Welcome one and all to the Wonderful World of the College Board and the Advanced Placement Exam.
To those of you familiar with the US Education system, these entrance passes to geekdom are what will generally be used if you seek admission to a UK University of a higher standard. For those applying to the US, this is an excellent way to hack down on that rather inflated tuition bill Mummy and Daddy are having a heart attack over.
Hopefully this will be a good general guide to the exams, for those who have questions about, or a unfamiliar with the AP's
I also hope to do more editing to help with specific point, but do hope that any others could contribute.
What are the AP Exams?
Advanced Placement exams correspond, roughly, with A-Levels, Scottish Highers and the IB, although there are clear differences between all of them. They are rather comprehensive tests that assess not only one's knowledge of a subject, but also the subject skills that students are expected to master during their studies. These are very different to the SATs, or most US State level standardized tests that seek to establish a basic level of competence in a subject for purposes of graduation, or simply to assess a school or the teachers.
The exams are sat once a year, every year, in May over the course of two weeks. A schedule will be released closer to the exam period for those interested in the specifics.
How does the exam work?
All exams, except for studio art, will have two portions: a) Multiple Choice b) Free Response, or a portfolio in the case of studio art
Multiple choice allows for the student to select one answer, out of several, that they consider to be correct for the question.
The free response section consists either of several papers on a variety of topics in the Social Sciences, Art and Humanities, a detailed explanation and perhaps diagrams in answer to questions in the Sciences, or fully worked mathematical equations for Calculus and Statistics.
The marks from both sections will be adjusted and scaled together to produce your numerical score of 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest, 5 being the highest, and all marks being based on a 'Bell-Curve.' For those of you unfamiliar with this term, common in the US, it indicates grades being awarded based upon relative performance to those who have also taken the exam.
How do I prepare for the exams?
Some schools sit students in specifically AP level courses, designed to teach the material for the exam. However, many students find that either their school does not teach the course, or it is not taught to the AP level. Fear not, however, for many students do study for the APs on their own, and many succeed in them to make Fives and Fours.
For those in classes, take the time to review all the material you have been taught. Know your weaknesses and talk them over with your teacher. Some teachers tend to emphasize certain aspects, so it is encouraged that you take some time to round yourself and make sure you are ready fore everything the exam will throw at you.
For those of you who are self taught, AP prep guides may be of varying assistance to you, but should not be relied upon to give you the curriculum. A good college level textbook, or actually two textbooks, will be necessary to help cover the curriculum, and give you the perspectives you will need in many of the exams. Also, for the Language arts exams, it is helpful to give yourself a second or third reading of selected novels or poems closer to the exam.
I want to go to University in the US, so what do I do these for?
A quick lesson, on College, as we call it here. The US educational system for University generally focuses on a Liberal Arts curriculum, or is highly influenced by it for other subjects and schools. College is usually four years, and the first year and and often the second spent on 'general education,' which basically like A-level courses at a GCSE style spread (One Humanities Course, One science, One Language etc.) It is only after this basic level of the Liberal Arts degree that a student is able to declare a major, which is their actual degree program. Rules vary from College to College, but what you find here will for the most part be true. It is therefore important to recognize that unlike other nations, the US system leaves a students time in University relatively unstructured.
As a result, many students feel the need, especially with mounting costs, to exempt themselves from these rather annoying and time consuming basic courses by taking the AP exams. Depending on the University, a certain score can exempt you from anywhere from two to six hours a week in classwork. Thats less money on the tuition bill, and more time to move on with your degree.
It should be noted, however, that most students outside the US will have to pay to take an AP. However, compared to the cost of English Language 101, its really nothing
Hey, I'm American and want to go to a good University in the UK, so how do APs help me?
Our American education system is a jumble of GPAs, Class rank, Standardized tests and whatnot at the state and federal level mixed in. Most of this is disregarded as bureaucratic nonsense by UK unis, so it comes down to APs so they can compare you to all those students with IBs and A-levels.
APs are subject specific, and also allow for the level of early specialization that is common outside the US. Remember that when you apply to a UK Uni, you are also applying for a specific degree, so talk to them in advance to see what APs might be expected from you.
Also, the costs of taking an AP should no longer be too much of a burden since recently most school subsidize them so you can save your wallet the punch.
The number of APs you are required to take varies by university. It is also important to remember that some APs are seen as softer than others, particularly our Music and Arts based ones. Nonetheless, taking plenty of APs and doing well at them is the best way to help make sure you get a solid place at a top School in the UK.