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The Value of Advanced Placement exams

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

If you're unfamiliar with AP exams, there's one of two options.

1. You didn't attend high school in the United States.

2. You've (understandably) blocked out any memory of high school.

For those of you who fall under group 1, I'll explain. AP exams, or Advanced Placement exams, are a series of standardized tests offered by the College Board that are taken by high school students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in a variety of subject areas.

These exams, recognized by colleges and universities around the world, are usually taken in May after a student has typically taken an AP course that covers the content covered test.

Such is the prevalence of AP on the US education system that enrollment in AP courses has continued to grow year over year. However, since the ... pan...thingy of 2020, the volume of AP exams have started to dip.

In this blog post, we will discuss why AP exams are important and how they can benefit students.

Reason 1: $$$

First and foremost, AP exams can help students save money on college tuition. Many colleges and universities offer credit or advanced standing to students who earn a high enough score on an AP exam. This means that students can potentially skip introductory-level courses and move on to more advanced courses, which can ultimately save them both time and money. For example, if a student earns a score of 4 or 5 on the AP Calculus exam, they may be able to skip the introductory-level calculus course in college and move on to more advanced coursework, or bypass a general education requirement

In my personal experience, I attended college with 8 courses worth of college credit which afforded me the opportunity to graduate in 3.5 years. That's $20,000 worth of tuition! A simple exercise you can follow to calculate the actual value of exams.

  • Visit the school website and research their class policy. I'll use UCLA as an example:

  • Look up how many units they'll provide you with. For example in Chemistry, they will provide you with 8.0 credits. For your reference, usually a class is worth 4.0 units. (Some schools do 1.0 unit per class, so you may need to be careful here with the conversion)

  • Look up the tuition cost of the school (not the cost of attendance!). UCLA's is approximately $13,401 for in-state and $43,473 for out of state.

  • Here's where we'll need to do some math. At a quarter school, students typically take 3-4 courses per quarter. At a semester school, students take 4-5 courses per semester. So in light of that, take your tuition and divide by 12 for quarter schools (quarter schools have 3 terms) and 10 for semester schools (semester schools have 2 terms) to get the conservative estimate of the cost per class. In our example, UCLA operates on the quarter system, so the approximate value of one course is... In-state = $1,117 Out-of-state = $3,623

  • Then multiply by the number of courses you get credit for. In our case chemistry was worth TWO courses. So essentially the value of the passing the test is worth $2,234 or $7,246! Not bad for a 4-hour test.

Note: If this exercise is too mathy for you, no worries. Just know that an AP credit is worth a lot at the right school.

Reason 2: Advanced Standing

Earning high scores on AP exams can also provide students with the opportunity to start college with advanced standing. When a student receives college credit for a high AP exam score, they earn credit that counts toward their class standing. In my particular story, students needed 12 units of coursework to be considered a sophomore. I have 8 units from AP coursework before I stepped foot on campus, so during my second quarter, I had already achieved sophomore standing. With this distinction, I suddenly had registration priority. When my classmates were struggling to get the classes they wanted, I had first dibs at the best classes.

This can be crucial if you attend a school that's impacted. This not only saves students time and money, but also provides them with more flexibility in their course selection and allow them to pursue a wider range of academic interests.

Reason 3: Admissions

In addition to saving money on tuition, AP exams can also help students stand out in the college admissions process. When colleges and universities review applications, they often look for evidence that a student has challenged themselves academically and has taken advantage of rigorous coursework. Earning high scores on AP exams can demonstrate to admissions officers that a student has the ability to succeed in college-level coursework and is willing to take on academic challenges.

This is especially true now that schools have gone test-optional or test-free. In lieu of an SAT/ACT score, colleges are looking more toward AP exam scores of 4 and 5 to showcase college readiness, especially in major-related coursework.

Reason 4: College Prep

Furthermore, AP exams can help students prepare for college-level coursework. The exams are designed to be challenging and rigorous, and they cover material that is typically taught in college-level courses. By taking AP courses and exams in high school, students can get a taste of what college-level coursework will be like and can better prepare themselves for the academic rigors of college.

AP exams can also help students develop important skills that will be useful in college and beyond. These exams require students to think critically, analyze complex texts and data, and write clearly and concisely. These skills are essential for success in college and in many careers. During finals week in many colleges, students are tasked with cramming loads of information into their head and regurgitating in onto scantrons and bluebooks. The experience of doing this is not unlike that of the AP exam week in which students often take 4-5 exams over a two week period.

Reason 5: Academic Exploration

Finally, AP exams can help students explore their interests and passions. The exams cover a wide range of subjects, from art history to biology to computer science. By taking AP courses and exams in subjects that interest them, students can delve deeper into these subjects and gain a deeper understanding of the world around them.

In conclusion, AP exams are important for a variety of reasons. They can help students save money on college tuition, stand out in the college admissions process, prepare for college-level coursework, develop important skills, and explore their interests and passions. While AP exams may be challenging, they offer numerous benefits to students who are willing to take on the challenge. If you are a high school student considering taking AP courses and exams, we encourage you to do so – the benefits are well worth the effort.


Joey L. (perfect score recipient on the SAT and ACT) is the owner and founder of Thinque Prep, an academic advising service specializing in college readiness, tutoring, and SAT/ACT preparation. When Joey isn’t helping students navigate high school and beyond, he enjoys making college resources available to as many people as possible.

Got a burning college question? Check out our Facebook group where Joey goes live every Monday at 5pm Pacific/8pm Eastern.

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