The Big Test Than Can Open Doors

college admission process, college planning process



In the past few weeks we’ve looked at the reasoning tests – SAT and ACT. And we’ve talked about one type of knowledge test – the SAT Subject tests.  There is a second type of knowledge test known as AP (Advanced Placement) exams.  They differ from the SAT Subject tests in that they cover college level material.  They are never required by colleges, but can go a long way in proving ability, dedication, and intellectual vitality


Even though they are never mandated by colleges, they are becoming so commonplace that competitive students must have them.


Not only do AP classes prove your student’s abilities, they allow college credit without jeopardizing freshman status (which can happen if taking community college classes). My daughter, an engineering major at Princeton, scored a 5 on the AP Chemistry exam while in high school which excused her from the chemistry class required by the engineering core.  The class was notorious for long, ugly labs that consumed hours.  Not only did she avoid the time drain, but it freed her schedule up enough to pursue other classes that she would have been unable to fit in.  In her mind, working hard in AP Chemistry her junior year in high school was the smartest move she ever made!


Many admissions officers also prefer AP exams to community college classes since the test is standardized and can be used to compare students across the nation.  Because of grade inflation, evaluations from junior colleges can be hard to quantify.


AP classes are college-level courses taught by instructors certified by Collegeboard. AP exams are offered only once a year on one specific date in May.  They contain considerable essay sections that require substantial preparation. 


Here is a hyperlinked list of the AP exams: 

Art History


Calculus AB

Calculus BC


Chinese Language and Culture

Computer Science A

English Language and Composition

English Literature and Composition

Environmental Science

European History

French Language

German Language

Government and Politics: Comparative

Government and Politics: United States Human Geography

Italian Language and Culture

Japanese Language and Culture

Latin: Vergil



Music Theory

Physics B

Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism

Physics C: Mechanics


Spanish Language

Spanish Literature


Studio Art: 2-D Design

Studio Art: 3-D Design

Studio Art: Drawing

United States History

World History


If your school offers AP classes, your student should be taking some of them.  If you homeschool, it is possible to self-study for AP exams (although you are not allowed to list the class as an AP class).  There are also terrific online options if you prefer to have a teacher guide you through the class. One such option is Pennsylvania Homeschoolers.  You can learn more here:


I recommend that homeschoolers strongly consider outsourcing AP classes for several reasons.  Even if a parent is qualified to teach the class, I have had several clients get into the middle of it and discover that the test was much harder than anticipated, especially in the math and science area.


A second reason to be involved in a class is to place your student under an expert instructor, such as provided by Pennsylvania Homeschoolers.  Both my students encountered an intense learning experience that raised the bar for their performance and opened new worlds to them.  Prior to taking AP Biology, my daughter was a good student, but not particularly a standout in math or science.  The demands of her teacher, a former college professor and researcher, brought out latent strengths and showed my daughter that she could succeed in this area.  For the first time, she was in a class with other highly motivated students who continually pushed her to excel. She never looked back and is now majoring in one of the toughest technical majors at her school.


A third reason to consider AP is if you have a very bright or gifted student.  Too many times the dumbed down curriculum used at the high school level bores kids so badly that they mentally check out.  How many wonderful minds have we lost because they were not challenged to develop during this critical period of life?


While certainly not the most important reason to consider AP, homeschoolers need to keep in mind that AP teachers are great sources for letters of recommendation for college.  If a student self-studies for all his classes, this valuable resource will be lost.


The testing gauntlet can be overwhelming, but there is a way of managing it.


1. Figure out what tests will showcase your student’s strengths and focus on SAT Subject tests and AP Exams in that area.


2. Only take as many tests as required.  If your target schools ask for 3 SAT Subject tests, don’t think you need 8 to really be impressive.


3. Always keep in mind that by overloading on the knowledge tests (AP and SAT Subject) your student can stay so tied down that they never have a chance to develop other areas that make them interesting people.  College admissions officers aren’t looking for grinds.  Never forget that.


To keep things reasonable, I encourage students to take their first AP class(es) at least by the sophomore year and take the corresponding SAT Subject test that year as well.  Then take another SAT Subject test early in the junior year, followed by the PSAT in October, the ACT or SAT mid-year, then another SAT Subject test in the spring or summer with any AP exams in May.  In the senior year that leaves only a few AP tests, giving students plenty of time to work on college applications in the fall and visit schools in April.


If you want your children to be competitive, it’s now time to plan for next year.  Give me a call!


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