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What Is an AP Test Perfect Score? Do You Need One?

Posted by Ellen McCammon | Mar 25, 2016 3:00:00 PM

Advanced Placement (AP)

 

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If you read your local newspaper, you may have seen an article about someone from your area getting a “perfect score” on an AP exam. But what is an AP test perfect score, and how is it different from a 5?

Keep reading to find out what an AP exam perfect score is, what it means, how many students get one, and if it’s a goal you should be aiming for.

 

What Is a Perfect AP Score and What Does It Signify?

If you receive a perfect score on an AP exam, that means that you received every point possible on the exam. So you answered every multiple-choice question correctly and scored the maximum amount of points on every free response question. Pretty impressive!

How does this relate to the score you get from 1-5? Well, if you get a perfect score you will definitely get a 5 on the exam. But your 5 won’t be worth more than anyone else’s 5. Additionally, you don’t need to get anything close to a perfect score to get a 5 on the exam.

In other words, the fact that you got a perfect score doesn’t really increase the value of your standard score on the 5-point scale. In fact, your perfect score is not even reported on your score report—just the 5. 

When a student achieves a perfect score, the College Board usually informs the school directly in the fall. The school then informs the student. This often seems to lead to a level of minor local celebrity, with perfect scorers frequently being interviewed by local newspapers and having articles written up about them on school websites. As mentioned above, the perfect score doesn’t appear on your score report, but it’s certainly something worth reporting to colleges if it does happen because it is impressive and unusual.

 

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A perfect score would make you the slightly different yellow locker in this row of orange lockers.

 

How Many Students Get a Perfect Score on an AP Exam?

Just how unusual is it to get a perfect score on an AP exam? It depends on the exam, but no matter the test, it’s a rare feat.

The College Board released a document of 2013 AP test perfect score stats, but it doesn’t appear they’ve created a similar document for 2014 or 2015.

However, a series of tweets by the College Board’s head of AP, Trevor Packer, reveals all the info about how many students got perfect scores in 2015. I’ve assembled the info into a chart that shows how many perfect scores there were by number and by percentage of test-takers in 2015, as well as the percentage of test takers who received a 5 in each exam.

 

2015 Perfect Scores as Compared to Fives

Exam

# Perfect Scores

# Test-Takers

% Perfect Scores

% 5s

Calculus AB

3

302,532

.00099%

24.6%

Calculus BC

1

118,707

.00084%

48.4%

AP Chemistry

3

152,745

.00196%

10.1%

Computer Science A

66

48,994

.1347%

21.3%

French Language

1

22,084

.0045%

18.4%

US Gov and Politics

3

282,571

.00106%

11.9%

Latin

1

6,571

.0152%

13.2%

Macroeconomics

18

126,267

.01426%

16.1%

Microeconomics

49

78,408

.0625%

15.9%

Physics C: E&M

1

22,789

.0044%

33.5%

Physics C: Mechanics

6

52,678

.0114%

32.4%

Psychology

4

276,971

.0014%

18.7%

Spanish Language

7

144,561

.0048%

24.6%

Statistics

2

195,526

.001%

14.3%

 

As you can see, while at least ten percent of test takers scored a 5 on each exam, the perfect scores are teeny, teeny, teeny percentages. Microeconomics and Computer Science A had the highest percentage of perfect scorers by a fairly large margin, but even those have minuscule counts of .0625% and .1347%, respectively. 

There were a small number of perfect scores for the AP Art portfolios, but since those aren’t graded via an exam, I left them off the chart.

Otherwise, if a test isn’t in this chart, there were no perfect scores. AP Exams with no perfects in 2015 were: Art History, Biology, Chinese, English Language, English Literature, Environmental Science, European History, German, Comparative Government and Politics, Human Geography, Italian, Japanese, Physics 1, Physics 2, Spanish Literature, US History, World History. 

In sum: perfect scores on AP exams are a super-rare occurrence.

 

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Super-rare like emerald jewels.

 

Is Getting a Perfect Score a Realistic Goal?

Given how few students get them, it’s not a very attainable or realistic goal to actively try for a perfect score on an AP exam, even for a test where perfect scores are marginally more common like Microeconomics or Computer Science A.

Even if you have total mastery of a subject, just one tiny mistake on test day will prevent you from getting a perfect score. Additionally, you will never know how close you were if you don’t get a perfect score—raw point totals aren’t reported to students. You could get 179/180 points and never know anything except that you got a 5. That makes a perfect score a frustrating goal in addition to a difficult one!

The marginal benefit is also not that high—a small level of brief local celebrity and an impressive factoid for your college applications. If you really want to stand out to colleges, there are better ways to develop your application that are more within your control and where your work will pay off more directly.

In terms of test scores, it makes much more sense to work on getting top marks on your standardized college entrance exams like the SAT, the ACT, and SAT Subject Tests. Any solid preparation work you put in there will pay off in your reported scores, unlike on an AP exam, where you either get a perfect or you never find out your raw score.

The truth is, based on local news profiles, most AP test perfect scorers are surprised to have gotten a perfect score and weren’t specifically aiming for one. So, while it’s not impossible to get a perfect score on an AP exam, particularly in a subject you are very gifted in, it’s not really worth your time to specifically aim for a perfect. Aim for a 5, do your best, and it could happen, but don’t stress over it.

 

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Reach for the stars! And by stars, I mean a 5.

 

Key Takeaways

While it won’t give you any more college credit or show up on your score report, a perfect score on an AP exam—full credit for all exam portions—is an impressive accomplishment. Only a small number of students get perfect scores each year. 

However, I don’t recommend making a perfect score your goal, simply because the benefits as opposed to getting a 5 are only marginal. You’d be much better served working for perfect marks on the SAT, ACT, and SAT Subject tests.

 

What's Next?

Studying for your AP exams? Learn when you need to start preparing for your AP tests to get that coveted 5.

If you're taking a variety of tests, figure out whether AP exams or Subject Tests are more important for you. 

Wondering what the revised SAT format means for you? Or maybe you're taking the ACT and looking for all of our ACT study guide resources!

 

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

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Ellen McCammon
About the Author

Ellen has extensive education mentorship experience and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in all areas of life. She received a BA from Harvard in Folklore and Mythology and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.



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