Should I Take Online AP Exams If I Know I’ll Do Poorly?


My school sent out an email saying that they strongly encourage us to fulfill our commitment to taking AP tests, but they understand if we don't want to take them due to the online format. I don't want to take mine and I now want to back out, but I'm not sure what I might be missing. Other than college credit (which I really don't think I'll get because I expect to bomb my three), what are the advantages of taking these?

Here are the main reasons that students take AP exams:

1. To earn college credit when offered ... although you may need a college degree just to figure out how much credit you'll get for each AP score, since this varies not only from college to college but sometimes from subject to subject within a college. (And, increasingly, there are colleges that award no AP credit at all.)

2. For exemption from college-wide or major requirements or to gain permission to take an upper-level class without completing a prerequisite.

3. To fulfill an obligation to your high school. Some high schools require that AP students take the corresponding exams or the course will lose the AP designation on the transcript. (This year, however, because of the pandemic, many high schools have amended this policy and have made the exams optional.)

4. To impress admission committees with your ability to master college-level material as demonstrated by high AP exam scores. (This is only relevant to current juniors or those younger. For seniors, admission decisions will have been made before AP exam results are released.)

So if you're convinced that your AP scores will be low, then perhaps none of these reasons apply to you. Note, however, that some colleges will award credit for 3s, while others demand 4s and 5s or sometimes only 5s. So if you think you could eke out a 3 on a test, it may be worth a shot. Even if you're a senior heading to a college that doesn't accept 3s, is it conceivable that you may decide to transfer down the road and you could land at another institution that does?

Finally, have you paid for your exams? The College Board is not issuing refunds (although some high schools are). If you've already paid and don't expect to see your money back, and if you're a senior who doesn't have to worry about reporting poor scores to admission committees next year (or hiding them!), then you don't have anything to lose if you try the tests, except maybe a few hours of Netflix!

About the Ask the Dean Column

Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean, please email us at

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