Deciding whether to take AP exams

My senior S is wanting to opt out of his AP exams this year. I am trying to understand what the benefits are of him taking them.

His AP classes are AP Physics 2, AP Calc BC, AP Env. Science, and AP Stat. He will be a physics major. He has heard from about half of his schools and is now waiting for the UCs and University of Washington.

For his physics and calculus classes, it seems like as a physics major, the colleges would require or strongly advise freshmen to take those classes at the college. I understand that at some schools for some majors, there is a sequence of classes you are required to take, so even if you have AP credit, they won’t let you count it. How do I find the pathway for his major at each of his possible schools and how do I figure out which classes he would get credit for? And even if he could get credit for the classes, would that be the best idea? I can’t imagine that the high school level classes really are the equivalent of a college course.

If he were on a waitlist for a UC and this waitlist went deep into the summer, i.e., July-August, could having good AP scores help? I saw that scores will not be released until July, and I don’t know if he would be willing to wait that long to decide where he will be in the fall.

Could not taking the tests impact college acceptances?

He said that he will and is required to do all the work in the class even if he is not taking the AP exam. He has given me no reason to doubt this statement was he is maintaining his grades.

I don’t know if we can get a refund as I’ve already paid for the exams, but I am assuming we will be able to.

What are the pros and cons of opting out of AP tests senior year?


You can.

In terms of the AP exams, I would certainly take calc as he may place out of the intro courses. Very few colleges will force someone to take their version of calc 1 or 2 if they aced the AP exam. If he is not confident with his math placement, he can look at old finals at the college. AP Physics 2 and stats will do nothing for a physics major as those courses are not calc-based. Those 2, along with APES, will be elective credit at best.

Most colleges have their AP credit policies online. Most colleges also have their major requirements on line an will indicate whether AP credit can be applied to the major.

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My experience is that I probably agree with this, depending on his comfort with Calc.

Physics 2 usually gets credit for a “physics for non-STEM students” course, if anything. Stats is similar, as both are non-Calc based.

ES may get credit, but unlikely for a class that a Physics major would need. My older D ended up with 20 of these basically-unneeded credits, which helped for housing/scheduling priority, but not much else.

Calc depends on his comfort level with the topic. My D took BC but felt she needed to take Calc 1 in college. She found it much more difficult than Calc BC and is glad she took it. Many students at her admitted student days suggested the same.

My other D, on the other hand, had 100 averages in every math course she’s taken, including BC as a Junior, is a multi time-AIME qualifier, etc., and I’m comfortable with her placing out of a freshman Calc 1 class.

I don’t know the refund date. My kids took many AP classes, and I had literally nothing to do with registering for college classes, but I know they helped with being able to register early, and take fewer classes, even if they didn’t to skip a required class (they just counted towards other requirements). My sophomore is technically a junior, on schedule to graduate a year early (started with 30 credits), saving $50,000. At our HS, tests are not optional, in order to stay in the class the exams must be paid for the second week of September. They also take a final in addition to the exam.

I have a different perspective. My son is a high stat, very responsible and hard working kid. He’s also applying to the UCs so he has that lurking possibility of being waitlisted as well. The thing is, he’s tired of it all this year. He isn’t taking any AP exams. I would rather him not resent taking them this year and arrive at school next year excited and ready to go.

We are lucky because my S21 finished Calc BC last year, so that exam is already taken with a 5. I do agree with the others that Calc is a good one to do. I am afraid asking your son to take any more than that this year, when he has already said that he doesn’t want to take them, could end up backfiring as time goes on. These kids have really been through a lot!
Good luck! It’s quite difficult to figure out the best course this year. It’s so good that you care enough to really think about how you advise him.

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I would personally have your student take the AP tests. While it won’t help at all with admission in the US, it can help in other ways depending on the school If he’s going to skip one, I’d skip physics.

FWIW, my D started college as a second semester sophomore (one class shy of a junior) - The only classes she used AP credit to skip courses were for calc and her gen eds. But, she had priority registration for courses and housing, and it freed up her schedule to take a series of courses for a certification, and she can easily add a minor or lighten up the rest of her semesters.

If he’s going to be working hard and keeping up with his courses anyway, the AP test shouldn’t be that big of a deal to prepare for and take…


Thanks everyone for your input. TBH it’s too hard to see what each college may give him credit for–there are 11 total–but it sounds like there could be other benefits to taking the exams beyond college credit, and maybe AP Stat and APES could be used as elective credit?

For the people who said that AP credits allowed priority registration, etc., is that because they came in above freshman level?

Perhaps he won’t feel as overwhelmed if he can drop the physics exam.

This is going to be very college specific. Some colleges prioritize registration based on number of credits; others are based on year of expected graduation.


AP physics 2 will not get advanced placement anyway for a physics major, since physics majors must start with calculus-based physics. Generic credit that it may give may be eliminated after taking physics in college (UC policy is not to give credit for both AP and college courses that cover similar material).

AP calculus BC is often useful for advanced placement, since repeating calculus 1 and 2 will be uninteresting for a student who knows the subject well. In addition, having to start in calculus 1 will delay starting the calculus-based physics sequence at many universities where the first calculus-based physics course is taken after completing calculus 1. If he gets advanced placement in math, he can try the university’s old calculus 1 and 2 final exams to check his knowledge by the university’s standards.

AP environmental science and AP statistics will not be useful for a physics major, although there may be an outside chance of AP environmental science fulfilling a general education requirement, or getting effectively generic credits.

Summary: better to take the AP calculus BC test. But he can skip AP physics 2 since it is unlikely to be useful. The other two would mainly be for generic credit.

Which 11? Most colleges will have a listing if you web search “[college name] AP credit”.

If lots of UCs are on your list, check AP credits | UC Admissions and click on campus names for campus and division level subject credit. However, if UCB is on your list, you need to look in department web pages as well (physics major: The Major and Minor Program | UC Berkeley Physics ).

We are also wondering about this question. With regard to those schools still in Distance learning mode (my dds), it appears the only date possible to take the digital version of Calc AB is june 9th. That is a full week after my dds school finishes for the year.

I’m actually quite livid. As if these kids haven’t had enough of a rotten year and a half, the AP adminstrators now think they can keep them stressed out and doing their AP tests even when school is officially finished.

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Really should have been its own thread.

Some schools in distance learning are still offering in-person tests on one of the other dates. The digital exams have their own disadvantages, especially the STEM ones which are easier with pencil and paper. Plus some exams are only offered in-person.

If it makes you feel better, our schools don’t start until after Labor Day, and end the very end of June, therefore our students start AP classes more than a month late and really have to scramble to prepare for exams in May.

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Actually, I forgot that there were some on his list that he ended up not applying to, so there are 9 schools total, 4 are UCs. He did not apply to UBC. What I meant was it seems like it is hard to determine for each of the 9 schools which sequence of courses he would have to take as a physics major and whether the credits from his AP classes would allow him to pass out of some of the classes. I appreciate your insight.

I talked to him this afternoon and told him that the wisdom seemed to favor taking the AP tests, and if he wanted to skip, physics would be the one to skip.

Thanks. After considering everyone’s comments, I think he should take some of the exams. Maybe he doesn’t have to take 4 of them, but there could be benefits to having credit for the exams, which will become more apparent later.

Which 9 schools?

Most schools should have AP credit listings somewhere on their web sites. They should also have physics major course requirements somewhere on their web sites.

And if he wants to take only one, take calculus BC.

Our schools usually start mid August, except for this year because they were toying with getting ready to go back to in person. Of course, our kids are being stuffed with material and still stuck in virtual classes. Plus, it shortened this year’s summer break too. It’s awful.


He doesn’t need to make a decision right now, correct? Once he knows which schools he gets into by late March, couldn’t he investigate their AP credit policies and decide then?

Yes, that’s correct. I guess I was thinking he had to make a decision now, but he has some time. After all of that, I think he’s now leaning toward taking all of them based on the info I got from CC.

UCD, UCLA, UCI, UCSB, UW, University of AZ, University of Utah, CU Boulder, Colorado State

But as someone mentioned, and what eventually occurred to me, he can wait to see where he gets accepted to see what their policies are.

I’m not the one having to take the tests, but I think it’s better to take them, then if he doesn’t do well, or if they don’t count then so be it. But if he scores well enough for them to count and we find that out later, he will be glad he took them.