Preparing for College

Does a Good AP Exam Score Make Up for A Bad Class Grade?

Question: Does a good AP test score make up for a low grade, like a C or D, in that AP class? How will this situation affect the admissions process?

While a good score on an AP exam is obviously always a plus, admission officials will wonder why you did poorly in the class itself but learned enough to be successful on the test. A brief explanation—if there is one (e.g., “I missed two weeks of school due to mono and had trouble catching up”)—can be submitted with your applications. You can also ask your counselor to include this in his or her recommendation.


If you are applying to the most elite colleges in the country (the Ivy League and a handful of equivalents like Stanford and MIT), then even one poor grade could affect your admission outcomes because you will be “competing” with so many others who will have straight-A transcripts. A low grade will also affect your rank (if your school is one that does rank). In some schools, in fact, only a fraction of a point separates the number 1 student from number 10 or 12, so a C or D could bump you down the list quite a bit. This is also something that you should ask your guidance counselor to point out at recommendation time by saying something like, “Griselda's rank would have been far higher had she not gotten that C- in AP Physics when she was only a sophomore.” Moreover, most admission officials will be more forgiving of low marks in 9th or 10th grade than they would be of those earned in your junior or senior year. Indeed, once you look beyond the hyper-competitive level of the Ivies, the majority of admission folks will be understanding when it comes to a single aberrant bad grade.