Plethora of AP tests may not be the best choice

March 20, 2018 — by Alex Wang and Vivien Zhang

Last month, hundreds of students scrambled to sign up for AP tests at $100 each, some dropping more than $500 in hopes of scoring high to earn credit for college courses. Many colleges have policies where a certain score on AP tests translates to a number of credits, or is equivalent to skipping a lower level course — all colleges vary.

But is it really the best decision for students to skip a college course based on their AP exam score? Many students here start taking AP courses as early as sophomore year, but a majority take them junior and senior year. It’s great if for those who genuinely learn and pass the AP exam with a high score, but for others who aren’t passionate about the subject, they simply learn the material, take the test and then forget it all.

For example, a lot of students take the AP Calculus AB/BC exam their junior year. Once they get into college, they realize they can skip the introductory course (assuming they got higher than a 3) and take the fast-track to earning credit. However, after an entire year of not practicing or studying calculus, the odds are they’ll be ill prepared for the next level of the subject.

College freshman Eileen Toh, now is on the premed track at USC, said that while she hasn’t had much trouble, in the years between taking the test and attending college courses, people have definitely lost their foundations in some subject areas.

“I think that retaking the college course was honestly not a waste of time,” Toh said. “I had a pretty smooth transition to my chem class just because I had a solid foundation in it from Chem in SHS, but there are definitely a lot people in my class who got 5s on the AP Chemistry test and were still struggling.”

Moreover, many students who retake courses in college say that the AP courses available in high school are nowhere near the actual rigor of college classes. While the introductory course may not be all that challenging, after a one-year gap, students find that taking a refresher course can be much less stressful than jumping right back into something like more advanced calculus.

If students are going to retake the college course anyway, then there would be no point in going the difficult and time-consuming route of studying for and taking the AP test. For those who do decide to skip the introductory course, they might be setting themselves up to do poorly because of the increased toughness of a college course.

Toh’s school, as well as many others, are wary of this recurring issue and promote retaking courses in college. Even though she took and passed the exam for AP Chemistry, she is still retaking general chemistry.

“Generally medical schools require you to take a certain set list of courses, regardless of whether or not AP testing placed you out of them because they think that college courses are completely different from AP courses,” Toh said. “The speed of what’s being covered, on top of the breadth and depth of how they go into the concepts make the class even more challenging.”


Instead of just simply taking all of these AP tests for the sake of impressing colleges, students should find a handful that they are passionate about. The time that they spend on studying and preparing for the AP exam could easily be spent on an extracurricular or something else more worthwhile that would equally impress colleges. Since colleges these days are looking for much more than GPA points and AP exam scores, pursuing a subject that a student is truly interested in could be a more enjoyable and beneficial path to take instead of blindly chasing grades and test scores.

So for students deciding on which classes to take and AP tests to register for, just a word of precaution: Find something you enjoy and choose wisely.

You may save yourself a lot of trouble in the future.