When is the AP Exam necessary?

advanced placement exam

Parents often ask me about the importance of taking Advanced Placement courses and the end-of-course AP exams. My best answer is that “it depends” . . . 

How many Advanced Placement courses?

vanderbilt engineering and music programsWhen parents ask me about how many advanced placement courses their teen should take, they are really asking me how many courses their teen should take to “look good” to colleges. Advanced placement courses are about taking a rigorous course load in high school to signal that a student would be academically successful in college. 

Rather than “looking good” to colleges, I believe that students should take the level of courses that are most appropriate for them personally and be true to what their interests are. If a college admits you only because of AP courses you took, it doesn’t say much for how you will fit or thrive at that college.

A reasonable number of AP courses to take is relative to the number of AP courses that your high school offers. Colleges understand that the number of AP courses available vary by high school. If a school offers no AP courses, then students aren’t expected to have AP courses on their transcript. On the other hand, if a high school has a lot of AP courses available, then students should make an effort to take a few AP courses. For example, if a high school offers 10 AP courses and students can take AP courses starting in junior year, then it’s reasonable to have about 3 to 5 AP courses on your transcript. Those AP courses should be in appropriate areas of academic strength for the student . . . if a student is weak in math, it doesn’t make sense to take the AP Calculus courses just for the sake of “looking good” to colleges.

How important is it to take the AP Exam?

In most cases, the AP Exam is not used in college admissions. The exams that students take for college admissions are either the SAT or the ACT. Scores on the AP Exam are most often used to determine the level of courses taken in college. Every college sets its own policies to grant credit for AP level course. For example, at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, a non-engineering student who scores a 4 or 5 on the AP Statistics exam could get 3 credit hours for the Math 1010: Probability and Statistical Inference course. Also, the credit for AP exam scores may not apply towards a major in that same subject area. Complicated, huh?

I have heard many college students say that they regret using their AP credit because they could have benefitted from having that first level course at the college level. 

Where I find the AP exam helpful to take is in preparation for an SAT Subject Test. The AP courses are mostly aligned with SAT Subject Tests. If a student, for example, is taking AP US History (APUSH) and plans to take the SAT Subject Test in American History, then it could be good preparation to take the AP US History exam in May and the SAT Subject Test in American History in June!

When are the 2019 AP exams scheduled?

Here’s a schedule of when the AP exams are scheduled in 2019.

AP Test Schedule: Week 1

May 6, 2019
  • United States Government and Politics
  • Chinese Language and Culture
  • Environmental Science
May 7, 2019
  • Seminar
  • Spanish Language and Culture
  • Japanese Language and Culture
  • Physics 1: Algebra-Based
May 8, 2019
  • English Literature and Composition
  • European History
  • French Language and Culture
May 9, 2019
  • Chemistry
  • Spanish Literature and Culture
  • German Language and Culture
  • Psychology
May 10, 2019
  • United States History
  • Computer Science Principles
  • Physics 2: Algebra-Based

AP Test Schedule: Week 2

May 13, 2019
  • Biology
  • Physics C: Mechanics
  • Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism
May 14, 2019
  • Calculus AB
  • Calculus BC
  • Art History
  • Human Geography
May 15, 2019
  • English Language and Composition
  • Italian Language and Culture
  • Macroeconomics
May 16, 2019
  • Comparative Government and Politics
  • World History
  • Statistics
May 17, 2019
  • Microeconomics
  • Music Theory
  • Computer Science A
  • Latin

When do AP scores come out?

2019 AP scores will mostly be released in mid-July 2019 .

Good luck!

How is your teen preparing for AP exams?

ALERT College-bound Juniors – AP scores are back, Now What?

AP scores

High school sophomores and juniors can access their AP scores this week! While there may have been high anxiety and a few sleep-deprived nights in May, students may have some butterflies as they open their online accounts to see the results.

What do your scores mean

AP scores will range from 1 to 5. An AP score of “1” or “2” may feel like a real downer, given all the late-night studying. A “3” on the AP exam shows proficiency, but may not get any attention from colleges. The scores that colleges may notice are “4” and “5”. When I say notice, it can mean that the college will allow the student to either

  1. Skip an introductory level college course in that area of study
  2. Get college credit

One of the things that students must be careful to do is check with the college’s department to determine whether any course upgrade or college credits will be granted. I advise doing so after a student has determined where they will enroll in college. It wouldn’t make sense to determine the college list based on getting college credit, since the colleges may change their policy.

Whether a college allows a student to skip an introductory level course or grant college credit is specific to each college. If the college does neither, then students shouldn’t feel as if they wasted their time. In the admissions process, colleges will consider the rigor of the high school curriculum. Taking an AP course is still a good way to show that students challenged themselves during high school.

What do you think about AP? Is it worth it?

What Parents need to know about Advanced Placement (AP): Part 3 – The SAT Subject Test

SAT Subject Test

As mentioned in the first post of this series, the College Board develops the AP curriculum. Here are the 34 Advanced Placement courses available in high schools across the country:


 Art History Biology Calculus AB Calculus BC Chemistry
Chinese Lang and Culture Comp Science A English Lang and Composition English Lit and Composition Envir Science
European History French Lang and Culture German Lang and Culture Govt and Politics: Comparative Government and Politics: US
Human Geography Italian Lang and Culture Japanese Lang and Culture Latin Macroeconomics
Microeconomics Music Theory Physics B Physics C: Elec and Magnetism Physics C: Mechanics
Psychology Spanish Language Spanish Lit and Culture Statistics Studio Art: 2-D Design
Studio Art: 3-D Design Studio Art: Drawing US History World History


College Board runs the SAT, as well. Parents, SAT I is the reasoning that you may be familiar with. The SAT II, however, is a subject-area test that students can take. Students can use the SAT II to demonstrate advanced competency in a subject area. Here are the 21 available subject areas for the SAT II:

  • Literature
  • U.S. History
  • World History
  • Math Level 1
  • Math Level 2
  • Biology/EM
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • French
  • French with Listening
  • German
  • German with Listening
  • Spanish
  • Spanish with Listening
  • Modern Hebrew
  • Italian
  • Latin
  • Chinese with Listening
  • Japanese with Listening
  • Korean with Listening

Essentially, the SAT II is similar to the AP tests. For this reason, students can leverage their AP preparation by taking the SAT II in a similar subject area. Let’s say a student is taking the AP US History course. (Affectionately known as “A-Push.”) The AP test is administered in 2013 on May 15 at 8 am. (Many a student has cried over this test . . . it can be brutal!)

There is a May and June test date for SAT II. Thus this student can take the SAT II in US History either month. The SAT II is an hour-long test and students can take up to 3 tests on one date. I prefer that students take any SAT II on the June date instead and here’s why.

In short, the SAT test (whether I or II) can be draining. If a student takes the SAT in May, it’s likely that they won’t have much energy to do more studying that weekend. The AP tests begin that very next week so the AP tests may be short-changed. Also, the AP exam is generally longer than 1 hour. Students need to be well-rested and have the mental stamina in order to perform at their best on the AP tests.

I would argue that the SAT II (as a 1-hour exam) likely feels less taxing than its corresponding AP test. The student may even perform better on the SAT II after they’ve had the AP test experience. Likewise, if the student is also taking a second or third SAT II in a non-AP corresponding course, they would be able to complete more course content in the other subject area.

(See student’s biggest AP complaint.)

Taking 2 or 3 SAT II tests during the June date can save time, money, and effort. Yes, it probably seems like a lot but students will “know their stuff” even better by June date.

Please let us know if you have additional AP questions that were not covered in this three-part series.


What Parents need to know about Advanced Placement (AP): Part 2

SAT Subject Test

This posting is the second of a three-part series on What parents need to know about Advanced Placement (AP). . . but didn’t know to ask!

In last week’s posting, we addressed the #3 Most common response about AP. Now, for this week, we provide 2 tips to address the

#2 Most common response about AP

Tip 1: Read the fine print on AP credit granting

Every college is different when it comes to granting AP credit. If your teen is taking AP to advance in a topic area or challenge themselves, that’s a good thing. If your teen is merely taking AP for the sake of getting college credit, that’s a nuanced thing!

Bowdin College

Check out the language of AP credit from this college:

AP US History

Score: 4 or 5

*Must complete a History course at Bowdoin with a minimum grade of B. If a student has scores for more than one exam (ie. AP European History), only 1 total credit will be awarded.

Bowdoin received about 6,700 applications last year. So, it’s likely that of the 1M + high school students applying to college this year, that Bowdoin is not on your teen’s college list. Whatever college is on their list, please check the guidelines for granting AP credit. The guidelines vary by college and their website should provide the details for granting AP credit.


Tread carefully with skipping any introductory college course

In some cases, a student may be able to skip an introductory course if they earn a 3” or higher on an AP test.


Think about this option a bit more . . . .  It could actually work to the student’s disadvantage to skip an introductory college-level course. The introductory college courses are typically very different from your AP course in high school. (One of the reasons that AP is being revamped.) Skipping an introductory course can turn out to be a setback for the student’s GPA and confidence in freshman year.

Next week, we will cover part three of this three-part series on What parents need to know about Advanced Placement (AP) . . . but didn’t know to ask!

What Parents need to know about Advanced Placement (AP): Part 1

This posting is the first of a three part series on What parents need to know about Advanced Placement (AP). . . but didn’t know to ask!

I get a lot of questions about Advanced Placement (AP) from parents. This posting brings together my top 3 most common responses about AP. They are written as responses rather than questions because the questions are so varied. These posts capture what parents need to know, even when the question begs for more clarity. 🙂

#3 Most common response about AP

Advanced Placement is a fixed curriculum that was developed by College Board (same people behind the SAT) and delivered through high school teachers. The AP tests that students take during the first two weeks of May each year are based on the curriculum taught during the year. If there’s such a thing as “teaching to the test, then AP would be an example. Teaching to the test, in case of AP, is a measure of success. The results (scores of 1 to 5) are publicly reported each year and schools want to be recognized when students earn 3, 4 or 5 (the highest) score on these tests.

The biggest “complaint” I hear from students is that once the test ends, nothing is done in class for the remainder of the academic year. That’s not an issue if your school year ends in mid-May. However, when the school year ends in June, that’s a lot of wasted time. My hope is that students are exaggerating about what happens in classroom once the AP exams are taken.

Question to ask your teen in late May: How’s your AP class going? What are you doing in class?

Next week, we will cover part two of this three-part series on What parents need to know about Advanced Placement (AP) . . . but didn’t know to ask!

Best tips for Acing the ACT or SAT

There’s a great quote which states (paraphrased): “If you think you are, you are.” Research on test-taking confirms this statement. If you are nervous about your test performance (read, telling yourself “I’m not going to do well”), then it actually impairs your test performance. To ease their anxiety, students can follow these tips:

1. . . . teaching yourself in advance to think differently about the test, Dr. Driscoll says. Envision yourself in a situation you find challenging and invigorating; a soccer player might imagine scoring a goal, or a mountain climber might envision herself topping a ridge, he says. Then switch your mental image to the testing room and imagine yourself feeling the same way. With practice, you’ll be able to summon up more confidence on test day.

2. . . . reducing “novelty and stress on the day of the exam” can prevent choking under pressure, says Sian Beilock, a researcher and author on cognitive performance. If you are taking the exam in an unfamiliar place, visit the room in advance.

3. . . . setting aside 10 minutes beforehand to write down your worries, says Dr. Beilock, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Chicago. She and a fellow researcher tested 106 ninth-graders for anxiety before their first high-pressure exam, then asked half of them to spend 10 minutes writing down their thoughts right before the test. The anxious kids who did the writing exercise performed as well on the test as the students who had been calm all along. But anxious students who didn’t do the writing performed more poorly. Expressing one’s worries in writing, Dr. Beilock says, unburdens the brain.

via Toughest Exam Question: What Is the Best Way to Study? – WSJ.com.

Two additional pre-test tips that I constantly share with my students are getting a full-night’s rest before the test. So many teens have become accustomed to staying up late, that they don’t even realize the sub-optimal performance of doing so. My own teen is a great example of that! Secondly, eating oatmeal on the morning of the test also improves your performance. Even when my children were in elementary school, I would make oatmeal each morning of the testing period for achievement tests. I read about the research on oatmeal several years ago  and it still holds true.

Denise Pope of Stanford University: What Families need to know and can do about Student Stress

Our previous programs have covered a range of topics related to education options, like summer programs, gap year programs, boarding schools, and colleges. We’ve discussed standardized testing and of course specifics on college admissions. Our topic today was somewhat different but very much related to all the discussions we’ve had on previous shows.

We discussed stress on The Education Doctor Radio Show® today. If you’re wondering what does stress have to do with education, I’ll sum it up . . . a great deal. Especially in my consulting practice with families, the stress among

college-bound students and their parents is palpable. I follow the research on student stress so that I can know best how to support families without adding to the stress they are already experiencing.

Our guest today is a former undergraduate classmate of mine at Stanford. . . . When I talk with college-bound students about the size of a campus that interest them, many of them say that they want a campus where they feel that they don’t know everybody in their class. That certainly describes what my class at Stanford was like because I didn’t meet our guest until many years later when I returned to Stanford for my doctorate program and she had joined the faculty. . .  Dr. Denise Pope co-founded Challenge Success at Stanford University. She is the author of Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed-Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students. She had a great deal to share with us about stress among students and practical guidance for parents as they seek to balance stress and academic achievement.

Highlights from Dr. Pope’s interview on The Education Doctor Radio show:

  • Stress on kids starts as early as 3rd grade and increases as they get older
  • What is stressing our pre-teens and teenagers today, versus years ago?
    – Grades
    – Tests (can we say AP, ACT, SAT, etc?)
    – Homework (although homework has been found to show little effect on academic achievement)
    – College admissions (our firm works so hard to lessen the stress of college admissions on families)
  • Signs of stress include sleep deprivation, chronic headaches, listlessness, etc.

Listen to our interview and learn more about Dr. Pope’s practical tips for what families can do now to reduce stress on their students:

How Students Qualify for Merit Scholarships

As students are finalizing their list of colleges, I encourage their parents to avoid focusing too much on the tuition. A best-matched college is based on an academic, social, and financial fit. On the financial side, the fit isn’t really determined until the spring when the admission letters arrive. Think of the tuition costs as a sticker price. Similar to purchasing a car . . . many families do not pay the sticker price at colleges.

The other thing to note in terms of funding your college education is that the majority of scholarships come directly from the colleges. Corporate scholarships, i.e. those external funds that are portable to any college or university represent a fraction of all the monies available for college.

Here is some insight from the University of Rochester’s approach to how it awards merit scholarships:

While all schools will have their own criteria, this list will give you some sense of what matters beyond the obvious. Here’s how Rochester’s merit awards played out during the past admissions cycle:

• $3,000: The school typically rewarded candidates who reached out to it with an extra $3,000. These


were teenagers who had serious conversations with the admissions and financial aid office. Schools like to feel wanted, and reaching out to them with meaningful conversations can help.

• $2,000: That’s what teens who weren’t New Yorkers received. Sixty two percent of the freshmen class hails from somewhere else. While Burdick didn’t check, he suspects that students who lived farther away received an even fatter amount of money.Why would students benefit from being from distant states? Because college crave geographic diversity. They want to be able to brag that they have students from all 50 states or close to it. [Get tips on paying for college.]

• $62: Each “A” on a teen’s transcript generated $62 worth of merit aid.

• $400: Teenagers received roughly $400 for each tough course that they took. Courses that would qualify included Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and honors.

• $1,800: A student got this much more if the school considered his or her recommendations excellent.

• $115: Each 10-point improvement in the SAT above the average for Rochester freshmen garnered an extra $115. The average SAT score was 2040.[Explore the U.S. News college test prep guide.]

• $400: Observing deadlines matter. Students got an extra $400 for completing the application on time, as well as making sure mid-year grades were sent.

• $1.89: You got this much less every time a student was admitted with the same major. This clearly favored students with less popular majors such as philosophy and hurt students interested in such big majors as psychology, political science, and economics.

• $1,700: That’s how much the typical freshmen received in merit money if his or her parents completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid FAFSA. The school imposes a progressive tax on its merit awards. On average, $4 less in income boosts the merit award by one cent.

via How Colleges Determine Merit Scholarships – The College Solution usnews.com.

Therefore, instead of focusing solely on tuition in selecting a college, families should also look at the number of merit awards distributed annually.

It costs how much to take the SAT??

The costs to apply to college add up very quickly, especially when students procrastinate on their testing. For example, if students applied for the September ACT with Writing last week, the fee was $49.50, but this week, applicants must pay an additional $21 for being late. These same late fees apply for the SAT as well.

Now that College Board has become so profitable in the last decade, it’s no wonder that eyebrows are raising on the burden these costs put on college-bound families:

Founded by Harvard and 11 other universities in 1900 to create a standardized test to admit students based on merit rather than family connections, the College Board … [president] turned the nonprofit company into a thriving business, more than doubling revenue to $660 million by boosting fees, expanding the Advanced Placement program and the sale of names of teenage test-takers to colleges.

A former West Virginia governor, he persuaded 11 states to cover fees for a preliminary SAT in the 10th grade. Now, Caperton is planning to retire amid concern that the College Board’s improved revenue has come at the expense of students and their families, who pay hundreds of dollars in fees even before they apply to college, parents, admissions officials and high school counselors said.

The College Board is more interested in marketing and selling things than it is in its primary responsibility, promoting equity and educational opportunity,” said Ted O’Neill, who stepped down as admissions dean of the University of Chicago in 2009 and served on several College Board committees.

via Not For Profit College Board Getting Rich as Fees Hit Students – Bloomberg.

I find selling the names of college-bound teenagers to be the most problematic source of revenue for the College Board. (Granted, I probably never would have learned about Stanford during my admissions process, if it wasn’t for a mailing.) The mailings feed the college application frenzy and stress even more. When students receive so many glossy brochures from colleges, it often leads to applying to more colleges where there’s no serious intent of going which eventually crowds out students who are indeed interested. The standardized test score alone does not make a match.

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