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Taking Advanced Placement (AP) Exams for College Credit

written by: Jenny Rae Armstrong•edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 12/3/2009

Do you wish you had taken advantage of those AP courses in high school? Here's your chance to do it over! You can take AP exams to earn yourself college credit.

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    Advanced Placement, or AP exams, aren’t just the domain of high school honor students anymore. Think you could ace that music theory test, or give the letter jacket set a run for their money on the “Japanese Language and Culture” exam? Go for it!

    AP exams are usually taken by high-school students going into college, but anyone can take advantage of the AP program. One of the benefits AP exams have over other credit-by-examination programs such as CLEP or DSST, is that the test is based on an actual curriculum, which makes studying substantially easier. The College Board Store has a variety of books, videos, and other study materials to help you ace the AP exams, and test-takers have the option of enrolling in an online AP course, if they so desire.

    Almost forty AP exams are available on a wide variety of subjects and the American Council on Education recommends granting three-twelve undergraduate credits for the tests. AP exams are widely accepted by colleges across the United States, and some universities even grant partial credit for low scores. However, it is important to check your college’s policies, to see if they will grant you credit for the successful completion of an AP exam.

    Most AP exams are two-three hours long, and have a combination of multiple-choice and essay questions. Test-takers are penalized for wrong answers; one-fourth to one-third of a point is subtracted for every multiple-choice question answered incorrectly. However, if you can safely eliminate a couple of the answers and make an educated guess, you are better off answering the question than leaving it blank. Your odds of earning full credit by answering correctly offsets the risk of losing a fraction of a point by answering incorrectly; you’d need to guess wrong three out of four times to be better off leaving questions blank.

    Registering for an AP exam is more complicated than registering for a CLEP or DSST exam. AP exams are only given once a year, in the spring, so test-takers need to think ahead. To register, you need to call AP Services by March 1st to get a list of AP coordinators in your area. You then need to call the coordinators by March 15th and explain that you are looking for a school willing to administer the AP exam to non-traditional students. Once you find a coordinator willing to accommodate your needs, he or she will tell you when and where to appear for testing, and will usually negotiate an extra fee for proctoring and administration. The 2009 flat-fee for an AP exam is $86.00. For a list of subjects covered by the AP exams and more information, visit the College Board website at www.collegeboard.com.

    Taking an AP exam is a little bit more hassle than some other credit-by-examinations options, but the benefits far outweigh the inconvenience. Besides, making a few phone calls to local AP coordinators is a lot easier than sitting through a year-long course in Latin Literature. If you’ve ever wished you could go back and choose your high-school courses differently, here’s your chance. Good luck!

Testing Out--How to Earn College Credit by Examination.

Don't want to spend months slogging through tedious online classes? Here's an overview of some of the most popular credit-by-examination programs, and how they can help you earn college credit fast.
  1. Taking Advanced Placement (AP) Exams for College Credit
  2. Taking GRE Exams for College Credit