A Comprehensive Guide to the AP Exam: Everything You Need to Know

22/03/20239 minute read
A Comprehensive Guide to the AP Exam: Everything You Need to Know

The Advanced Program (AP) program allows high school students to embark on undergraduate university-level curricula and examinations. Significantly, a good score on the AP exam enables high schoolers to gain an edge in college admissions and their subsequent course of study during college*. This blog post aims to provide an overview of the AP examination, to serve as a valuable reference for high school students.*

Understanding the AP Exam

The AP Exam is a university-level assessment offered to high school students, allowing them to stand out in their college admissions and gain an edge in their later course of study.

Numerous colleges in the US and elsewhere often grant students course credit and placement to students who ace the exams, allowing them to potentially graduate earlier and stand out in their admissions to college - acing the AP exam is demonstrative of academic ability at the college level.

Furthermore, it allows you to become familiar with college-level academic work early on and could even boost your GPA (depending on your school).

Learn more about AP classes at Crimson Global Academy.

General Structure of the AP Exam

While each AP exam subject comes with its own unique set of requirements, most of the exams are 2-3 hours long and have similar question types and formats.

Generally, the first part of the exam consists of multiple-choice questions (MCQs) with 4-5 options to choose a correct answer. The MCQ section is scored with a computer, with each answer sheet scanned, with the score reflecting the number of answers answered correctly. No points are deducted for incorrect answers and unanswered questions.

Subsequently, the next part of the exam typically consists of free-response questions. Here, you are tasked to respond independently, typically in the context of essay writing or problem-solving. Qualified tutors and professors assess the free-response sections.

As each AP exam subject has its individual requirements, due diligence is strongly recommended in researching the content and question formats tested.

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Preparing for the AP Exam

As the all-too-familiar adage goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” While it is commendable that you took the initiative to challenge yourself by taking on an AP exam, make sure to prepare diligently as you would for any other exam as well. A good score will certainly not come simply with sheer luck!

As always, make sure to note down the date of the AP exam and set up a schedule for preparation, dedicating more time to weaker areas and following through the plan with discipline each day. Having a plan will be essential so as to avoid last minute cramming and the unnecessary stress that comes along with it.

Further, be sure to implement and change to more effective study techniques that work better for you in order to work smart - not just hard. For instance, for subjects that are more heavy on content recall and retention, evidenced-based study techniques like active recall and spaced repetition are likely to be more helpful than simply note-taking and summarising. 

To acclimate yourself with the exam conditions, be sure to do multiple mock (timed) AP Exams, so as to practise time management and working under pressure. 

Additionally, be sure to make good use of the appropriate study materials available for AP exams. The AP is primarily a self-study course so there is a lot of material available. College Board offers students access to AP courses, practice AP tests, exam information, and mentoring programs on the AP Central section of its website.

At Crimson, we engage the world’s best teachers and tutors in specific curricula to help students reach their high school and university admissions goals. Our AP tutors include graduates from the world’s top colleges including the Ivy League and more. Tutoring is offered in all AP courses with SAT/ACT support offered as optional extras.

Taking the AP Exam

AP Exams are usually offered during a two-week period in May.

If you are currently enrolled into a school that offers AP courses, simply contact the AP coordinator with a list of exams you intend on taking. The coordinator will then embark on the exam ordering process, collect payment and provide you with the test details accordingly. 

However, if you are homeschooled or enrolled in an institution that does not offer AP courses, you can arrange to take AP Exams at a nearby participating AP school. To do so, simply contact AP Services before March 1st of the year of testing. This is to get the names of local participating AP schools willing to test external candidates, as well as the contact details of the AP coordinator at the school. 

This is the contact information for AP Services. Prior to contacting them, prepare a list of AP exams you intend to take, so as to allow the College Board to find a host school available for you to test at.

  • Phone: 888-225-5427
  • International callers: 212-632-1780
  • Fax: 610-290-8979
  • Email: apstudents@info.collegeboard.org

When contacting the Coordinators to make testing arrangements, make sure to tell them:

  1. you had attained their contact information from the College Board;
  2. you are attempting to find a school that hosts AP exams to candidates that are homeschooled or from schools not offering AP exams;
  3. the AP exams you wish to take; and
  4. if you have an official disability that requires special arrangement(s).

Upon locating a host school, the school’s AP Coordinator will then be responsible for the logistics of ordering your exam materials, informing you on the details of when and where to turn up for the exams, as well as for payment collection.

Be sure to take note of the registration deadlines which may vary from year to year, to avoid any late order charges. For a gauge, the registration deadline for this year’s AP exams was November 8 2022.

As for the test-taking experience, this will likely be similar and/or analogous to any other examination you have taken in your student life thus far, though be sure to exercise extra care with following the necessary rules and regulations. Failure to do so will risk a voided grade, and you could even be barred from future exams.

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Scoring and Results

For most AP exams, the final score is a composite one - combining one’s results on both the MCQ and free response sections. Do note that some AP courses may include other assessed components, and as such due diligence in researching accordingly is advised.

The final score for each AP Exam is reported on a 5-point scale, which provides an indication of how qualified you are to receive college credit and placement. That said, it is important to keep in mind that the required scores colleges will grant credit or placement for could differ from college to college - left up to their discretion.

Your AP exam scores can be accessed by simply logging into your College Board account, where you will be able to view and send your score.

If granted college credit, this means that you could graduate earlier from college, allowing you to reap substantial savings on tuition fees. Furthermore, you stand out from the rest of the application pool - having shown the initiative to take on an extra exam at college level, especially if you had attained an excellent grade.

Should you only submit AP scores of a 4 or 5 to a top university?

To put it bluntly: When it comes to AP scores, anything below a 4 is not acceptable to an Ivy League or top university. Even submitting mostly 4s instead of 5s may not be a great look when it comes to Ivy League admissions. 

That’s not to say you can’t show your academic prowess in other ways, such as in your SAT or ACT scores, an excellent Grade Point Average (GPA), or additional academic awards. 

Keep in mind that you don’t have to submit your APs scores. Colleges will see that you took the AP classes and may wonder why you chose not to include them. But in the case of a 3 or below, it’s better to have admissions officers make assumptions than to submit a low score to a top university. You can demonstrate your academic ability in other ways.

The AP scores show that you’re really competent in a subject. Admissions officers want to know that you can handle the rigor of college-level courses and that you can do well. Aim to do as well as you can on your AP exams. But if you don’t score a 4 or a 5, look for other ways to show your academic ability.

Do admissions officers know how many times I took the AP exam or what my score was?

No. Admissions officers only know what you submit to them. They can’t tell if you took the same AP exam twice or that you scored a 3 on the AP Calculus unless you tell them. So only submit the scores you want them to see!


All in all, the AP exam is a great avenue to explore beyond your high school curriculum, and gain an edge at college. Be sure to prepare diligently by researching clearly on the question formats and requirements of each AP exam subject, and to utilise efficient study techniques and appropriate resources.

If you would like to read or learn more about the AP program and the exam, PrepScholar, Khan Academy, as well as the official AP exam YouTube channel can be helpful additional resources.

Good luck and start preparing today!