Oh the AP tests. One 4-hour exam can determine the fate of a whole college course. The 1st two weeks each May, high schoolers across the US gather at testing sites to spill their brains onto their testing booklets in the hopes of proving they are worthy of college credit.
Here are the basics. This test is offered by the College Board, the same people who admister the SAT. Tests are scored on a scale of 1-5, 5 being the highest. At least a score of 3 is required for credit. It’s possible to get 2 semesters worth of credit with a score of 4 or 5. The bottom line is higher scores can reward more college credit and more savings. Many school disctricts help subsidize the cost of the $84 exam. Even without a subsidy, 84 bucks for 3 credits or more of college isn’t bad.
Now here are some strategic tips to get your money’s worth out of these exams.
Take some APs outside of the future major: There is little thing most colleges like called General education. GE classes will force you to take some classes outside of your major. Why not get that over with in high school? If a student is dead set on engineering, take some history, language, government, or psychology APs in high school.
Check out College AP transfers before taking the class: Pick a couple of colleges that seems a likely fit after graduation. Some colleges are AP snobs in certain subjects and will only accept a 5 for AP credit. Know what is needed to get the credit and if the effort for the grade is worth it.
Get more bang for your buck with a higher score: Depending on the test, some schools will reward you handsomely for just passing the test. For instance the University of Nebraska dishes out 8 credits of general chemistry to any student who gets a 3 or higher. Note which classes those are and go for it.
Beware the fake credit APs: What do I mean by that? It’s possible to take the AP test, pass it with flying colors, GET CREDIT FOR THE CLASS, and still have to take it in college. This is the case for many science majors going to professional school. I passed out of college physics through AP, but I still had to do physics in college because most dental schools won’t accept AP credit for a science prerequisite like physics. I still recommend taking them to get a leg up on the material, just don’t be disappointed when you have retake it in school. There is one perk-easy A when taken in college.
Review books: AP classes are tough. There is a ton of information, like the over 300 years of social, political, and economic history of the United States. Get an AP review book on ebay for a comprehensive review of a years worth of course material. A good book can be an investment in a shorter, cheaper college experience.
Self-directed APs are possible: If the high school doesn’t offer the AP class of interest, march into the principal’s office and ask them to make a class for individual study time specifically for that AP class. Seriously, what is the principal going to say? “Well, I don’t know if I want students passing more AP tests and making our school look better.” My husband did this with AP Statistics. One of his math teachers gave him a Stats book that he systematically went through and he asked the teacher questions when he didn’t understand something. He got a 5.
With those tips in mind, let’s crunch some numbers here. Say a student attends a reasonably priced college like the University of Nebraska which made the list of Kiplingers Best Value Colleges. The University of Nebraska estimates that for a student taking 15 credits a semester living on campus will spend about 15 grand. 30 credits for the year, at $15,000 a year evens out to around $500 a credit. Now let’s say that same student going to University of Nebraska passes an AP test earning 3 credits that gets the student out of a GE requirement. We’ll estimate the cost of the test as $150 for the unsubsidized test and a $60 review book. Passing that test dropped average college credit cost down from $500 to $50, or a 90% savings per credit. Maybe those classes aren’t so bad after all.
Image courtesy of Jonnny