading each June. The scores on various components are weighted and combined into a raw Composite Score. The Chief Reader for each exam then decides on the grade cutoffs for that year's exam, which determine how the Composite Scores are converted into the final grades. During the process a number of reviews and statistical analyses are performed to ensure that the grading is reliable. The overall goal is for the grades to reflect an absolute scale of performance which can be compared from year to year.[18]

Some colleges use AP test scores to exempt students from introductory coursework, others use them to place students in higher designated courses, and some do both. Each college's policy is different (see link below), but most require a minimum score of 4 or 3 to receive college credit.[19] Typically this appears as a "CR" grade on the college transcript, although some colleges and universities will award an A grade for a 5 score.[20] Some countries, such as Germany, that do not offer general admission to their universities and colleges for holders of an American high school diploma without lengthy preparatory courses will directly admit students who have completed a specific set of AP tests, depending on the subject they wish to study there.

In addition, completing AP courses help students qualify for various types of scholarships. According to the College Board, 31 percent of colleges and universities look at AP experience when making scholarship decisions.[21]

Beginning with the May 2011 AP Exam administration, the College Board changed the scoring of AP Exams.[22][23] Total scores on the multiple-choice section are now based on the number of questions answered correctly. Points are no longer deducted for incorrect answers and, as was the case before, no points are awarded for unanswered questions. However, scoring requirements have also been increased.

Score reporting[edit]

Starting with the May 2013 AP Examination Administration, the College Board launched an Internet-based score reporting service.[24] Students can use their 2013 AP Number or Student Number (if one was indicated), along with a College Board Account,[25] to access current and previous years' exam scores. This system can also be used to send scores to colleges and universities for which a 4-digit institutional code[26] is assigned.

Exam subsidies[edit]

Recognizing that the cost could be an impediment to students of limited means, a number of states and municipalities independent of the College Board have partially or fully subsidized the cost. For example, the state of Florida reimburses schools districts for the exam costs of students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses. The Los Angeles Unified School District, the Montebello Unified School District, the Hawaii Department of Education, New York City Department of Education, and the state of Indiana subsidize all AP Examination fees in subjects of math and science, and the Edmonds School District in suburban Seattle currently subsidizes Advanced Placement fees of students who enroll in the free school lunch program. In addition some school districts offer free tests to all students enrolled in any Advanced Placement class.

Advanced Placement courses[edit]

There are currently 37 courses and exams available through the AP Program. A complete list can be found below:

Upcoming exam changes[edit]


  • The AP Physics B exam will be split into two new exams, AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2. The material in the new exams is essentially the same as Physics B, but will go more in-depth.
  • AP United States History
    • The multiple choice portion of the exam will be significantly shortened, from 80 to 55 multiple choice questions. The weighing of the multiple choice on the exam score will also be reduced from 50% to 40% of the total.
    • One long essay question will be replaced with 4 short-answer questions worth 20% of the total exam score.
    • The 115-minute writing period will be replaced with separate 60 and 35 minute writing periods for the document-based question and the remaining long essay question. These two essays will account for 40% of the exam total, or 25% and 15% for each question respectively.


  • AP European History
    • This exam will undergo the same changes as the United States History exam above.
  • AP Art History
    • The multiple choice portion of the exam will be significantly shortened, from 115 to 80 multiple choice questions.
    • The number of short essay questions will be reduced from six to four.

Recent exam information[edit]

AP exams taken by subject in 2013.
2014 scoring results
Exam Number administered  % 3 or higher Mean score
Art History 23,213 59.6 2.82
Biology 213,294 64.2 2.91
Calculus AB 294,072 58.9 2.94
Calculus BC 93,180 84.6 4.02
Chemistry 148,554 52.8 2.68
Chinese Language 10,728 94.5 4.43
Computer Science 39,278 61.2 2.96
English Language 505,244 55.8 2.79
English Literature 397,477 55.0 2.76
Environmental Science 130,321 47.3 2.60
European History 110,297 59.5 2.65
French Language 21,268 78.0 3.36
German Language 5,111 73.3 3.34
United States Government 271,043 50.7 2.62
Comparative Government 20,361 62.0 3.09
Human Geography 136,448 52.0 2.64
Italian Language 2,331 69.6 3.23
Japanese Language 2,311 75.9 3.56
Latin 6,542 65.8 3.05
Macroeconomics 117,209 57.8 2.89
Microeconomics 74,049 65.6 3.07
Music Theory 17,176 62.7 3.07
Physics B 93,574 60.7 2.89
Physics C: Mechanics 47,000 76.7 3.56
Psychology 259,789 65.5 3.09
Spanish Language 135,341 89.3 3.72
Spanish Literature 20,118 74.5 3.14
Statistics 184,173 59.6 2.86
Studio Art: 2-D Design 26,811 78.5 3.33
Studio Art: 3-D Design 4,256 67.5 3.04
Studio Art: Drawing 16,928 77.5 3.27
United States History 462,766 52.4 2.76
World History 245,699 54.5 2.66
Total 4,135,962


Faculty at a number of universities have expressed doubts about the value of a passing AP score. Highly capable students who receive scores of 3 or 4, but not the perfect 5, are being given college credit at fewer universities. Academic departments also criticise the increasing proportion of students who take and pass AP courses but are not ready for college-level work.[27]

Research conducted by Philip M. Sadler and published in AP: A critical examination of the Advanced Placement program found that students who took AP courses in the sciences but failed the AP exam performed no better in college science courses than students without any AP course at all. Referring to students who complete the course but fail the exam, Sadler stated in an interview that "research shows that they don’t appear to have learned anything during the year, so there is probably a better course for them".[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "AP Course Ledger". AP Course Audit. University of Oregon. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  2. ^ "Student Score Distributions". College Board. 2013. pp. 2–3. Retrieved 5 January 2014. 
  3. ^ "A Brief History of the Advanced Placement Program". College Board. Archived from the original on February 5, 2009. Retrieved January 29, 2009. 
  4. ^ "Historical Markers: Kenyon College". Kenyon College. Retrieved May 29, 2011. 
  5. ^ Stanley N. Katz (March 10, 2006). "The Liberal Arts in School and College". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved January 21, 2011. 
  6. ^ About the College Board from
  7. ^ The History of the AP Program from
  8. ^ DiYanni, Robert (2008). "The History of AP Program". Retrieved July 23, 2009. 
  9. ^ The Advanced Placement Program from
  10. ^ Program Summary Report 2006 from
  11. ^ AP Fact Sheet from
  12. ^ AP: Frequently Asked Questions from
  13. ^
  14. ^ de Vise, Daniel (April 4, 2008). "AP Language, Computer Courses Cut". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2011-01-21. 
  15. ^ Important Announcement about AP Italian Language and Culture from
  16. ^ AP Online Scores
  17. ^ AP: The Score-Setting Process from
  18. ^ "AP Central – Exam Scoring". College Board. Archived from the original on January 13, 2008. 
  19. ^ Understanding AP Exams from
  20. ^ Multiple-Choice Scores from
  21. ^ College Board. "AP Program". Retrieved August 5, 2012. , citing "Unpublished institutional research, Crux Research, Inc. March 2007."
  22. ^ "Guess What? Taking AP Exams Just Got Easier". ParentDish. 2010. Retrieved March 6, 2011. 
  23. ^ Finnegan, Leah (August 11, 2010). "AP Eliminates Guessing Penalty On Tests". Huffington Post. 
  24. ^ "Score Reporting Services". College Board. 2013. p. 1. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  25. ^ "Create a CollegeBoard Account". College Board. 2013. p. 1. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  26. ^ "List of 4-digit Institutional Codes, PDF". Educational Testing Service. 2013. p. 1. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  27. ^ Zimar, Heather (2005). "Universities Raise Standards for Earning Advanced Placement Credit". SEM Source: An Update on State of the Art Student Services (American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers) (January 2005). Retrieved November 7, 2012. 
  28. ^ Hood, Lucy; Sadler, Philip M. (2010). "Putting AP to the Test: New research assesses the Advanced Placement program". Harvard Education Letter 26 (May/June 2010). Retrieved November 7, 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]