How are AP exams scored?

students taking exams

AP exams are end-of-year standardized tests designed to measure students' mastery of specific subjects. Understanding how exactly these exams are scored will help you prep more effectively and know what score to aim for.

Here’s what you need to know.

Scaled score: 1-5

AP exam scores range from 1 (“No recommendation”) to 5 (“Extremely well qualified”), with a 3 (“Qualified”) usually considered a passing score that indicates college-level competence.

But where do these scaled scores come from? Most exams consist of a multiple-choice portion and a free-response portion. Your scores on those two sections combine to form a composite score, which is then converted to your scaled score from 1-5.

Let's break down multiple-choice and free-response scoring just a bit further.

Multiple-choice section

Multiple-choice scoring is straightforward—a computer totals your correct answers, with no penalties for incorrect answers or unanswered questions. For that reason, it's a good idea to attempt every question, selecting your best guess if you're not sure of the right answer.

Free-response section

The free-response section is scored by a team of AP teachers and college professors at the annual AP Reading in June. Readers evaluate students' understanding of the content and how well they express complex ideas. This part of the exam underscores the importance of not just knowing your stuff but also communicating it effectively. Usually, you won't lose points for small mistakes like the occasional spelling error, but you'll want to make sure details like spelling and grammar don't get in the way of a reader's ability to comprehend what you've written.

The College Board releases FRQs, rubrics, and sample responses every year, all of which can be very helpful tools as you're studying. Make sure to check out these resources and the scoring details of each exam you're planning to take.

Putting it all together

Scoring nuances can vary from one AP course to another—and from one year to another. The multiple-choice and free-response sections can be weighted differently on different exams, so it’s important to note that one point on the multiple-choice section is often not equivalent to one point on the free-response section.

To calculate your final score, the weighted combination of your raw scores is converted to a scaled score between 1 and 5. The conversion is test-dependent, so a weighted composite score may convert to a different scaled score from administration to administration.

Your AP teacher or a private tutor can help you navigate the ins and outs of the specific exams you're prepping for.

What score should I aim for?

The score you're aiming for will depend on several factors, including your desired college major, the schools you're applying to, whether you're hoping to get college credit for the course, and so on. In many cases, a score of 4 or 5 will be eligible for college credit and showcase your mastery of the subject.

Consult with your college counselor or an expert tutor to set goals that make sense for your individual situation.

Need more individualized advice?

The recommendations above are general suggestions. If you have specific questions, reach out to our experts here. We’re happy to help in any way we can.


About ArborBridge

ArborBridge is the global leader in innovative, digital, one-on-one tutoring. With nearly a decade of experience teaching students online, ArborBridge supports students of all kinds: home schoolers, AP students, test preppers, and more. Our tutors specialize in creating personalized plans and in providing compassionate support for students and families.

Erin Ohsie-Frauenhofer

About Erin Ohsie-Frauenhofer

As one of the highest-performing tutors in ArborBridge’s history, Erin coaches tutors and develops tools and trainings to disrupt old habits and empower new strengths. With a Master of Arts in Teaching from Brown University, Erin worked as a classroom teacher and student services director prior to joining ArborBridge in 2017. Her decade of success as an educator has prepared her to ensure that programs are tailored to individual students’ needs.

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