Most AP tests are very challenging, and scores don't always turn out the way you imagined they would. If you're concerned that you've forfeited any chance of getting college credit, can you retake an AP exam? In this article, I'll show you how you can bounce back from a low AP score to end up with college credits and AP Scholar Awards.
2021 AP Test Changes Due to COVID-19
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, AP tests will now be held over three different sessions between May and June. Your test dates, and whether or not your tests will be online or on paper, will depend on your school. To learn more about how all of this is going to work and get the latest information on test dates, AP online review, and what these changes means for you, be sure to check out our 2021 AP COVID-19 FAQ article.
Can You Retake AP Exams If You Do Poorly?
First off, can you retake an AP exam? The answer is yes! If you don't do well on an AP exam, you can retake it the next time it's offered the following May.
However, you should consider this decision carefully before committing. If you score a 3 or above on an AP test a retake unless you're absolutely set on earning college credit for your work. Ultimately, your AP score will have minimal impact on your admission chances unless you're applying to the most selective colleges with 1s and 2s.
According to the College Board FAQ, "When we surveyed admission officers, more than 75 percent indicated that a low score on an AP Exam would NOT harm an applicant's admission prospects" (emphasis mine). In other words, the grade you earn in the year-long AP class is more important than are your AP score for admissions purposes.
Retaking AP tests is expensive; it will cost you an extra $94! It's also a pretty big time commitment to take on additional studying on top of a full course load. Really think about whether it's worth it before you settle on your decision.
If you still feel sure that you want to retake the exam, speak to your school's AP Coordinator about registering. You can sign up through your school, just like you did the first time you took the test, except now your teacher won't be helping you through the process. It's completely up to you to track down the coordinator and make arrangements to take the test.
If you want to retake an AP test, you gotta shed the training wheels and ride your big-girl bike over to the guidance office. If you really want to impress them, ride a unicycle.
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Do Both AP Scores Show Up? Which One Counts for AP Scholar Awards?
Your score report will include all your AP scores (including repeats of the same test) unless you choose to withhold or cancel scores. The difference between withholding and canceling scores is that when you cancel your score, it is permanently deleted, as if you never even took the test. There is no fee for canceling a score. Here's the Score Cancellation Form you would need to send to the College Board.
On the other hand, if you choose to withhold your AP score, it won't be seen by colleges, but it will stay on record in case you want to send it later. It costs $10 per score to withhold scores from colleges that you originally indicated on your answer sheet. Here's the Score Withholding Form you'd need to send to the College Board.
The deadline for both withholding and canceling AP scores for tests you took is June 15. If you miss the deadline, all your scores will be sent to the colleges you indicated on your answer sheet.
If you choose to retake an AP test, only your highest score will count toward AP Scholar Awards, even if you don't cancel or withhold your lower score. That means you don't have to worry about your initial score ruining your chances at becoming an AP scholar if you show improvement on your second try.
Never fear, you can still become a scholar with a sweet beard even if you get a low AP score the first time around.
One of the single most important parts of your college application is what classes you choose to take in high school (in conjunction with how well you do in those classes). Our team of PrepScholar admissions experts have compiled their knowledge into this single guide to planning out your high school course schedule. We'll advise you on how to balance your schedule between regular and honors/AP/IB courses, how to choose your extracurriculars, and what classes you can't afford not to take.
Study Tips for Retaking AP Exams
Here are a few important tips to keep in mind as you prepare to retake an AP test. To be successful in improving your score, you'll need to assess your weaknesses critically and study strategically.
#1: Understand Where You Went Wrong Last Time
Your primary goal is to avoid repeating the mistakes you made on your first AP test. Think about why you did poorly and what you can do to prevent those pitfalls this time. Did you wait too long to start studying? Did you take unofficial practice tests that gave you an unrealistic idea of the test's content or difficulty level? Did you rely completely on your class to carry you through the test and find your knowledge lacking? Whatever the case may be, do some reflection to figure out how you can fix these problems and redeem your score a second time around.
You might consider tutoring if you think you did poorly because the subject as a whole was not your strong point or your teacher didn't do a good job of explaining the material. You could even ask one of your peers who did well on the test to give you some studying advice or tutor you on concepts you're having trouble mastering on your own.
#2: Get a High-Quality Review Book
If you're going to retake an AP test, you won't be just finishing up a year of studying the subject in class. As a result, notes and study materials might not be as readily available to you, and it will be harder to structure your time without a teacher and class schedule to guide you.
You should get a review book that covers all the concepts in the course thoroughly so that you have an easy way to study content, plan out your time, and do practice questions. Think of it as a lighter version of self-studying. Usually, Barron's books are a good option for more in-depth surveys of AP courses.
#3: Start Studying Early
One of your problems the first time around might have been that you ended up waiting until the last minute to study. Cramming is a bad idea for AP tests since they cover so much information and expect you to answer questions that require high-level critical thinking. You won't do yourself any favors by skimming the surface.
Start studying at least a couple of months before you take the test. Ideally, you should review concepts throughout the year so that your memory stays fresh and you have time to correct whatever issues you had with the material originally.
You should also take plenty of practice tests so you can keep tabs on your performance and make sure you're improving.
Be the early bird. Get out there and catch your AP worm.
Summary: Can You Retake AP Exams?
You can choose to retake an AP test when it's offered again the following year. If you really need college credit or are concerned about how a low score will look on your application, you might consider this option.
Assuming you retake an AP test and get a better score, that score will be the one that counts toward AP Scholar awards. You can even choose to withhold or cancel your lower score if you don't want it to show up on your record.
Taking an AP test a second time is an expensive commitment, so you should make sure you put some serious effort into studying for it. Try to learn from whatever problems you had the first time around, and avoid cramming or glossing over content areas you don't quite understand.
Ideally, you'll get a high score on your test the first time around. To make sure that happens, read our five-step plan detailing the best way to study for AP exams.
Practice tests are super important when preparing for AP exams. Learn more about where to find the best AP practice tests to use in your studying.
It might be tough to take new AP classes on top of preparing for a retake. Find out how many AP classes you should take in high school and whether it's worth it to load up your schedule.
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Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.