#5 Advanced Placement Exam (AP)
Advanced Placement (AP) exams are published by The College Board. The exam content is almost identical to CLEP, except that in 2013 the exams began revision to align with the Common Core standards. The entire catalog has been revised at this point. If you’d like, you can read the Official Alignment Document.
Whether or not you support the Common Core movement, AP exams are an option that’s available to your teen. Since the new AP exams will have new content, anything you’re finding on the web pre- 2016 regarding AP exams should be considered “old” information.
AP exams are taken on campus at approved high schools, but it a myth that your teen must take an “approved” AP course to take the exam. Technically speaking, anyone can take an AP exam. In this case, it may be common for homeschool co-op groups to organize AP-style classes for teens, and use the high school as their testing facility. Over the past two years, I’ve received a lot of feedback from families who have received resistance from the schools regarding registration. Be prepared to contact many high schools. Parents tell me they’ve had better luck contacting private high schools instead of public ones, but AP coordinators come and go so your experience may differ.
One considerable drawback to the AP exam program is their schedule. AP exams are offered only once per year which can overload a teen with last-minute studying if they’re attempting multiple exams. For instance, the last cycle of AP exams held German and US History in the same time slot. Bad news if you’ve been preparing for both this year. In fairness to AP, testing times/dates are usually scheduled 2 full academic years in advance, so it’s not a huge issue unless you’re planning last minute.
For some students, sitting in a group setting to take an exam is uncomfortable. CLEP exams, in contrast, are usually done in a private testing center with only one or two additional workstations. Adding in the potential red tape of testing at the high school, some may find these not worth the extra trouble.
If it sounds like I’m presenting AP in a negative light, that’s not my intention. Students often take AP exams, not for college credit, rather for college admission. If your goal is to use AP exam scores to obtain admission into selective colleges, that’s an excellent reason to choose AP. In fact, for that purpose, AP is far and above any other source in this list for that purpose. The most selective of all colleges won’t award college credit for AP exams (or any exam). For the purpose of selective college admissions, AP is the winner. For college credit, AP has a lot of red tape for the same credit and higher price tag than CLEP. Statistics show that the average Ivy League applicant has no less than 7 strong AP exam scores in their file, so in this case, AP is not used as a means of earning credit, rather ensure competitiveness. This list would include the top 20 colleges in the country. If that’s not where your child is headed, use CLEP instead. If you’re in the group applying to highly selective colleges with a transcript full of college credit earned in high school, I dare say homeschooling for college credit is probably not going to work well for you. Better to focus on admissions.
So, what makes AP different from other exams for college credit? AP tests consist of free response questions graded by humans. Most will require essays and fill-in-the-blank answers. If writing, even for a math exam, isn’t your strongest suit, it’s possible to score poorly overall based on writing ability. This test format requires a grader, so there is a delay in receiving grades. Once graded, you’ll receive a score of 1–5. The lowest score
is a 1, and the highest a 5. Many colleges award credit based on a minimum score (usually 3). For high scores, a 4 or 5, some colleges may award additional credit. Some colleges use AP exams to place students ahead or give them “advanced standing” instead of awarding credit. This, while flattering, does not save your child any time or money and is not necessarily a benefit to anyone except the college. In other words, it doesn’t remove a degree’s requirements. An example of advanced standing may mean your college freshman’s first language course is French 2 instead of French 1.
The AP exam is commonly taken by high school students in May each year after they’ve completed an Advanced Placement high school course. It’s important to understand that an AP course is one thing, an AP test is another. Your teen can take AP courses and never take the exam, or they may take an AP exam having never taken an AP course. The choice is yours.
Since high schools limit access to the AP course to their top students, more than 90% of high school students never even know that this credit-earning option is available to them. Also, since high schools only administer AP tests for the courses they teach, most high school students don’t know they can travel to a neighboring high school and take exams in other subjects.
As a homeschool family, it’s most likely that you’ll independently prepare your child for the AP exam. Since AP courses are a trademarked product, you might not find a course open to homeschoolers in your area. (AP courses are available online by many reputable providers). Some parents have successfully submitted their homeschool coop course to The College Board for approval of their AP course. In my opinion, unless your teen is applying to an elite college and is using the course for admissions instead of college credit, it is unnecessary to find an “official” AP course. How your teen prepares for an AP test doesn’t matter since anyone can take an AP test.
Note: if the course your teen takes is an “approved” AP course, you can list it as “AP” on your homeschool transcript. If you created the course yourself, call it “honors” or get it approved (keep reading).
Of the exam options, AP is the only one that requires you reach out to your local school district. High schools employ an AP Coordinator, and you’ll have to speak with that person well in advance so they can order an extra test for your teen. Large schools almost always order “extra” and don’t get too bothered by last-minute requests, but smaller schools can’t accommodate families that start too late. Begin contacting private and or public high schools by Thanksgiving for testing in May. You’ll want to consider any school within a reasonable driving distance. Those of you in large cities with huge high schools will have an easier time than those of you in rural areas with small schools. High schools pick and choose which AP courses they offer their students, so unless a school offers the course your teen wants to test in, they won’t offer the exam. If your teen is taking a common exam
like Calculus, you may have multiple schools to choose from. A more obscure exam, like Latin, may only be offered 50 miles away! This is why you must plan ahead. Even freshman year is not too soon to start collecting names of AP classes offered at your local high schools.
A second key point is that you will not get to schedule the exam. AP exams happen over a week or two and will be scheduled by The College Board. Individual high schools will administer the exams according to the dates set at the College Board’s website. You can check this as far as 2 years in advance. Be sure the date(s) work for you, that your teen has reliable transportation, and that there is no schedule conflict if you’re taking more than one exam. Retakes are almost impossible.
This is a condensed timeline recommended by The College Board.
(Their timeline assumes your student is taking an AP course at their public high school and will have the exam available to them. Homeschooling
parents should begin several months earlier to allow time to find high schools and gain permission to test.)
January: Talk to the AP coordinator about taking the AP Exams.
Contact the Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) coordinator
at the school if you will need testing accommodations.
February: Students with disabilities must submit requests for testing
March: Home-schooled students and students whose schools don’t
offer AP must contact AP Services by this date for a list of local AP
coordinators and schools where they could arrange to test.
May: Exams are given.
Quick Comparison between CLEP and AP Exams
Since CLEP and AP credit typically cover the same content, you’ll have to choose one or the other. Here are some basic differences between the two.
CLEP—The College Board
AP—The College Board
CLEP—Currently $87 plus potential testing center fee.
Bottom line—Testing center fees are the determining factor here, be
sure to shop around.
CLEP—any age allowed, typically adults
AP—any age allowed, typically high school students
Bottom line—a high school student will fit into either setting.
CLEP—aligned “up” to 100 and 200 level college courses
AP—aligned “down” to K–12 Common Core
Bottom line—though developed differently, the CLEP and AP
exams that share the same name will duplicate each other in college.
Choose one, not both.
CLEP—any test center found in the database, including local colleges
AP—area high schools that offer the AP course will also offer the
exam for that course
Bottom line—some high schools like to flex their muscles and restrict
homeschoolers from testing. You may have a hard time locating an
accommodating high school. Also, less popular classes like Latin
may be offered by only 1–2 high schools in your entire state. It’s not
a bad idea to locate a testing center before committing to an exam.
CLEP—365 days per year
AP—1 day per year (May)
Bottom line—AP testing restrictions are so tight, that your teen will
have to pick and choose exams that fit into their schedule. I’ve
met teens that have taken 12 CLEP exams in 1 year—that kind
of aggressive credit earning is impossible via AP.
CLEP—an approved proctor within the testing center
AP—an approved proctor within the high school, usually a teacher.
Bottom line—no difference
CLEP—all exams are multiple choice on the computer (select
the bubble by clicking the mouse). College Composition exam
requires 2 essays typed into a text box on the screen to be sent
away for grading.
AP—all exams (except Chinese & Japanese) are pencil and paper
tests. (Fill in the bubble by coloring in the bubble). All exams
have a free response section requiring solutions, essays, or spoken
answers depending on the specific exam.
Bottom line—teens without strong written skills will suffer a poorer
score using AP. Teens who have trouble typing quickly and accurately
may suffer a during the CLEP College Composition exam.
CLEP—all exams are 90 minutes, but you leave when finished.
AP—all exams are 3 hours, you must remain until the time concludes.
Bottom line—time in the seat may be an issue for some. Note that
both will make accommodations for documented disabilities.
CLEP—Except for College Composition, the score is displayed on
the screen when you hit “submit” on your test.
AP—mailed into graders. Scores are posted to the student’s online
account in July.
Bottom line—scores come out AFTER schools release grades, so
a student’s test score doesn’t have anything to do with the high
school grade you give them.
CLEP—a scaled numeric score that ranges from 20–80. 80 is a “perfect
score.” A passing score is generally considered to be 50, but
colleges may require higher scores or accept lower ones.
AP—a scaled numeric score that ranges from 1–5. 5 is a “perfect
score.” A passing score is generally considered to be 3, but colleges
may require higher scores or accept lower ones.
Bottom line—I believe the extra writing makes a passing score on
AP harder to achieve than earning a passing score on a CLEP.
Variety of Tests
AP—34 exams, but only 21 exam time slots are open per year, and
many exams happen at the same time. (Ex. Macroeconomics,
Italian Language, World History, and Microeconomics all share
the same time slot, so you can only choose 1)
Bottom line—AP offers some exams that CLEP doesn’t.
Most CLEP and AP exams in the same subject will duplicate. For instance,
CLEP’s Biology duplicates AP’s Biology. Furthermore, both exams would
duplicate any course called Introductory Biology taken through a college.
Though no rule prohibits your child from taking all the exams or courses,
college policy will prevent your child from getting college credit for more
than one Introductory Biology experience. (Exam or course). Yes, if your
teen fails one they can (should) take the other for college credit.
CLEP—roughly 2,900 schools award credit for passing scores.
AP—no number is officially provided, but the College Board claims
“more than 90% of accredited colleges award credit or ‘advanced
placement’ for a passing score.”
Bottom line—You can always email a target school and ask if they
award credit for CLEP, AP or both. It’s a myth that you’ll “get
more credit” with AP, though you may be allowed credit through
one avenue and not the other. Still, Introduction to Psychology
will be worth 3 credits no matter what brand you choose.
AP—Art History, Music Theory, Studio Art 2-D, Studio Art 3-D, Studio Art Drawing
CLEP—French, German, Spanish
AP—French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Latin
CLEP—Composition, Composition Modular (no essay)
CLEP—American Literature, English Literature, Analyzing and Interpreting Literature
CLEP—American Government, US History 1, US History 2, Western Civilization 1, Western Civilization 2, Social Sciences and History
AP—Comparative Government, United States Government, United States History, World History, European History, Human Geography
CLEP—Macroeconomics, Microeconomics, Psychology, Educational Psychology, Human Growth, and Development, Sociology
AP—Macroeconomics, Microeconomics, Psychology
CLEP—College Math, College Algebra, Pre-calculus, Calculus
AP—Calculus (AB), Calculus (BC), Statistics
CLEP—Biology, Chemistry, Natural Science
AP—Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Environmental Science
CLEP—Financial Accounting, Business Law, Management, Marketing
Taking an AP course is hard- not a lot of places offer them to the public, and some specifically forbid homeschooler’s participation. So, here’s an idea: teach your own!
Invite a small group or teach to many using an online course specifically for homeschoolers (we need those). But wait, you want your teen to be able to list “AP” on their high school transcript? I don’t blame you.
Watch this tutorial from Angela, one of our HS4CC Florida parents- she makes it sound easy!
AP exam dates are set far in advance, be sure to check the current schedule. 2021
This content is reprinted from Chapter 2 of Homeschooling for College Credit 2nd Edition.