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What is Advanced Placement and Why My Student Should Enroll

What is Advanced Placement and Why My Student Should Enroll

I stopped into an AP US History class this year and listened while students debated the merits of Henry Clay as an American leader.  In AP physics, students used cars to test the impulse of a collision between the car and a crumple zone.  Across the district, students enrolled in AP courses engage in high-level discourse surrounded by dedicated students and passionate teachers and get the opportunity to gain college credit for their studies.

In 1955 The College Board, an educational non-profit company with the mission of improving college readiness and success, launched their first Advanced Placement (AP) courses.  Since then, the number of AP courses offered by the College Board has tripled; District 127 offers 23 AP courses next year.  AP courses offer college level material taught at the high school level and the opportunity to take an end-of-course exam to earn three or more college credits by passing the test with a score of 3 or better (out of 5).  Law in the State of Illinois requires public colleges to accept scores of three or better for college credit, though the school can decide what type of credit is awarded.  While not many states require colleges to accept AP credits, students have the ability to test out of many early college courses by successfully completing an AP course and passing the exam.  Many students have entered college as second semester freshmen or even as sophomores by earning AP credits. This can potentially save families thousands of dollars in tuition costs.  In addition, students are learning the material necessary to perhaps skip 101 level classes and dive into major courses of study sooner, and/or students can get the chance to experiment with courses they might otherwise not have room in their schedule to take.

District 127 has a very successful AP program.  Nearly all of our programs far exceed the national and state passing percentages.  Over the last several years, the percent of Grayslake students passing exams hovers over 80%%, and the number of students enrolling in AP grows each year.  Our highly qualified teachers prepare Grayslake students well.  See the chart below for a glimpse at how our passing percentages stack up. 

Some students shy away from taking AP classes for fear it will be too difficult or that they are worried they will not pass the exam.  Data shows a positive relationship between enrolling in AP and college performance.   A 2013 College Board study[1] reveals that students who take AP exams, whether or not they pass them, graduate on time more often, regardless of ethnicity, gender or type of college or university.  A second College Board study[2] reveals that students who take AP have greater retention rates and gain entry into more selective colleges than students who do not.

Nearly any student should feel encouraged to try an AP course.  As long as prerequisites are met, a student with an interest in a topic should consider trying AP.  This college-level experience has proven to be a good one for our students.

Before enrolling, consider the following questions:

  1. How many AP courses should I take?

The answer, of course, is “it depends”.  AP courses do bring increased rigor and as such, a need to use time wisely.  Some students do well taking as many AP courses as they can, often in addition to extracurricular activities.  Other students, might consider trying just one course at a time, focusing on areas of interest.   Some students prefer to take no AP courses at all.  Students should talk with their counselor and their families when choosing which and how many AP courses to try. 

  1. Are there ways to get college credit other than with an AP course?

Yes!  We have several options for students who are looking to earn college credit while in high school.  While AP is the pathway with the most options, we have two courses that bring dual credit to students, Earth Science Honors and Public Service Practicum. Students who perform well in these classes can earn college credit at CLC, which may be transferrable to four-year universities. In addition, students who attend courses at the CLC Technology Campus during the day earn both high school and college credit.  Finally, students who pass the end-of-year exams in the Project-Lead-The-Way engineering sequence of courses earn college credit for each course.

  1. How much work is involved in an AP course?

It depends.  Some courses bring more homework than others do, but these courses do teach college-level content.  Each student experiences a course differently.  For students to whom writing is a favorite activity, AP Language and Composition may come more easily than AP Calculus BC may.   However, many students balance multiple AP courses at once while still being involved in sports or activities.

  1. Do colleges look favorably on AP courses?

Colleges consider a number of factors when making admission decisions.  Colleges do consider the rigor of a student’s coursework when evaluating a student application, and the more selective the school, the more important that is.  However, colleges want well-rounded students who can contribute to campus in a number of ways.  While they want student who perform well academically, they also want healthy students who are involved in their school and larger communities. It is important that students consider what level of course rigor is best for them when thinking about all the different ways he or she would like to be involved.  

  1. Are AP courses weighted differently in the high school GPA?

Yes, grades in AP courses are worth one point more in the weighted GPA than regular level classes.  A “B” is worth three points in a regular class, but worth four points in an AP course.  Grades in honors courses are weighted .5 more than grade in regular classes.

  1. How much does an AP test cost?

The College Board sets this rate each year.  In 2017, they cost $93.00 per exam.  There are significantly reduced rates available for students who qualify for a fee waiver.  Compared to the thousands of dollars three college credit hours can cost, however, the cost of an exam might parlay into a much bigger value.

  1.  Is there a way to predict in which classes I might have more propensity to be successful?

The PSAT, a test every student now takes both sophomore and junior year, includes AP Potential ranking for each student.  This ranking alerts students to AP courses that their PSAT score indicates might be a good fit for them.  This is just a guide, however, and students should select classes they have an interest and desire to take.

  1. Do students have to take the exam at the end of the course?

No, but it is strongly encouraged.  After learning the material all year, it is advisable for students to try their hand at the exam.  Students will have much practice at released exam items over the course of the year, so they will have a sense of how they might perform on the real thing.

  1. Do I have to take and AP class while in high school?

No.  Different students have different paths of learning.  While we strongly encourage any interested student to consider trying at least one course.  With 86% of our students enrolling in college after high school, it is important that we offer college-like experiences to our student body.


[1] Mattern, Krista D., Jessica P. Marin, and Emily J. Shaw. Are AP Students More Likely to Graduate on Time? Rep. no. 2013-5. N.p.: n.p., n.d. The College Board. Web. 3 May 2017. <>.


[2] Mattern, Krista D., Emily J. Shaw, and Xinhui Xiong. The Relationship Between AP Exam Performance and College Outcomes. Rep. no. 2009-4. The College Board, n.d. Web. 3 May 2017. <>.