What is the best way to use AP score calculators? In this post we will discuss how to get the most out of them—and when you shouldn't use them at all.
2020 AP Test Changes Due to COVID-19
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Where Do I Get an AP Score Calculator?
Before we talk about the best ways to use score calculators, you need to learn where to find one for your particular AP class!
Each AP test uses a different scoring system. There are no "official" AP score calculators released by College Board, so teachers and test prep companies have to make their own.
To get an AP score calculator, first talk to your teacher—AP teachers often have a formula they use for grading practice tests.
If your teacher doesn't have one or you're self-studying, get a prep book for your AP class. Prep books written for individual tests will always have a score calculator.
Finally, look online—many websites have approximate score calculators you can use for each AP class.
A word of caution: all score calculators are approximations since the scaling of an AP test changes year to year to keep the difficulty level the same. For example, 100 points could be enough for a 5 one year, but in the next year it would only get a 4. We'll talk about how to compensate for that below.
Our Calculator Example: AP English Language and Composition
Throughout this post we'll be using AP English Language and Composition as an example as we talk about score calculators. It's the most popular AP test currently. Over 500,000 students took it in 2014!
There are 55 possible multiple choice points (1 point per question) worth 45% of your score, and 3 essays (worth 9 points each) for 27 possible points worth 55% of your score.
This is the calculator we are using:
(Multiple Choice Score x 1.23) + (Essays x 3.05) = Total Score
That total score is translated to the final composite AP score of 1-5 like so:
- 5: 104-150
- 4: 92-103
- 3: 76-91
- 2: 50-75
- 1: 0-49
It seems a bit complicated, but once you get used to the formula it's easy to use, and it can help you design a target score for the AP test. Using this calculator, we'll now explore the do's and don'ts of using AP score calculators.
Do's Of Using Score Calculators
Grade Your Practice Exams With Them
We highly recommend taking the extra step of grading any practice AP tests you take. Getting a predicted 1-5 AP score is a great way to get a snapshot of how you're shaping up to do on the test. So instead of just getting a free response and multiple choice raw score, you can put those scores in context and get an idea of how much they need to improve before exam day.
To use AP English as an example, if you took a practice exam and got a 30/55 on multiple choice and 12/27 on the essays, you might be discouraged.
But using the calculator, you find you get a final score of 73—which is just a few points away from passing! Which isn't so shabby for a practice test. So instead of feeling disappointed, you can figure out exactly how much you need to improve to pass your next practice test.
You can also get a sense of how much score improvements will help you. To use our example, you might realize "If I go from a 4 to a 6 on all my essays, I could not only pass, but get a 4 overall!" (If you got 30/55 on multiple choice and 18/27 on the essays, you would get a total score of 92, which would just barely get you a 4.)
This helps you create manageable improvement goals. Remember, you don't need to get every single point on an AP test to get a 5. And you certainly don't need every single point to pass.
Come Up With a Detailed Target Score
AP score calculators allow you to understand both the multiple choice and free response scores you need for certain final AP scores. This can help you decide where to focus your studying efforts. You might go for all-around improvement, or you could target your studying on just the free response or multiple choice.
On AP English Language, if you're going for a 5, you could go for near-perfect essays and have more wiggle room on multiple choice, or go for nearly-perfect multile choice and aim for middle-of-the-road essays.
For example, if you get 8s on all your essays and 35/55 on multiple choice, you would get a 115 total score, which is pretty comfortably a 5. On the flipside, if you got 6s on your essays and 50/55 on multiple choice, you would also get a 115 total score.
This allows you to play to your strengths on the AP exam -- and not overwhelm yourself trying to be perfect at everything. If you're a strong writer, you could aim for 8s on your essays and not worry about making your multiple choice score perfect. Or if you're great at taking multiple choice tests, you could aim for a 50 on multiple choice and try and make your essays decent. In short, you don't have to burn yourself out if you use a score calculator to set target scores for each section.
Go For Consistency
Don't take one practice exam, calculate a 5 using the score calculator, and stop studying. Use the score calculator every time you practice, and make an effort to take at least two or three full-length practice exams before the real thing.
Also try your hardest on practice free response questions and multiple choice sections your teacher may assign in class.
Why? Especially when it comes to essays, you could be in trouble if you're hit with an essay that you're not well-equipped to answer. If you stop studying after you get a 5 on one practice test, you won't be prepared for whatever the AP test throws at you. Only by practicing consistently can you be adequately prepared or whatever questions appear on the AP test.
By practicing a lot, you make sure that 5 is all-but-guaranteed, not just a fluke. In short, practice makes perfect—or at least it makes 5s!
Don'ts of Using AP Score Calculators
Don't Use Them Too Early in the Year
Don't worry about practicing for AP exams in the fall!
There is no point in taking and grading a practice AP exam early in the year. That would be like taking a final exam for a class before winter break! You still have a lot to learn, so taking an exam early on would just stress you out. The score calculators are best used to inform you how you're shaping up to do on the exam, so using them too early will demoralize you.
You shouldn't expect yourself to be able to tackle the AP exam before the first semester is over! Especially on the hardest exams. Wait until the first semester is over before taking practice exams and grading them.
Don't Panic If You Don't Get the Scores You Want in Practice
Even though it can be frustrating to get a 1 or 2 on a practice exam, don't despair. Remember that you're practicing to find your weak points and improve them. Getting a low score in practice can be good because it shows you mistakes you are apt to make so you can learn from them.
Think of it this way: any mistake you make while practicing is one you won't make on the real thing as long as you study.
Even if you get a 1 or a 2 on a practice exam, that doesn't mean you're doomed to fail on the real thing. The key is to analyze your mistakes so you can learn from them and improve for the real AP exam.
Don't Assume AP Score Calculators are 100% Accurate
Simply put, they're not! As we discussed above, they can only approximate your real score.
Since AP tests are equated each year so scores are consistent, a raw score that's good enough for a 5 on one exam could only be good enough for a 4 on another.
This means when setting target scores, be generous. For example, if you're going for a 5, don't just practice for the lowest possible raw score that could work according to your calculator—aim for many points above that!
For AP English, we would set the 5 threshold 10 points higher, 114. We would set the passing threshold (a score of 3) at 86 instead of 76. By doing this, we leave wiggle room for year-to-year test scaling differences and unexpected mistakes you might make on the exam.
AP Calculators are an excellent tool to help you get the most out of your AP exam practice and set smart target scores. Just beware of using them too early, and don't let them make you complacent!
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Halle Edwards graduated from Stanford University with honors. In high school, she earned 99th percentile ACT scores as well as 99th percentile scores on SAT subject tests. She also took nine AP classes, earning a perfect score of 5 on seven AP tests. As a graduate of a large public high school who tackled the college admission process largely on her own, she is passionate about helping high school students from different backgrounds get the knowledge they need to be successful in the college admissions process.