What AP Scores Can Show and Never Will

By now most students who took an Advanced Placement test have received their scores and with those scores can sometimes come a collision between expectations and what a “piece of paper” says.

In a state where students are asked to take more rigorous courses in an academic environment where everyone is always measured with some sort of score, it is hard to realize that a single number can never really measure overall success.

In short, a score does not necessarily define a student.


I have taught AP classes for 12 years, multiple sections each year. This past year, I had five sections of AP English Language and Composition which might be the most subjective and most qualitative of the AP courses. Of the hundreds of students who have matriculated through my classes, one thing has been consistently shown: a three-plus hour exam is not the end-all-be-all. It’s a snapshot of a 150+day academic journey.

Every year, people break down numbers, look at percentages, and analyze the stats. I do. I want to get better and part of that is looking at the data. But the veteran teacher in me knows there is more there.

Much more.

This past week, I took my daughter on her first college tour in Athens, GA. The admissions counselor talked more about GPA / QPA and rigor of transcripts. SAT and ACT scores are considered, but not with the emphasis that many may have expected. In fact, she talked about taking the SAT and ACT more than one time. AP courses were expected on the transcript, but not one time did she talk about AP tests. She focused on the coursework, not the standard test.

If an AP test was the end-all-be-all, then next week, I would be changing grade to reflect that. But that is not how it works. It’s the journey that matters; the AP test is just a checkpoint. In fact, they are not even on a transcript.

It might surprise people to realize that the difference between a 2 and a 3 on an AP test could be one singular multiple test question – one minute in a 180+ test. Students can have a bad day. Life is happening. We are asking students to take more classes now than ever, take more standardized tests than ever, and participate in everything to “differentiate” themselves from others, yet we still have only 24 hours in a day.

When I was in high school, I took six classes a year. My students now usually take eight. I do not remember but a couple of standardized tests in my matriculation last century; students now will take more standardized tests in school than they can remember.

There are very successful lawyers who took the bar more than once. Medical school grads can take the United States Medical Licensure Exam (USMLE) Step 1 (the “boards” up to six times) in order to get a passing grade.

Students get one shot at an AP test. That’s it.

Don’t think that I am in any way belittling any score. Students who receive high scores should be congratulated. But I don’t think of students in terms of what score they may receive. Too many people in Raleigh seem to do that for me.

What I as the teacher value is that the student got better, learned, and got a sense of what a college level class can be like. If a student happened to get a lower grade on an AP test than was hoped for, then I would ask that student if he / she was a better reader and writer than at the beginning of the year. That is a truer measure.

There have been students who have received a “2” on the AP test whom I could not be prouder of. There are students who receive a “5” who never turned in work for an entire semester.

What is most important is that I got to be a part of the journey and witness the growth. When I write a recommendation for college, I don’t talk about test scores; I talk about the person. I talk about the portfolio, not a score report.

If you are a student, then keep growing. You are not standard. And no test can truly measure you.