Tips from an Irvine Online AP Tutor: 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5: Understanding Your AP Test Results

Advanced Placement Exams are standardized tests in a variety of subjects that high school students can take in the spring. The purpose of the exams is to determine if the students have sufficiently learned the subject material at a college level. That is, the AP tests are testing for knowledge that might otherwise be learned in college. Colleges can use students’ AP scores to grant college credit and/or course placement when a student enrolls in their school - prep for your AP exam with the help of an Irvine online tutor.

However, the results themselves can be rather confusing – especially for many high school students who are only used to percentage (1-100) and letter (A-F) grades. In contrast, the AP Exams are scored on a scale of 1-5. Here, we will explain what each number means (both literally and functionally), and how it was determined.

1 – A score of one is the lowest potential score you can receive for a completed test. The definition of this score is that the College Board (the company providing and scoring the tests) can give “no recommendation.” Since the tests are meant to test your knowledge of material in a college-level class, this means that, based on your results on the test, they cannot recommend that you be given any level of college placement or credit for your knowledge of the class. Functionally, you cannot expect to receive anything from any school if you score a 1. This means that you did not know the material well enough and would need to take the class again in college if needed.

2 – A two gives you the distinction of being “possibly qualified” in the subject material. While higher than a 1, nearly every college still considers a 2 to be a “failed” AP score for credit purposes. A few schools do give credit for a 2 on certain tests, and a few more will give some type of placement for certain tests (e.g. a 2 on a foreign language exam may place you into a higher-level class). The good news is that a 2 is much closer to a 3. If you get a 2 on an exam before senior year, consider doing some extra studying and using your experience to take the test again next year.

3 – A three comes with the recommendation that you are “qualified” in the subject you were tested on. This is the first score that is largely considered to be passing. Depending on where you go to college, many schools will offer you credit for a score of 3. However, it is a borderline score where most schools offer credit for a 3 on some tests, but not on others.

4 – A four is considered “well qualified” by the college board. This is the second highest score, and as such most schools will offer you credit for the subject. If your college accepts AP scores, a 4 is almost always serviceable enough to get you the credit or placement that you’re looking for.

5 – A five is the highest score with a definition that you are “extremely well qualified” in the subject. A 5 is a score that looks very strong on college applications and is guaranteed to earn your college credit at many different schools. It also shows a strong understanding of the subject that should build your confidence ahead of taking college classes.

How these scores are decided is another point of confusion for many students. Notice that a ‘5’ was never described as an ‘A’ or a ‘100’. This is because your actual results are scaled and converted into the 1-5 system. The purpose of this conversion is to make sure different tests on different years still yield the same scores for the same amount of knowledge. For example, if a test in 2013 was harder than the same test in 2012, then the students taking the 2013 test would need to get fewer questions right to achieve a 5 than the students who took the 2012 test. This is to correct for the change in difficulty of some questions and is why the test is “standardized” (note that AP test scores usually do not follow a normal distribution like other standardized tests like the SAT).

Most tests are heavily curved, meaning what might have gotten you a ‘D’ on a regular test could easily get you a 4 or a 5 on an AP exam, depending on the test. There is a handy calculator at that can give you an idea of how many points you will need to get on each AP test to pass (based on the 2016 tests).

Note that the scoring conversions and weightings are wildly different from test to test. A student who fell asleep during the essays and free response questions of the 2016 macroeconomics exam could still earn a 4 on the test by getting all of the multiple-choice questions correct. However, if that student decided to employ the same strategy and nap during the essays and free-response on the English literature exam that year, they would have gotten a 1 or 2 – even if they answered the multiple choice perfectly.

Remember, the primary purpose of AP exams is to earn college credit to save you time, money, and stress if you continue your education after high school. Every college has its own AP policy, so make sure to look at any college’s you’re interested in. You can also search for these policies using the College Board’s useful search engine.

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