Advanced Placement (AP) is a program in the United States and Canada created by the College Board which offers college-level curricula and examinations to high school students. American colleges and universities may grant placement and course credit to students who obtain high scores on the examinations. The AP curriculum for each of the various subjects is created for the College Board by a panel of experts and college-level educators in that field of study. For a high school course to have the designation, the course must be audited by the College Board to ascertain that it satisfies the AP curriculum. If the course is approved, the school may use the AP designation and the course will be publicly listed on the AP Course Ledger.
After the end of World War II, the Ford Foundation created a fund that supported committees studying education. The program, which was then referred to as the "Kenyon Plan", was founded and pioneered at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, by the then-college president Gordon Chalmers. The first study was conducted by four prep schools—the Lawrenceville School, Phillips Academy, Phillips Exeter Academy, and St. Paul's School —and three universities—Harvard University, Princeton University and Yale University. In 1952 they issued the report General Education in School and College: A Committee Report which recommended allowing high school seniors to study college-level material and to take achievement exams that allowed them to attain college credit for this work. The second committee, the Committee on Admission with Advanced Standing, developed and implemented the plan to choose a curriculum. A pilot program was run in 1952 which covered eleven disciplines. In the 1955-56 school year, it was nationally implemented in ten subjects: Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, English, History, French, German, Spanish, and Latin.
The College Board, a non-profit organization based in New York City, has run the AP program since 1955. From 1965 to 1989, Harlan Hanson was the director of the Advanced Placement Program. It develops and maintains guidelines for the teaching of higher level courses in various subject areas. In addition, it supports teachers of AP courses and supports universities. These activities are funded through fees required to take the AP exams.
In 2006, over one million students took over two million Advanced Placement examinations. Many high schools in the United States offer AP courses, though the College Board allows any student to take any examination regardless of participation in its respective course. Therefore, home-schooled students and students from schools that do not offer AP courses have an equal opportunity to take AP exams.
As of the 2015 testing season, exams cost $91 each, though the cost may be subsidized by local or state programs. Financial aid is available for students who qualify for it; the exam reduction is $26 or $28 per exam from College Board plus an additional $8 rebate per fee-reduced exam from the school. There may be further reductions depending on the state. Out of the $91, $8 goes directly to the school to pay for the administration of the test, which some schools will reduce to lower the cost to the student.
On April 3, 2008, the College Board announced that four AP courses—French Literature, Latin Literature, Computer Science AB, and Italian Language and Culture—would be discontinued after the 2008–2009 school year due to lack of funding. However, the Italian Language and Culture test was again offered beginning in 2011.
Starting July 2013 AP allowed students for the first time to both view and send their scores online.
The number of AP exams administered each year has seen a steady increase over the past decade. In 2003, 175,860 English Language and Composition exams were administered. By 2013, this number had risen to 476,277, or an increase of 171%. Such an increase has occurred in nearly all AP exams offered, with the AP Psychology exam seeing a 281% increase over the past decade. In 2017, the most taken AP exam was English Language and Composition with 579,426 students and the least taken AP exam was Japanese Language and Culture with 2,429 students.
The AP exams begin on the first Monday in May and last ten school days (two weeks).
AP tests are scored on a 1 to 5 scale as follows:
- 5 – Extremely well qualified
- 4 – Well qualified
- 3 – Qualified
- 2 – Possibly qualified
- 1 – No recommendation
The multiple choice component of the exam is scored by computer, while the free response and essay portions are scored by trained Readers at the AP Reading each June. The scores on various components are weighted and combined into a raw Composite Score. The Chief Reader for each exam then decides on the grade cutoffs for that year's exam, which determine how the Composite Scores are converted into the final grades. During the process a number of reviews and statistical analyses are performed to ensure that the grading is reliable. The overall goal is for the grades to reflect an absolute scale of performance which can be compared from year to year.
Some colleges use AP test scores to exempt students from introductory coursework, others use them to place students in higher designated courses, and some do both. Each college's policy is different, but most require a minimum score of 3 or 4 to receive college credit. Typically, this appears as a "CR" grade on the college transcript, although some colleges and universities will award an A grade for a 5 score. Some countries, such as Germany, that do not offer general admission to their universities and colleges for holders of an American high school diploma without preparatory courses will directly admit students who have completed a specific set of AP tests, depending on the subject they wish to study there.
In addition, completing AP courses help students qualify for various types of scholarships. According to the College Board, 31 percent of colleges and universities look at AP experience when making scholarship decisions.
Beginning with the May 2011 AP Exam administration, the College Board changed the scoring method of AP Exams. Total scores on the multiple-choice section are now based on the number of questions answered correctly. Points are no longer deducted for incorrect answers and, as was the case before, no points are awarded for unanswered questions. However, scoring requirements have also been increased.
Starting with the May 2013 AP Examination Administration, the College Board launched an Internet-based score reporting service. Students can use their 2013 AP Number or Student Number (if one was indicated) along with a College Board Account, to access current and previous years' exam scores. This system can also be used to send scores to colleges and universities for which a four-digit institutional code is assigned.
Recognizing that the cost could be an impediment to students of limited means, a number of states and municipalities independent of the College Board have partially or fully subsidized the cost. For example, the state of Florida reimburses schools districts for the exam costs of students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses. The Los Angeles Unified School District, the Montebello Unified School District, the Hawaii Department of Education, New York City Department of Education, and the state of Indiana subsidize Examination fees in subjects of math, science, and English, and the Edmonds School District in suburban Seattle currently subsidizes Advanced Placement fees of students who enroll in the free school lunch program. In addition, some school districts offer free tests to all students enrolled in any Advanced Placement class.
Advanced Placement courses
There are currently 38 courses and exams available through the AP Program. A complete list of courses can be found below:
- AP Art History
- AP Biology
- AP Calculus AB
- AP Calculus BC
- AP Chemistry
- AP Chinese Language and Culture
- AP Computer Science A
- AP Computer Science Principles
- AP English Language and Composition
- AP English Literature and Composition
- AP Environmental Science
- AP European History
- AP French Language and Culture
- AP German Language and Culture
- AP Government and Politics: Comparative
- AP Government and Politics: United States
- AP Human Geography
- AP Italian Language and Culture
- AP Japanese Language and Culture
- AP Latin
- AP Macroeconomics
- AP Microeconomics
- AP Music Theory
- AP Physics 1
- AP Physics 2
- AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism
- AP Physics C: Mechanics
- AP Psychology
- AP Research (Second part of the AP Capstone program)
- AP Seminar (First part of the AP Capstone program)
- AP Statistics
- AP Spanish Language and Culture
- AP Spanish Literature and Culture
- AP Studio Art: 2-D Design (Soon to be AP 2-D Art and Design)
- AP Studio Art: 3-D Design (Soon to be AP 3-D Art and Design)
- AP Studio Art: Drawing (Soon to be AP Drawing)
- AP United States History
- AP World History (Soon to be divided into two courses: AP World History: Modern, AP World History: Ancient)
Recent and upcoming exam changes
- AP World History This exam will also undergo the same basic changes to the 2014-2015 United States History and 2015-2016 European History exams. Shortened multiple-choice section with 55 questions, accounting for 40% of the total exam score. These are reduced from 70 questions and 50% in previous years, respectively. Four short-answer questions in place of one of the long essays, accounting for 20% of the total exam score. These questions are given a 50-minute writing period. Document-based question (DBQ) and the remaining long essay now account for 25% and 15% of the exam score respectively. New writing periods of 55 minutes and 35 minutes respectively are given instead of the combined 120-minute writing period for all three essays in previous exams.
- AP Calculus AB Time format changed Addition of L'Hôpital's rule
- AP Calculus BC Addition of limit comparison tests, absolute and conditional convergence, and the alternating series.
- AP United States Government and Politics Section I (MCQ) will be extended from 60 questions in 45 minutes to 55 questions in 80 minutes. It will still count towards 50% of the total exam score. The questions will feature a greater use of scenarios and stimulus material. The number of answer choices for each question will be reduced from five to four. Section II (FRQ) will include four questions in 100 minutes (the same amount of question and time as the previous exams). The section as a whole will be worth 50% of the total exam score. All four questions are weighted equally (each are worth 12.5% of the total exam score). One will be a concept application questions involving a political scenario. One will be a quantitative analysis and interpretation question with a visual stimulus. One will be a SCOTUS Comparison, a comparison between two different supreme court cases One will be an argumentation essay requiring supporting evidence and reasoning.
- AP Comparative Government and Politics  Section I (Multiple Choice): The amount of questions will remain the same at 55 questions, but time for the section will increase from 45 minutes to 60 minutes. It will continue to be worth 50% of the total exam score. Each question will now have 4 possible options instead of 5. There will be 2 text-based sources followed by a few questions. There will be 3 quantitative sources followed by a few questions. Section II (Free Response) The amount of questions will decrease from 8 questions to 4 questions. The time will also decrease from 100 minutes to 90 minutes. It will continue to be worth 50% of the total exam score. Question 1: Conceptual Analysis Question 2: Quantitative Analysis Question 3: Comparative Analysis Question 4: Argument Essay
- AP World History  The course will now be split up into two different exams: AP World History: Modern - It will cover world history from the year 1200 CE to the present. AP World History: Ancient - This course will be released at a later, unspecified date. The Exam format will remain the same.
- AP Biology
- AP English Language and Composition
Recent exam information
Below are statistics from the 2014 year of exams showing the number of participants, the percentage who obtained a score of three (3) or higher, and the average score. (Students generally need a score of three (3) or higher to receive credit or benefit).
One issue to consider is the fact that not all AP students take their course's test. The College Board estimates that about 2/3 of students enrolled in an AP course take the course's AP test. On the other hand, a study of University of California system students found that only about 55% to 60% of AP students took their course's exam.
However, "It has recently become clear . . . that these estimations of overall participation rates mask the variability in participation rates across AP examinations." For example, one study of math and science AP courses showed that participation rates were 52.7% for AP Chemistry, 53.6% for AP Physics, 57.7% for AP Biology, and 77.4% for AP Calculus. The largest study on this topic found similar participation rates (49.5% for AP Chemistry, 52.3% for AP Physics, 54.5% for Biology, and 68.9% for Calculus). History exams tend to have slightly higher participation rates (57.9% for AP European History, 58.5% for AP World History, and 62.8% for AP U.S. History), and 65.4% of AP English students took either the AP English Language or AP English Literature exam. This same study found that for "core AP subjects (i.e., no arts or language subjects)", the overall test participation rate was 60.8%.
In February 2014 College Board released data from the previous ten years of AP exams. College Board found that 33.2% of public high school graduates from the class of 2013 had taken an AP exam, compared to 18.9% in 2003. In 2013 20.1% of graduates who had taken an AP test achieved a 3 or higher compared to 12.2% in 2003.
Independent educational researchers began to question whether AP could maintain high academic standards while experiencing explosive growth. Research has shown that the most popular AP tests tend to have the lowest passing rates, a possible indication that less academically prepared students are enrolling in AP classes. Whether the AP program can serve large numbers of students without decreasing academic rigor is a matter of debate within the education field.
University faculty, such as former professor and high school teacher John Tierney, have expressed doubts about the value of a passing AP score. Students who receive scores of 3 or 4 are being given college credit at fewer universities. Academic departments also criticise the increasing proportion of students who take and pass AP courses but are not ready for college-level work.
Independent researchers in education have since 2010 studied the impact of the Advanced Placement program on students' academic achievement. An early study published in AP: A critical examination of the Advanced Placement program found that students who took AP courses in the sciences but failed the AP exam performed no better in college science courses than students without any AP course at all. Referring to students who complete the course but fail the exam, the head researcher, Phillip M. Sadler, stated in an interview that "research shows that they don't appear to have learned anything during the year, so there is probably a better course for them".
Two other studies compared non-AP students with AP students who had not taken their course's AP exam, had taken the AP exam but did not pass it, or had passed the AP exam. Like Sadler's study, both found that AP students who passed their exam scored highest in other measures of academic achievement. The largest study of this sort, with a sample size of over 90,000, replicated these results and also showed that non-AP students performed with equal levels of academic achievement as AP students who did not take their course's AP exam—even after controlling for over 70 intervening variables. This led the authors to state that AP participation "... is not beneficial to students who merely enroll in the courses ...":p. 414
Several states use Advanced Placement data for accountability purposes, and U.S. News and World Report use data on Advanced Placement course offerings and participation to rank high schools. However, studies of local school districts and the United States as a whole show that increasing AP participation does not increase the overall academic achievement or school quality at the group (e.g., high school, racial/ethnic group, nation) level. This led one researcher to state, "Clearly, offering AP alone will not magically turn a failing school into a successful one."
After 16 years of archival data from the College Board for the 1997 through the 2012 school years were downloaded, Pearson chi-square tests were conducted to determine whether statistically significant ethnic and gender differences in AP performance were present for Asian, Black, Hispanic, and White students. For statistically significant results, effect sizes were calculated to determine the level of practical significance. Findings: For the 16 years of data, Asian students had higher overall AP performance scores than did White, Black, and Hispanic students. All statistical analyses yielded statistically significant results, revealing either trivial or small effect sizes. Within each ethnic group, the overall AP performance of males exceeded the performance of females. Comparing ethnicity and gender differences revealed a consistent stair-step achievement gap wherein. Asian and White males outperformed Asian and White females; Hispanic males outperformed Hispanic females who outperformed Black males who outperformed Black females. Although Hispanic and Black students exponentially increased their participation in AP exams, their passing AP exam scores declined. Moreover, Black males and Black females underperformed all other groups. Due to the large numbers of failing exam scores, a negative trend in the cost effectiveness ratio for Black and Hispanic students represented the potential for millions of dollars wasted on AP expansion policies by public funding. Thus, the AP program needs to undergo a critical evaluation of its methods to provide college readiness for disadvantaged students.