Cracking the AP Code

More than 2.5 million high school students took AP exams in 2021, a figure that has been rising steadily for the past decade. What’s behind AP’s climb? In a word: competition.

As college admissions become increasingly selective, students are using AP classes to boost their appeal. AP classes count more in a weighted GPA, and taking them can demonstrate both aptitude and college readiness.

A word of caution: AP was designed to offer college credit for students with exceptional skills in a particular area. You shouldn’t take AP classes just to pad your transcript or GPA; they won’t replace the skills and content you’d gain in a regular high school class. So if you aren’t in it specifically to pass the exam, don’t put yourself through the stress and workload (both of which can be significant).

If you do think you’re in a good position to pass the exam, however, there are a few things that you can do to improve your chances.

• Make sure that you familiarize yourself with every column and row on the rubric (available on the MyAP site). ETS relies on objective scoring, so all that matters is meeting the criteria on the rubric.

• Timed practice is a component in all AP classes. Ask your teacher to give specific, practical strategies for improvement — and then do it! Again, work toward the rubric.

• Pay attention to the assigned videos on MyAP. It’s tempting to spend more time on the coursework and just let those videos play in the background, but remember that they tell you exactly what you need to do to pass the exam.

In most classes, it’s a bad idea to focus on the test instead of the content. But the sole purpose of AP courses is to deliver the skills and info to pass the test and get the credit. It’s important to think about why you’re taking the class and if there’s a different option that better suits your needs.

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