Test Prep

The Pros and Cons of Registering for an AP Exam Without Taking the AP Course

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As most high school students know by now, the AP Exam registration is earlier this year than it has been in the past, requiring students to decide by November whether to take May AP tests. And many students are wondering whether they should register for an AP exam even if they haven't taken the associated AP course. This allows them to potentially get college credit (or placement) ahead of time, which can save time and money during the college years.

We spoke with Jennifer Williams Taylor, Director at Avalon College Advising, to get some insight on the pros and cons of taking the exam without having been through the class offered by your school.

Here Are the Pros

If you get a low score, your target schools will never know. Guess what? If you get a low score on your AP exam, there's no need to send it into the schools.

You might already know the material. Taylor points out that some students "may have mastered content outside of the classroom. For instance, if a child grows up in a bilingual household, they may have been sufficiently exposed to a second language and not need the classroom support that other students do. In this situation, a student would be prepared for the AP test without the need for classroom instruction."

Many resources exist for independent study. In case you can't fit the AP course into your schedule or your school doesn't offer it, there are actually a lot of resources for you to go through the AP exam material on your own – as long as you can make time for it:

The College Board posts questions from previous exams, previous full length exams, sample student responses and scoring guidelines for past exam questions. Every AP course has an "AP Course and Exam Description" booklet that includes AP practice questions for all sections of the exam. If you're not taking the class, ask your AP coordinator at school for help signing up to access the College Board AP resources for "exam-only" students.

You can also find free exams simply by searching online for the name of the exam with the keywords "previously released materials College Board." Khan Academy, for example, provides free videos, articles and practice exercises for many AP courses.

There are also many AP exam prep books you can buy to get ready for the tests. In addition, private tutors can be pricey, but Taylor thinks they may be worth the cost, as they will not only help you with the AP material but will also teach you some useful AP test-taking strategies.

Check out the Cons

It's a considerable financial and time investment. If you don't take the class, and you don't put in the time to sufficiently prepare, there's the risk of ending up with a lower score than required by your target school for placement or credit. That's $94 you'll never see again (although low-income students may qualify for a $37 discount). In addition, you'll spend a significant amount of time studying for the exams outside of class, whereas those who take the classes learn the material during the course.

If you cancel, there's a hefty fine. As the date approaches, you may realize that you haven't been able to prep adequately, or perhaps you have a major schedule conflict. If you decide to cancel the exam after you've already registered, you will have to pay a $40 fee.

Colleges can change their AP credit policies at any time. You registered and paid for your AP exam(s) and then a few months later, you discover that one or more of your target schools decides to no longer offer placement or credit for high AP exam scores. This can happen on occasion, so it's worth considering.

Weigh Your Options

With the deadline approaching, it's a good idea to weigh your options. In many cases, however, you may not have a choice. Some schools require their students to take the AP test if enrolled in an Advanced Placement class, while others might discourage you from taking the exam without taking the course, so a student should understand a school's policy before enrolling.