Advanced Placement Courses

high school students studying

By World Family Education

Advanced Placement (AP) courses are often taught in international schools with an American-style curriculum. Designed by the College Board for high school or secondary students, the courses feature university-level content and include a comprehensive final examination.

AP classes challenge students more intensely than general course offerings at most high schools. They are considered to be as academically rigorous as courses offered in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, a curriculum commonly used in international schools.

Schools that offer AP courses follow the curriculum mandated by the College Board for that subject area. A panel of experts and college-level educators have developed the AP curricula.

Students who complete AP courses and receive high final exam scores are more attractive candidates for universities around the world. They may also receive course credit at some universities in the United States, allowing them to “skip” basic courses in that particular subject area.

During a two-week period every May, students take the AP exams. Test scores rank on a 1 to 5 scale, as follows:

  • 5 – Extremely well qualified
  • 4 – Well qualified
  • 3 – Qualified
  • 2 – Possibly qualified
  • 1 – No recommendation

Usually a score of 3 or 4 and above is needed to receive university course credit in the United States. Some universities will offer course credit only for scores of 5.

AP International Diploma

Students living internationally who successfully complete five or more AP courses receive the AP International Diploma.They must complete courses in a range of content areas and earn 3 or more on corresponding AP exams.

The APID is not a substitute for a high school diploma. It certifies that a student has completed a rigorous academic program that’s prepared them for university. Some selective universities require the APID for admission when students complete an American-style curriculum in high school.

Universities Outside the United States

Many universities outside the United States recognize Advanced Placement courses and will accept AP credits for university admittance. Some non-U.S. universities require that students complete multiple AP courses (some expect a minimum of five courses) and receive high scores on the exams. Be sure to check the policies at the university where you intend to apply.

Home Education

The College Board allows any student to take any AP examination, even if they haven’t taken its respective course. Therefore, students receiving home education and students from schools that do not offer AP courses may take AP exams. These students must find an AP-qualified school willing to assist them in taking the exam, and this may be a challenge for families living internationally.

While it is possible to take an AP exam after studying independently at home, the College Board strongly recommends a student take the correlating AP course at an AP school or online. Several online education providers offer AP courses.

Explore online schools at the World Family Education page about Online Education Options.

Lisa Davis at Medium writes a thorough article about families educating their children at home and what they need to know about AP courses and exams.

Students with Special Needs

Some students with documented disabilities may receive accommodations on AP exams. Your family will need to apply for these accommodations, such as a longer testing period or test breaks, several months in advance. Check the College Board page about eligibility for more information.

CLEP Testing

An alternative to AP exams is the US-based College Level Examination Program (CLEP). CLEP testing has also been developed by the College Board. Unlike the AP program, students studying for CLEP exams must learn the material independently rather than in a specialized course.

Testing centers (usually licensed schools in the U.S. and abroad) offer CLEP exams throughout the year. The exams are multiple-choice and computerized. Scores range from 20 to 80, with 50 being the minimum recommended passing score.

In the United States, high scores from CLEP tests are accepted for credit at hundreds of universities. Some universities outside the U.S. also accept CLEP testing scores for credit. Every university has its own policies regarding credit for testing, so be sure to check those closely.

Helpful Links

Advanced Placement Program at the College Board — The official site that provides many details about the program.

Advanced Placement Course Index — A page at the College Board site that lists the many course options offered in the AP program.

CLEP at the College Board — The official page about CLEP testing.

Some information adapted from the official site of the College Board.

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