CLEP, AP, PSAT, and SAT are registered trademarks by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, Homeschooling for College Credit.
Credit by exam programs are standardized tests written and administered by a company (not college) that assess college-level knowledge in various subjects. Credit by exam tests are not “textbook specific” so you can prepare using any material you like. Credit earned by exam is considered “potential” college credit until it is accepted by a college.
What are AP Exams?
Advanced Placement (AP) exams are standardized tests offered annually to high school students. They are published by The College Board. AP Exam scores can be worth college credit at participating colleges, or can be used to make your college application more competitive at selective universities. Homeschoolers can take an AP exam without first taking an AP course, though some parents do also enroll their teens in AP courses. AP courses are worth high school credit while AP exams are worth college credit.
In 2013 The College Board did a massive revision of the AP exams and course content. As of 2016 all of the exams were using new versions. As you research AP information or prep resources, anything written before 2016 should be considered “old” and outdated.
Finding a School /Taking the Test
AP exams are taken on campus at approved high schools in a group setting. With the exception of during COVID, all AP exams are taken face to face. Parents can NOT administer an AP exam, and there are no online AP exams at this time. Over the 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. Start VERY early (August is not too early) and stay in contact with any school that extends an invitation to allow your teen to take an AP exam. You’ll want to be sure that “yes” obtained in August is still a “yes” later in May when it’s time to take the exam.
All at Once
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. You can check the schedule in advance and use it to inform which exams your teen plans to take. 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.
Credit or Admission?
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.
Some students take AP exams for college admissions. Students in this category are applying to selective schools and having multiple solid AP scores is “expected” at elite colleges. Students in this category also don’t expect to receive college credit since elite colleges usually won’t award credit or advanced standing for even a strong AP score. Since AP and CLEP are frequently compared, know that CLEP doesn’t bring the same kind of prestige on an application as AP does.
Among Homeschooling for College Credit families, the more common use of AP exams are for college credit. In this case, the exam is an intentional strategy to save time and money later when their teen attends college. Community colleges, open enrollment universities, and less selective colleges are all usually very generous with awarding college credit for good AP scores. For that reason, a student who falls short of acceptance at a top university might be pleasantly surprised to learn that their AP exams will be happily accepted at nearly every other college, and with generous credit acceptance.
AP tests consist of free response questions graded by humans. Most will require essays and fill-in-the-blank answers. If writing isn’t your strongest suit, it’s possible to score poorly overall based on writing ability. This test format requires a grader, so you’ll test in May and get your score in July.
A “passing score” is usually considered a 3 (scale of 1-5) but for high scores, a 4 or 5, some colleges may award additional credit. That’s the best case scenario because it saves you the most time and money. Some colleges use AP exams to award “advanced standing” instead of awarding credit. This, while flattering, does not save your teen any time or money and is not necessarily a benefit to anyone except the college. In other words, it doesn’t remove a degree requirement!! An example of advanced standing is allowing your teen to start in French 2 instead of French 1 while still requiring 4 years of French. (2-5 instead of 1-4)
As a homeschool family, you’ll have the option of registering for an official AP course, an AP-like course, or preparing your own curriculum. Since AP courses are a trademarked product, you can only identify a course as “AP” on your teen’s high school transcript when it is an officially approved AP course. (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. It’s perfectly acceptable to teach a high school course that also prepares for an AP exam and simply tag your course “honors” on the homeschool transcript. How your teen prepares for an AP exam doesn’t matter since anyone can take an AP exam without taking an AP course.
Finding a High School Test Site
Of the college credit options available to your family, AP is the only one that requires you collaborate with a high school to do so. The College Board does not require high schools to open their doors to homeschoolers for AP exams, so with this type of college credit, you’ll have to find an agreeable high school- there is no other option.
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 as soon as you know you’re going to need to schedule an exam. If possible, you can begin your search in August, but absolutely no later than 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.
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 accommodations.
- 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.
PRO TIP: Using CLEP and AP together can help make sure your teen ends up with college credit one way or the other. Try having your teen take the CLEP before AP. The questions will be similar and be a great practice run for the real exam. CLEP is easier than AP, so if they don’t do well on the CLEP, you have time for extra study. In addition, if they don’t pass the AP exam, they can still use the credit earned from their CLEP exam!
Quick Comparison between CLEP and AP Exams
CLEP—The College Board
AP—The College Board
CLEP—$89 + test proctor fee without a voucher, $0 free + $0 proctor fee when you get a voucher from Modern States. (no limit) You can take a CLEP for free if you participate in the Modern States waiver program!
CLEP—any age allowed, typically adults
AP—any age allowed, typically high school students
CLEP—aligned “up” to 100 and 200 level college courses
AP—aligned “down” to K–12 Common Core
CLEP—at home or an approved testing center.
AP—area high schools that offer the AP course will also offer the exam for that course (Even when you take your AP exam online, you still have to sign up with your local high school)
CLEP—365 days per year
AP—1 day per year (May)
Note: 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 (following each homeschool course) —that kind of aggressive credit earning is impossible via AP.
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 plain 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.
CLEP—all exams are about 90 minutes, but you leave when finished.
AP—all exams are 3 hours, you must remain until the time concludes.
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.
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.
Variety of Tests
CLEP—roughly 2,900 colleges (76%) award credit for passing scores.
AP—roughly 3,200 colleges (85%) award credit or advanced standing for passing scores
Note: you can’t get college credit twice for the same exam or college course, even when you choose a different brand or school. This is called “duplication of credit” and will be denied.
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
If you can’t find (or don’t want to pay for) an official AP course, you can make your own.
Watch this tutorial from Angela, our HS4CC Florida moderator- she makes it sound easy!
|Exam Name||Current version||Version expiration||Recommended college credits|
|AP Music Theory||12/01/2017||11/30/2023||6|
|AP Art History||12/01/2017||11/30/2023||6|
|AP Physics 2: Algebra-Based||01/01/2017||12/31/2023||4|
|AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism||01/01/2017||12/31/2023||4|
|AP Physics C: Mechanics||01/01/2017||12/31/2023||4|
|AP Computer Science A||01/01/2017||12/31/2023||4|
|AP Physics 1||01/01/2017||12/31/2023||4|
|AP Human Geography||01/01/2019||12/31/2025||3|
|AP Environmental Science||12/01/2020||11/30/2026||3|
|AP United States Government and Politics||12/01/2020||11/30/2026||3|
|AP Comparative Government and Politics||12/01/2020||11/30/2026||3|
|AP English Literature and Composition||12/01/2020||11/30/2026||6|
|AP English Language and Composition||12/01/2020||11/30/2026||6|
|AP 2D Art & Design||12/01/2020||11/30/2026||3|
|AP 3D Art & Design||12/01/2020||11/30/2026||3|
|AP Computer Science Principles||11/01/2021||10/31/2027||3|
|AP Chinese Language and Culture||11/01/2021||10/31/2027||36|
|AP Japanese Language and Culture||11/01/2021||10/31/2027||36|
|AP Italian Language and Culture||11/01/2021||10/31/2027||27|
|AP Spanish Literature and Culture||11/01/2021||10/31/2027||36|
|AP Spanish Language and Culture||11/01/2021||10/31/2027||27|
|AP German Language||11/01/2021||10/31/2027||48|
|AP French Language||11/01/2021||10/31/2027||27|
|AP World History: Modern||12/01/2022||11/30/2028||6|
|AP Calculus BC||12/01/2022||11/30/2028||8|
|AP Calculus AB||12/01/2022||11/30/2028||4|
|AP U.S. History||12/01/2022||11/30/2028||6|
|AP European History||12/01/2022||11/30/2028||6|
|AP African American Studies||12/01/2022||11/30/2028||3|
APPROVED AP COURSES
PA Homeschoolers: Approved AP courses. Fully online $700-900
Dumb Ox Learning: Approved AP courses. Fully online $570
UNOFFICIAL CURRICULUM & AP TEST PREP RESOURCES
Crack AP: dozens of free AP practice tests for most subjects. Fully online, $0
Modern States: “test prep” course that follows a homeschool curriculum. Fully online, $0
Khan Academy: “test prep” course that follows a homeschool curriculum. Fully online, $0
Emile: independent curriculum and “test prep” course. Fully online, $20/month
Straighterline: AP curriculum and “test prep” course (limited to 4 courses) Fully online, $99/month + $59 per course.
Study.com: independent curriculum and “test prep” course. Fully online, $39/month *HS4CC families can get 30% off up to 3 months by entering the code “HS4CC” at checkout.
Sonlight Homeschool Curriculum: Several unofficial AP courses taught from a Christian worldview. Price varies.