AP Exams and SAT Subject Tests: Focus Shifts to AP Exams – Here’s What You Need to Know

By: Jason Robinovitz | Last Updated: January 27, 2021



With news of the recent demise of SAT Subject Tests, many students were thrilled to find out they could scratch those additional test sittings off their long list of college preparation to-dos.

Ultimately, however, colleges still want to know that students have mastered academic subjects, so the College Board (CB) has merely shifted the emphasis to their other testing tools – AP exams. As a result, we are predicting that taking rigorous AP courses and scoring well on the exams are going to be more important than ever for students who hope to be admitted to top universities. Here’s what you need to know about AP exams and how they can impact your college planning process, as well as your college career.


Before we dive any deeper, let’s compare AP VS SAT exams and their key differences. As we’re moving more toward AP exams and away from the SAT subject tests, it’s important to know what each offers and why they matter.

About AP Exams

AP exams are given at the end of an AP course to assess your proficiency in the subject and your knowledge of the course material. They’re graded on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest score.

One of the greatest benefits of AP exams is that they have the potential to allow students to earn advanced standing or college credits for introductory college courses, thus bypassing intro college courses to either complete their undergraduate degrees sooner or take other courses. The exams range in length from 1½ hours to 3¼ hours, with most of the 38 tests lasting between two and three hours with short breaks. They’re comprised of two sections, multiple-choice, which comes first, and free response.

Doing well on AP free response questions requires “deeper” knowledge of the subject matter – and the ability to synthesize that knowledge while analyzing documents, responding to open-ended questions, and crafting essays.

With respect to AP exams affecting a student’s college career, we’ve noted that they can allow students to earn credits for or bypass introductory college courses, and either complete their undergraduate careers sooner (if credits were awarded) or take other courses (if “advanced standing” rather than credits were awarded).

Be warned, though: each college makes its own decisions about awarding credit – or not! A school will have its own policy about placement, including minimum scores required to earn credit for a given AP exam, the amount of credit awarded, and how those credits will be applied. You can explore AP exam credit policies at varying colleges at this CB link1; however, you’ll find the most up-to-date policies on each college’s website.

We’d like to add that even if a college in which you’re interested doesn’t award credits for AP exam scores, doing well on the tests and in the courses leading up to them demonstrates your willingness to accept challenges, which, in turn, improves chances for admission to selective universities. Ultimately, AP exams can signify that a college applicant is well prepared for the rigor of college academics.

About SAT Subject Exams

SAT Subject Tests (also known as SAT II or SAT 2) are standardized tests that measure a student's knowledge and skills in specific subject areas. The exams are offered by the College Board, as is the SAT.

SAT Subject Tests are often required or recommended by colleges and universities as part of the admission process. Some schools may require specific subject tests for admission or for placement into certain courses, while others may allow students to choose which subject tests to take.

Without SAT Subject Tests and as more colleges move toward test-optional admissions, there will be an increasing focus on a student’s commitment to taking AP courses and performing well on the exams. Starting early on in high school to chart your course is key, and we are here to help you at every stage of your college preparation process.

Need Help Studying for AP Exams?

As you’re planning your testing calendar, keep in mind our many years of success in preparing students to do their very best on AP exams. Contact us and we’ll get you started.

Download our Study Tips for the AP Exams

P.S. Want to take an AP course that your high school doesn’t offer or that doesn’t fit into your schedule? Score Academy, the accredited school division of Score At The Top, offers a full range of AP courses to help you enrich your curriculum – summer, fall, winter, and spring!

1 Because colleges’ own websites reflect the most current information, we strongly recommend that you double-check AP and Subject Test policies there.

Topics: AP Exams College Admission Subject Test

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