Advanced Placement Tests (AP)

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The College Board Advanced Placement Program (AP) was first developed in the early 1950s. A consortium of educators from elite secondary and post-secondary institutions including Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Andover, Exeter, and Lawrenceville published a report urging the creation of an educational program which would enable students to study university-level topics at the high school level. A Committee on Admission with Advanced Standing was formed to develop the initial curricula and assessments for this program. Following a trial program of 11 AP subjects in 1952, the AP program formally launched in 1955 as a College Board-branded program.[1]

As of 2015, the original 11 courses have grown to a list of 36 courses.[2] Current AP examinations are developed using a philosophy called "Evidence-Centered Design" which attempts to align the assessment closely with the curriculum and provide evidence that successful test-takers will succeed in higher-level college course work.[3]

The College Board regularly updates AP examinations and curricula. In Fall 2014, the Physics 1 and 2 and United States History courses were updated. Current and future course updates include the Art History and European History courses (Fall 2015) and the Calculus AB, Calculus BC, and World History courses (Fall 2016).[4]

Function of the Test

AP Study Guide

The AP program is one of a few programs which enable high school students to study or test out of low-level university courses. Universities use students' AP scores for admission decisions (i.e., to identify exceptionally motivated and capable students), to help identify candidates for scholarships or honors programs, and to award course credit and determine level placement.[5] The College Board considers any AP examination score of 3 or higher to be a passing score. The College Board and American Council on Education publish joint recommendations regarding the number of credits a college or university should award to successful students,[6] but institutions are free to set their own policies. A given institution might insist on a passing score of 4 or 5 instead of 3 for some or all AP examinations, for example, or refuse to grant course credit for some or all AP subjects regardless of the student's test score.

AP courses and examinations are especially popular in the United States, where about 14,000 public high schools offered at least one AP course in the 2012-2013 school year.[7] The AP program's primary competitor is the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which was offered by only 830 US schools in 2012-2013, but by about 4,000 schools across 150 countries worldwide. Some schools in the United States offer both AP and IB courses, or even combine similar AP and IB courses into hybrid curricula designed to prepare students for both examinations.[7]

Between 2003 and 2013, participation in the AP program expanded dramatically. Whereas 514,163 students took an AP exam in 2003, 1,003,430 took an exam in 2013, marking an increase of over 95%. However, whereas 64.5% of AP students passed at least one AP exam with a score of 3 or higher in 2003, only 60.5% of AP students passed at least one exam in 2013.[8]

Test Administration

AP Flashcards

AP examinations are administered by the individual high schools that offer those courses. Typically, examinations are administered at the high school itself, but schools may choose to administer some examinations off-site (such as at a nearby community center, public library, or local college) if space restrictions prevent the school from administering the examination on-site.[9]

As of the 2014-2015 school year, examinations cost students $91 each. The College Board offers a $29 fee reduction for low-income students, yielding a cost of $53 per exam for such students.

AP exam dates and times are set by the College Board. It is possible in limited circumstances for students to test at an alternate later time (for example, if the student would otherwise be scheduled to take two different exams in the same time slot), but an alternative form of the examination is used.[10][11]

Students may retake a given AP exam once per year. There is no hard limit on the number of times a student may retake the exam.[12]

The College Board offers alternative versions of test materials and alternative testing protocols for students who require accommodations for a disability. For example, some students may require extended time, a large-type exam, a reader to dictate questions, or some other accommodation. Students who require accommodations should speak to their district's SSD Coordinator, who will take care of the necessary arrangements with the College Board.[13]

Test Format

Test Content

  • Sample AP Comparative Government and Politics Practice Questions
  1. What is associated with a weak or failed state?
    A. Guaranteed employment
    B. Strong GDP
    C. Weak GDP
    D. Tariffs
    E. Immigration
  2. Among the following, who is not a typical charismatic leader?
    A. Ayatollah Khomeini
    B. Winston Churchill
    C. Abdulsalami Abubakar
    D. Mao Tse Tung
    E. Vladamir Putin
  • Sample AP Art History Practice Questions
  1. Guernica by Pablo Picasso was a commentary about
    A. The French Revolution
    B. The Spanish Civil War
    C. The dissolution of his marriage
    D. Rights for mental health patients in Spain
    E. Civil unrest in Argentina
  2. An example of a Renaissance artist is:
    A. Auguste Rodin
    B. Mary Cassatt
    C. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
    D. Constantin Brancusi
    E. Man Ray
  • Sample AP English Literature and Composition Practice Questions
  1. Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lolita, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest all share this in common:
    A. They were written by Harper Lee
    B. They are representative of early 20th c. works of fiction
    C. They use an unreliable narrator
    D. They are tragic comedies
    E. They were written by women
  2. What genre is One Hundred Years of Solitude?
    A. Contemporary realism
    B. Epistolary
    C. Magical realism
    D. Episodic
    E. Melodramatic fiction
  • Sample AP European History Practice Questions
  1. Why was Napoleon's victory at Austerlitz important from a military standpoint?
    A. He tricked the armies of Russia and Austria into thinking he was weaker than he was when he left a strong central position and exposed his right flank before other French reinforcements trapped those who attacked there
    B. France lost only 8,000, while Russia and Austria had 27,000 killed, wounded or captured
    C. It showed his skill as a tactician and strategist
    D. All of the above
    E. Only "b" and "c"
  2. The belief that government should control the industries within an economy to ensure that each business is actually working towards the benefit of the entire nation comes from the writings of:
    A. Karl Marx
    B. Henri de Saint-Simon
    C. Jeremy Bentham
    D. David Ricardo
    E. Charles Hershey

Answers to Sample Questions

Comparative Government and Politics: 1;C 2;C Art History: 1;B 2;C English and Literature: 1;C 2;C European History: 1;D 2;B


  1. ^ College Board - A Brief History of the Advanced Placement Program July 25 2015
  2. ^ College Board - AP Program Guide 2014-2015 July 25 2015
  3. ^ College Board - AP Course & Exam Redesign brochure July 25 2015
  4. ^ College Board - AP Course & Exam Redesign July 25 2015
  5. ^ College Board - AP and College Enrollment July 25 2015
  6. ^ College Board - AP Credit-Granting Recommendations July 25 2015
  7. ^ a b U.S. News & World Report - Discover the Difference Between AP and IB Classes July 25 2015
  8. ^ College Board - The 10th Annual AP Report to the Nation July 25 2015
  9. ^ College Board - AP Coordinator's Manual, 2014-2015 July 25 2015
  10. ^ College Board - 2016 AP Exam Dates July 25 2015
  11. ^ College Board - Late-Testing Schedule July 25 2015
  12. ^ College Board - How many times can I repeat an AP Exam? July 25 2015
  13. ^ College Board - Testing Accommodations July 25 2015