If you read your local newspaper, you might 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.
2020 AP Test Changes Due to COVID-19
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What Is a Perfect AP Score and What Does It Signify?
If you earn a perfect score on an AP exam, that means that you received every point possible on the exam. In other words, you answered every multiple-choice question correctly and scored the maximum amount of points on every free-response question. That's pretty impressive!
How does this relate to the score you get from 1-5? Well, if you get a perfect score, you'll 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.
Basically, 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 AP score report, but it's certainly something worth reporting to colleges if it does happen because it's so impressive and unusual.
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 any years since.
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 2019. 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 2019, as well as the percentage of test takers who received a 5 in each exam.
2019 Perfect AP Scores as Compared to 5s
|AP Exam||# Perfect Scores||# Test Takers||% Perfect Scores||% 5s|
|Computer Science A||601||69,685||0.86245%||26.7%|
|Comp Sci Principles||234||96,105||0.24348%||13.8%|
|English Lang & Comp||2||573,171||0.00035%||9.9%|
|US Gov and Politics||36||314,825||0.01143%||12.9%|
|Physics 1: Algebra||3||161,071||0.00186%||6.7%|
|Physics 2: Algebra||1||23,802||0.00420%||14.2%|
|Physics C: Mechanics||1||57,131||0.00175%||37.7%|
|Studio Art 2-D Design||16||37,749||0.04239%||21%|
|Studio Art 3-D Design||5||6,040||0.08278%||10%|
|Studio Art Drawing||21||21,769||0.09647%||20.8%|
|United States History||12||496,573||0.00242%||11.8%|
As you can see, while at least 6% of test takers scored a 5 on each AP exam, the perfect scores are teeny, teeny, teeny percentages. AP Research and Computer Science A had the highest percentage of perfect scorers by a fairly large margin, but even those have minuscule counts of 0.954% and 0.862%, respectively.
Otherwise, if a test isn't in this chart, there were no perfect scores. AP exams with no perfects in 2019 were as follows:
- Art History
- Calculus AB
- Chinese Language and Culture
- English Literature and Composition
- Environmental Science
- French Language and Culture
- German Language and Culture
- Comparative Government and Politics
- Human Geography
- Italian Language and Culture
- Japanese Language and Culture
- Music Theory
- Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism
- Spanish Literature and Culture
In sum, perfect scores on AP exams are a super-rare occurrence.
Super-rare like emerald jewels.
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Is Getting a Perfect AP 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 on a test for which perfect scores are marginally more common, such as Computer Science A or Computer Science Principles.
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 for which 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, such as the SAT/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, for which you'll either get a perfect score or 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. Just aim for a 5, do your best, and it could happen—but don't stress about it.
Reach for the stars! And by stars, I mean a 5.
Key Takeaways: What Is a Perfect AP Score?
While it won't give you any more college credit or show up on your score report, a perfect score on an AP exam—that's full credit for all exam portions—is an impressive accomplishment. Only a very 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. Ultimately, you'd be much better served working for perfect marks on the SAT/ACT and SAT Subject tests.
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 for college, figure out whether AP exams or SAT Subject Tests will be more important for you.
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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.