What AP Scores Can Show and Never Will – Especially This Year

By now most students who are taking an Advanced Placement test(s) in the next two weeks are feeling the stress, anxiety, and weight that these tests may invite. And by the second week in July they will 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.


Now let’s add the whole COVID-19 aspect to it. Here in NC, that means the last eight weeks of classes have been remotely taught and the AP tests this year have been altered.

In many cases, it’s just one question.

I have taught AP classes for 14 years, multiple sections each year. This year, I have three sections of AP English Language and Composition which might be the most subjective and most qualitative of the AP courses. I also have a section of AP English Literature. Of the hundreds of students who have matriculated through my classes, one thing has been consistently shown: a three-plus hour exam (or 50-minute) is not the end-all-be-all. It’s a snapshot of a 150+day academic journey (some of which has occurred during a pandemic).

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 year, I have taken my daughter to several college visits. The admissions counselors at each 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, they 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. They focused on the coursework, not the standard test.

If an AP test was the end-all-be-all, then this summer, I will be changing grades 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 thing. Students can have a bad day. Life is happening. We are asking students to take more classes now 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.

And I really want them to do well on the AP test. It’s important – to the students.

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.

One thought on “What AP Scores Can Show and Never Will – Especially This Year

  1. I also teach AP Language and Literature. This is the same speech I give my kids all year. Thanks


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