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No AP Courses? You Can Still Take AP Exams

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Each year roughly 1 million students take more than 3 million AP exams. The majority complete approved AP courses that help them prepare for the exams, but some students opt to skip the course and simply take the test.

It’s true: You can register for AP exams without participating in AP courses. This fact is particularly important for the estimated 500,000 high school students who are homeschooled and the millions of students who attend traditional schools that lack AP programs.

If you intend to study on your own, choose a subject that genuinely interests you so you’ll stay motivated. Preparing for the exam without the guidance and structure of an AP course can be challenging, so consider tackling one or perhaps two topics a year.

Follow the procedures defined by the College Board to arrange to take the test at a participating school or test center. All AP exams are administered in May, so once you determine the exact test date you can devise a study plan that allows you to master the material at a diligent, disciplined pace. The exams are intentionally structured to test a body of knowledge and discourage last-minute cramming.

To make the process manageable:

  • Invest in the recommended textbooks and reference materials.
  • Purchase the appropriate study guides.
  • Schedule study time as if you were in an AP course and plan to devote between 1.5 and 3 hours each day.
  • Take multiple practice tests to measure your progress and identify areas of strength and weakness.
  • Enroll in parallel honors or accelerated learning courses that reinforce the subjects you’re working to master.
  • Form a small study group if you know others who are preparing to take the same exams.
  • Consider investing in a tutor to help you stay focused and on track.

Think carefully before you choose a lab-based science such as chemistry or physics. In AP courses, significant blocks of time are devoted to designing and analyzing lab experiments. At test time, not having these experiences could be a significant hurdle to overcome.

Solid AP exam scores can help your qualifications stand out when you apply for college admission. Roughly 90% of US colleges have some type of AP program in place, and up to 85% of those with selective admissions policies value AP applicants.

Some colleges grant college credit, others grant advanced standing that allows you to skip introductory courses, and some do both. Strong AP scores can also help you attract scholarships, so taking AP exams is well worth your time, effort and investment.

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