Because The College Board does not want students who take AP courses to score poorly on the very tests they are preparing for, teachers who follow the curriculum are “Spoon-feeding” students in terms of content tested. Nevertheless, there is an aspect of Test Day PERFORMANCE. Student who know their subject still have to deal with tempting-but-wrong multiple choice answers. Also, students have to write persuasively, in a short amount of time. Even math and science APs have “show your work” written components. These are graded by humans and their evaluations get combined with the multiple choice score. Each AP test has a formula to convert the multiple choice and the human assessment into a 1 – 5 score.
AP 5 scores are awarded to fewer than 20% of the testers. Since a given AP is taken by only about 15% of the nationwide high school population, a 5 implies competence shared by only 2 – 3% of the high school population. Even an AP 4 puts the student among the top 36% of testers, and the top 7 – 8% of the population.
Students can sit for the AP exam WITHOUT TAKING the corresponding AP course.
Colleges occasionally use the AP score for admission purposes. For admission, an AP 4 or AP 5 is an extra credential that is likely to impress. We know of no college that REQUIRES an AP score for admission (that is in part because AP courses are rarely offered at some high schools, and because the cost of testing (about $100 per subject) deters many from taking multiple exams.
Colleges routinely use the AP score for placement purposes. Students scoring a 4 or 5 are typically allowed to start in an advanced course as a freshman, Biology 201 vs Biology 101 for example. Many colleges even accept an AP 3 for advanced standing. A few colleges even give credit for the AP success, meaning the AP itself satisfies a some credit hours. At these colleges, a student who amasses four or more high AP scores MAY be able to drop a whole semester of study. This is becoming rare, because colleges tend to like the four full years of “experience”. Many like 4 full years of revenue as well.