AP® Exam Scores

You plan to take the AP exam this May, but are wondering how the AP exams are graded? And how do your AP scores impact your future prospects of getting into college? No need to worry! On this page, we’ll break down the AP scoring system and offer some help in understanding your score. We’ll also guide you through how to access your AP exam scores.

How AP Exams Are Scored

The AP exam is scored on a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 is the minimum score and 5 is the maximum. This number becomes your final AP score. However, your final AP score is calculated on the basis of your composite score, which is the subtotal of your raw scores from Sections I and II of the AP exam.

The AP exam consists of two sections, multiple-choice questions (MCQ) and free-response questions (FRQ). Each section is worth a specific number of points. These points, when added together, become the total number of points you can score on the exam. After both the MCQ and FRQ sections are scored, your composite score is calculated and then translated into the AP scoring scale of 1 to 5.

Let’s take the AP Biology exam for example. The AP Biology exam has two sections, the MCQ section and the FRQ section. Each section is worth 60 points, for a total of 120 points on the AP Biology exam. The number of points you receive out of 120 is your composite score, which is then translated into the AP scoring scale.

Now let’s learn how the MCQ and FRQ sections are assessed and scored on the AP exam.

Section I: Multiple-Choice Questions (MCQs)

The first part of your AP exam consists of MCQs where you need to pick the correct answer from the choices given to you for each question. For most AP exams, the MCQ section of your AP exam usually accounts for 40-50% of your final score. Your MCQ answer sheet is scanned by a machine and a raw score is provided based on the number of answers you got correct.

Remember that you won’t be penalized for a wrong answer. The machine will only score you based on the number of correct answers. So, if you are not sure of a certain answer, feel free to take a guess!

Section II: Free-Response Questions (FRQs) Or Through-Course Performance Tasks

The second part of your AP exam will assess you based on your analytical and problem-solving skills. As the name suggests, the FRQ section allows you to come up with your own response to the given questions. As such, this section does not come with a preset formula.

If you are taking the AP English language exam, you will respond to questions after reading a comprehensive passage. If you are taking one of the AP Math exams, you will have to meticulously solve a math problem step-by-step on your answer sheet. Therefore, it is not possible for a machine to score your responses.

The FRQ or through-course performance tasks section is scored by readers at the annual AP reading in June each year. The annual AP reading is a convention where college professors and experienced AP teachers appointed by the College Board® gather to score the free-response answer sheets. For most AP exams, the FRQ section accounts for around 50-60% of your composite AP score.

Because scoring this section takes a long time and your free-response answer sheets aren’t graded until mid-June, your AP scores are published around mid July each year. This timeline is expected for the 2022 AP exams.

How are FRQs graded?

The College Board administers a set of universal scoring criteria developed for each specific response/prompt by the student. Most free-response answers are scored on a scale between 1 and 10, with one being the least appropriate and ten being nearly perfect. However, some exams can have questions worth as much as 12 points while shorter questions are scored on a smaller scale.

AP readers will evaluate your response using the scoring criteria provided by The College Board for that particular prompt and will award you between 1 and 10 points for your answer. Each free-response is graded with a “holistic” score. That means, your responses are evaluated for their overall effectiveness or correctness.  Points are not usually deducted for the occasional small errors, such as spelling or grammar mistakes.

After both the sections of the AP exam have been scored, these raw scores are assessed according to the section and combined into your composite score. This composite score is then converted into a 5-point scale using a statistical process to maintain consistency. Because composite scores usually fall between zero and 100 or zero and 150, depending on your course, a range of different composite scores can translate to a specific scaled score. Below is a table showing the range of composite scores and their respective AP scale:

Composite Score Range AP Scaled Score
104–150 5
92–103 4
76–91 3
50–75 2
0–49 1

Also note that since each AP subject carries its own total score, the composite score range can vary accordingly. Your composite score is never published by the College Board, instead, you only get to see your AP scaled score that is reported for college placement and other academic purposes.

Some AP exams have a sub-score, like the AP Calculus BC exam and the AP Music Theory exam. Subscores on these exams enable the colleges to have more information about your specific abilities. This can then be used to shape decisions about your placement or how much college credit you are eligible for.

What Are AP Scores Used for?

Your AP scores are a very important part of your high school transcript and college admission portfolio. Since AP exams are conducted on college-level curricula, AP scores play a vital role in your college admission and graduation. So, do AP scores matter? Let’s find out!

  1. AP scores determine the eligibility of a student during college admissions. Most colleges use AP scores as a benchmark to select their prospective students. Having a good AP score sets your application apart and gives you an edge over your peers. It boosts your chances of selection exponentially, and college admission officers often give your application more weight if you have taken AP exams. In fact, a recent survey reported that a student’s AP experience favorably impacts admission decisions in 85% of colleges across the country.
  2. AP scores are used as indicators of your college readiness. A good AP score implies that you have mastered the elementary level college course and are now ready to take on advanced college courses. This assures the college admission officers and the faculty of your eligibility to take secondary level courses and also boosts your chances of successfully graduating from college.
  3. Good AP scores improve your chances of pursuing challenging career paths like Engineering, Medicine and Law. Some colleges like Ivy League schools and top 20 colleges assess your AP scores to decide whether you’re capable of pursuing the majors you’ve applied for. Insufficient AP scores might affect your chances of choosing certain courses.
  4. AP scores on core courses like English Language and Calculus AB are very important to get admission into good college. Admission officers and college faculty often rely on good AP scores in these core courses to grant you admission.

    “Having AP scores is not mandatory, however it has a huge impact on college admissions, with AP students getting an immense edge over non-AP students.”

What is Advanced Placement® and Credit?

The main purpose of taking AP exams is to get advanced placement and course credits in colleges for scoring high on the AP exams. As a beginner, these concepts might be a bit tricky to follow. Let’s break these down to understand the impact of having a good AP score on your transcript.

Advanced Placement

If you score a 3, 4 or 5 on an AP exam, most colleges will offer you the chance to skip elementary courses for that particular subject during your freshman year. Since AP courses are equivalent to the elementary courses in college, earning a high score on an AP exam allows you to jump into the next-level courses for that particular subject. In other words, based on your AP scores, the colleges will offer you an ‘advanced placement’ into higher level courses by skipping the elementary ones. Of course, this provision is only valid for the courses that you have taken your AP exam in and earned a qualifying score. Most students take several core AP courses during 11th and 12th grade so that they can bypass the elementary courses in college which are sometimes a requirement for graduation.

Now let’s take a look at how the concept of credits work with AP exams.

Credits

Once you have a good score on your AP exams, you are eligible to get college credit. These credits are a way of acknowledging that you have mastered the elementary or core courses that are required for you to graduate. The credits you earn for your AP exam scores count towards the total credits required for you to graduate from college.

Most colleges offer both advanced placement and college credit for a good AP score (3 or higher). Some colleges however, offer either placement or college credit. If you are seeking credit or placement for AP exam scores, you must ensure that the colleges and universities in which you’re interested accept the Advanced Placement program. Your AP scores are sent directly to the college or university of your choice by the College Board. You can also send your score report to multiple institutions from your official College Board account for an additional fee ($15/report). Remember that the policies on granting placement or credit on the basis of AP Exam scores vary from institution to institution.

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Illustration of baseball player swinging, showing the forces between the bat and ball at the point of contact from UWorld's AP course

What AP Exam Scores Do Colleges And Universities Accept?

Most colleges and universities give credit for scores of 3 or higher, however, not all colleges and universities accept all AP exam scores. Institutions generally acknowledge a 4 or a 5 on the AP exam, but some may grant credit for a 3. These scores indicate that you are qualified for an introductory-level college course.

In most colleges however, you will see that they have different score requirements for different subjects. A university might accept a 3 in AP Statistics, but a 5 in AP English Language. Also, the number of credits offered for a particular exam score vary from college to college. Below is an indicative table of what AP scores are usually accepted by colleges for offering credits:

AP Exam Score Recommendation College Score Grade Equivalent Probability of AP credit being applied
5 Extremely well-qualified A+ or A Usually
4 Well qualified A-, B+, or B Usually
3 Qualified B-, C+, or C Maybe
2 Possibly qualified Very rarely
1 No recommendation No

As mentioned earlier, each college has its own placement and credit policy for each AP subject. For example, Harvard accepts only a 5 on the AP Calculus AB exam to grant placement, but doesn’t offer any credits for the score. However, LSU accepts AP Calculus AB scores of 3, 4 and 5, and offers both placement and credit for each score. Therefore, it is crucial that you do a background check about your college’s AP policies well ahead of time. Visit the official College Board website to conduct an AP credit policy search on the institution of your choice to determine what AP scores the institution accepts.

AP Exam Score Distribution

If you’re thinking of taking one or more AP exams, getting an idea of how students scored on the AP exams over the past few years can help you figure out which subjects might be easy or difficult for you. A score of 3 or higher is considered the passing score for AP exams. Below is a list of AP exam passing rates for the last three years for every subject to help you choose the right one!

Course Average Passing Rates (2019 - 2021)
AP Research 76.8%
AP Seminar 82.1%
AP 2-D Art and Design 87.6%
AP 3-D Art and Design 72.6%
AP Art History 61.9%
AP Drawing 89.1%
AP Music Theory 64.1%
AP English Language and Composition 58.0%
AP English Literature and Composition 51.4%
AP Comparative Government and Politics 69.4%
AP European History 58.9%
AP Human Geography 53.7%
AP Macroeconomics 57.5%
AP Microeconomics 65.6%
AP Psychology 63.4%
AP United States Government and Politics 53.6%
AP United States History 53.7%
AP World History 56.1%
AP Calculus AB 56.4%
AP Calculus BC 79.1%
AP Computer Science A 68.7%
AP Computer Science Principles 70.1%
AP Statistics 58.9%
AP Biology 64.7%
AP Chemistry 53.5%
AP Environmental Science 50.2%
AP Physics 1 45.8%
AP Physics 2 67.0%
AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism 71.6%
AP Physics C: Mechanics 79.0%
AP Chinese Language and Culture 88.3%
AP French Language and Culture 76.9%
AP German Language and Culture 69.7%
AP Italian Language and Culture 71.0%
AP Japanese Language and Culture 77.5%
AP Latin 62.8%
AP Spanish Language and Culture 86.3%
AP Spanish Literature and Culture 69.8%

Overall, AP exam passing rates reveal a success rate of more than 50% in every subject with minor exceptions like AP Physics 1. AP courses and exams are challenging, but the reward of passing is worth the hard work and effort! If you are curious to know how other students performed on the 2021 AP exams, here’s a list for that as well!

Course Total Test takers AP Success Rates 2021 5s 4s 3s 2s 1s
AP Research 24,021 81.5% 13.7% 25.4% 42.4% 14.2% 4.3%
AP Seminar 53,076 85.0% 11.1% 19.5% 54.5% 10.7% 4.3%
Course Total Test takers AP Success Rates 2021 5s 4s 3s 2s 1s
AP 2-D Art and Design 34,509 87.1% 10.2% 34.7% 42.3% 12.5% 0.4%
AP 3-D Art and Design 4,573 71.4% 6.5% 28.6% 36.3% 24.9% 3.7%
AP Art History 20,633 55.3% 12.0% 19.6% 23.8% 30.1% 14.6%
AP Drawing 18,096 86.2% 14.2% 37.7% 34.3% 12.4% 1.4%
AP Music Theory 16,271 61.2% 19.9% 18.1% 23.2% 23.2% 15.6%
Course Total Test takers AP Success Rates 2021 5s 4s 3s 2s 1s
AP English Language and Composition 518,548 57.7% 9.1% 22.9% 25.8% 29.3% 12.9%
AP English Literature and Composition 321,029 43.9% 4.9% 12.0% 26.9% 37.3% 18.8%
Course Total Test takers AP Success Rates 2021 5s 4s 3s 2s 1s
AP Comparative Government and Politics 19,292 71.8% 16.6% 24.5% 30.7% 14.9% 13.3%
AP European History 84,237 54.6% 10.6% 19.4% 24.7% 32.5% 12.9%
AP Human Geography 211,735 52.5% 14.4% 19.7% 18.3% 15.1% 32.4%
AP Macroeconomics 124,436 51.3% 18.0% 19.6% 13.7% 15.7% 32.9%
AP Microeconomics 80,199 59.1% 18.5% 24.0% 16.6% 17.0% 23.9%
AP Psychology 288,511 53.3% 14.1% 21.2% 18.0% 15.2% 31.5%
AP United States Government and Politics 283,353 50.4% 12.0% 11.6% 26.9% 25.8% 23.8%
AP United States History 454,204 47.2% 10.1% 15.9% 21.2% 21.6% 31.2%
AP World History 302,232 52.2% 9.7% 18.5% 24.0% 28.9% 19.0%
Course Total Test takers AP Success Rates 2021 5s 4s 3s 2s 1s
AP Calculus AB 251,639 51.0% 17.6% 14.1% 19.3% 25.3% 23.7%
AP Calculus BC 124,599 75.2% 38.3% 16.5% 20.4% 18.2% 6.6%
AP Computer Science A 74,676 65.1% 23.9% 21.9% 19.3% 12.1% 22.8%
AP Computer Science Principles 116,466 66.5% 12.4% 21.7% 32.5% 19.9% 13.6%
AP Statistics 184,111 57.9% 16.2% 19.9% 21.8% 17.2% 24.9%
Course Total Test takers AP Success Rates 2021 5s 4s 3s 2s 1s
AP Biology 230,527 59.2% 7.4% 19.4% 32.4% 30.0% 10.8%
AP Chemistry 135,997 51.3% 11.2% 16.4% 23.7% 24.7% 23.9%
AP Environmental Science 160,771 50.3% 7.0% 24.9% 18.5% 27.6% 22.1%
AP Physics 1 137,229 42.1% 6.9% 16.3% 18.9% 26.4% 31.4%
AP Physics 2 18,736 65.3% 15.4% 17.9% 32.0% 27.0% 7.6%
Physics C E&M 20,471 69.5% 32.6% 23.1% 13.8% 18.0% 12.5%
Physics C Mech. 48,803 73.5% 23.5% 28.6% 21.3% 14.9% 11.6%
Course Total Test takers AP Success Rates 2021 5s 4s 3s 2s 1s
AP Chinese Language and Culture 13,122 88.2% 57.2% 15.5% 15.5% 4.6% 7.1%
AP French Language and Culture 18,408 71.3% 12.6% 23.3% 35.4% 22.2% 6.5%
AP German Language and Culture 4,315 65.1% 18.0% 19.5% 27.6% 23.5% 11.4%
AP Italian Language and Culture 2,102 72.4% 20.6% 22.6% 29.2% 18.6% 9.0%
AP Japanese Language and Culture 2,204 74.3% 47.5% 9.2% 17.6% 7.9% 17.7%
AP Latin 4,889 56.8% 10.0% 16.9% 29.9% 25.3% 17.9%
AP Spanish Language and Culture 148,486 80.0% 17.3% 29.7% 33.0% 16.5% 3.5%
AP Spanish Literature and Culture 21,796 64.9% 7.8% 20.8% 36.3% 25.5% 9.6%
The AP score distribution helps you to understand the scoring trends for every subject. These trends usually indicate the difficulty of an AP subject on average. Based on the data, you can get an idea if a particular subject is your cup of tea! Having said this, persistence, grit, aptitude and your learning habits determine your success in an AP exam more than any other aspect. If you are interested in finding out more about AP courses or need help finding the right course for you, UWorld is here to help you!
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Illustration of mosquito on held on water by surface tension from UWorld's AP course
Painting of a battle during the Hatian revolution from UWorld's AP course
Illustration of the human brain after sight loss from UWorld's AP course

Frequently Answered Questions (FAQs)

This depends entirely on the college. As such, there are no clear-cut ‘passing-marks’ for the AP exam. Every college has its own criteria for admission and recognition of your AP score. However, as a rule of thumb, an AP score 3 and above is considered a passing score and can earn you a recommendation, and scores of 1 and 2 are considered a ‘failing’ grade. However, some colleges like Harvard and Princeton only accept a 4 or a 5. Be sure to ask your prospective college about their AP standards.

The average score of each AP exam depends on the subject. The average or mean score range from 2.5 to 3.6 for all AP exams.

Usually, a 70 to 75 percent out of 100 translates to a 5 in the AP score.

AP exams are never scored on a curve. To prevent this said ‘curve’ from occurring, The College Board ensures that AP scores are calculated specifically to reflect consistency in scoring from year to year.

AP scores are posted online on the AP student website. You can access them through your College Board account. After logging into your account, input your AP number or the student ID number you used on your AP answer sheet to get your score.

Whether you can access your AP exam scores earlier than other students is debatable. The College Board won’t release your AP scores early for any reason. However, if you had authorized The College Board to send in your scores to your prospective college at the time of ordering your exam, chances are, they will send your scores a couple of hours earlier than they will release it to you. In that case, you could access your college profile to access your scores earlier than usual.

Don’t fall for any third-party websites that claim to give you your scores earlier than the scheduled date and time.

You, the college or university you designated in My AP, and educators in your school and district, including your AP teachers, will automatically receive your scores once they’re released.

Most renowned colleges and universities do look at your AP exam scores to assess your eligibility for the particular course and/or give you college credit.

AP exam scores are released each year in July.

You can access your AP scores by logging into your College Board account. You can visit the AP Scores for Students section to download an unofficial soft-copy of your scores. However, this copy is for your personal reference only and it cannot be used for sending to colleges for credit or placement related purposes.

To send an official score report to a college or university, you can sign in to AP Scores for Students to order one ($15/report). The College Board will send an official score report to the college on your request.

While good AP scores are always desirable, a low score will not affect your chances for admittance into college.

July 21st, 2021 was the official release date for the 2021 AP exam.

To cancel your AP scores, you must fill out the AP Score Cancellation form available on the College Board website and submit it to your nearest AP coordinator. Alternatively, you can also mail or fax the duly filled form to:

AP Services
P.O. Box 6671
Princeton, NJ 08541-6671
Fax: 610-290-8979

To ensure that the institution you selected does not receive your score, AP Services must get your request by June 15, 2022.

References

Total Registration: 2020 AP Exam Score Distributions
Crux Research Inc.: Unpublished institutional research
College Board: AP Student Score Distribution

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