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What Is Pre-AP? How Are Pre-AP Classes Different?

Posted by Christine Sarikas | Dec 25, 2017 12:00:00 PM

Advanced Placement (AP), Other High School



What is a pre-AP class? Has your school started to offer pre-AP classes or are you wondering if they should? Have you heard about the College Board’s new official pre-AP classes and aren’t sure what they are?

This guide is here to answer all your pre-AP questions. We’ll explain what pre-AP is, how official pre-AP classes differ from unofficial pre-AP classes, important changes coming to pre-AP, and what subjects the official pre-AP classes will cover.


What Is Pre-AP?

What is a pre-AP class? Pre-AP classes are a fairly new term for classes that are meant to prepare high school students for AP classes (college-level classes taken in high school) as well as college classes themselves. Pre-AP classes are typically taken by high school freshman, but some courses are also meant for sophomores.

Can any school decide it wants to have pre-AP and just assign the title to some of its classes? Yes, but not for much longer. The College Board has recently announced that it will launch an official pre-AP program in the fall of 2018 (learn more about the official pre-AP classes in the “What Official Pre-AP Classes Are Available?” section further down). Beginning in the fall of 2022, all classes that are labelled as “pre-AP” must be submitted to the College Board and have their curriculum approved in order to be called pre-AP. Official pre-AP classes must also be available to all students in a grade, not just honors or advanced students.

Currently, however, there are both official and unofficial pre-AP classes, and although both are meant to prepare students for future college classes,  the two types are actually quite different from each other.


Unofficial Pre-AP Classes

Until 2022, any school can give certain classes the “pre-AP” title without having to follow the curriculum or rules of official pre-AP classes. Unofficial pre-AP classes are usually similar to honors classes. They are more challenging than regular-level classes and will likely have more homework and more rigorous tests to help you prepare for the advanced level of AP classes. You may need to have certain grades or pass a test to be accepted into an unofficial pre-AP class.


Official Pre-AP Classes

Official pre-AP classes are those that have had their curriculum approved by the College Board. Beginning in 2022, they will be the only pre-AP classes allowed.

The College Board created pre-AP classes as a way to introduce all high school students to the skills and resources they'll be using in college classes. Unlike regular AP classes, which are often only for advanced students, official pre-AP classes must be open access, which means students at all learning levels must be able to take them. Pre-AP classes are meant to be the standard curriculum for a course, not an honors or advanced program. If your school has an official pre-AP course, then all students must be enrolled in it. Schools can’t exclude anyone from a pre-AP class based on his or her grades or aptitude for the subject.

It's possible for a school to have an honors pre-AP class, but only if they also have a regular-level pre-AP class in the same subject as well. This could mean that, instead of having regular and honors biology, a school would just have pre-AP biology and honors pre-AP biology.

When a class is an official pre-AP class, that doesn't necessarily mean it's an advanced class or more difficult than regular classes. Pre-AP just means the class has more of a focus on preparing you for future college classes. You'll still be studying the same major topics in a pre-AP class that you would in a regular class, but the way the lessons are taught and how you are assessed will be slightly different and more similar to a college class.

This may mean you'll analyze more texts similar to those studied in college classes, practice critical thinking skills, and learn specific lessons that are part of the pre-AP program. Since these are skills all students should be learning, pre-AP classes aren't meant for just advanced students.




How Does Pre-AP Differ From Regular Advanced Placement?

Because the names are so similar, it’s easy to confuse pre-AP and regular AP classes. However, they’re quite different from each other, and the three major differences are discussed below.


#1: You Can’t Get College Credit for Pre-AP Classes

AP classes are taught at the same level as college classes; therefore, passing one means you can pass its college counterpart. This is why many colleges give college credit for passing AP classes.

Pre-AP classes are still taught at the high school level, so although they can be more difficult than regular high school classes, you won’t get college credit for them since they aren’t as difficult as regular college classes.


#2: There Is No Final AP Exam to Pass in a Pre-AP Class

For most students, the most important part of every AP class they take is the final AP class in the spring. These exams, which are scored from 1 to 5, are important for showing colleges how well you understood the material and possibly getting college credit.

Pre-AP classes don’t have final AP exams like that. Just like a regular class you’ll probably end the year with a final exam or project, but there’s no official pre-AP exam you need to take or pass.


#3: Pre-AP Classes May or May Not Give Your Transcript a Boost

Some students and parents get confused as to how important college think pre-AP classes are. Does a pre-AP class look as good as an AP class on your high school transcript?

No, since, as mentioned above, AP classes are significantly more difficult than pre-AP classes. Currently, many colleges will view a pre-AP class on a high school transcript the same way they view an honors class. However, once official pre-AP classes become more widespread, colleges will likely stop viewing pre-AP classes as honors or advanced classes since official pre-AP classes are meant to be taught to students of all abilities. An honors pre-AP class will likely be viewed the same as a regular honors class.


What Official Pre-AP Classes Are Available?

Beginning in fall 2018, five official pre-AP classes will launch in schools. These classes are all official pre-AP classes and will follow curriculum designed by the College Board. The five classes are all meant for 9th graders, but more pre-AP classes, including some for students in other grades, are expecting in coming years. Many of them include more of an emphasis on critical reading and analysis skills than regular classes typically would. Below are the five official pre-AP classes, each with a short description. You can find out more about the pre-AP classes on the College Board’s pre-AP website.

  • Pre-AP Algebra 1: Focuses primarily on linear relationships as well as other building blocks of math. There will be an emphasis on using math skills to solve real-world problems as well as being able to support or refute mathematical arguments.
  • Pre-AP Biology: Gives students a foundation on basic biological concepts, both macro and micro. Students will read higher-level biology texts and learn analytical reading and writing skills useful for upper-level and college science classes.
  • Pre-AP English 1: Teaches students close reading skills, analytical writing, and language skills while reading a variety of complex texts similar to what you'd read in intro-level college English classes. 
  • Pre-AP World History and Geography: Focuses on how history and geography are related, the importance of evaluating evidence from historical texts, and how to explain historical relationships. There's an emphasis on identifying and analyzing relationships between historical figures and events, as well as incorporating evidence into written and oral arguments.
  • Pre-AP Visual and Performing Arts: There are four specific courses in this group: pre-AP Dance, pre-AP Music, pre-AP Theater, and pre-AP Visual Arts. Compared to many regular classes, these pre-AP classes focus more on analysis and interpretation of important works, peer-to-peer dialogue, experimentation, and reflective writing to prepare students for college-level classes in these subjects.




Conclusion: What Is Pre-AP?

Pre-AP classes used to be a title used by schools to designate honors classes or other rigorous classes designed to prepare students for AP classes in future years.

Beginning in fall of 2018, the College Board will launch five official pre-AP classes. These classes are open-access, which means students of all abilities must be allowed to take the class. Instead of being honors classes, official pre-AP classes are meant to be the standard class in a school to teach a subject. Unlike regular AP classes, you can’t get college credit for pre-AP classes, and there is no final AP exam to take at the end of the year.


What's Next?

Want to learn more about Advanced Placement classes? Check out our introductory guide to AP classes and tests to learn everything you need to know!

Does your school offer AP and IB? Are you curious about the differences between the two? Take a look at this article to learn whether AP or IB will be a better fit for your needs. 

If you're taking the SAT or ACT soon, you'll want to be well prepared. Check out our ultimate study guide for the SAT and ultimate study guide for the ACT for everything you need to score high!


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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Christine Sarikas
About the Author

Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.

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