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.
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 all AP Examination fees in subjects of math and science, 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.
There are currently 38 courses and exams available through the AP Program. A complete list of courses can be found below: