You may have read this article about which AP subjects to self study. But should you self study them in the first place?
The truthful but less satisfying answer is: it depends. But more often than not, self studying for APs is something you should do if you can get credit and if you don’t want to put in all of the effort that a AP high school course normally requires. I know one student who self studied over 5 APs and took over 12 APs total, and now he is able to skip an entire semester of college. That is around $1200 for the AP tests versus around a $20,000 tuition per semester, not including the cost of time and we all know that time is money.
There is also the benefit of getting out of intro-level courses that are often extremely difficult in order to weed out students. A student at Duke University told me that she regretted not taking the AP economics exam in her senior year at high school, as the economics 101 class at Duke is notorious for being difficult. On the other hand, another college student stated that she regretted getting out of so many intro level classes, as it made her first semester in freshman year incredibly overwhelming and demanding.
So, if you’re self studying an AP exam, make sure you know what you’re studying for. If it is to get out of an elective that functions only as a major requirement, taking the AP should be no question. However, if it is to take a more advanced class, ask yourself if you are studying the subject “to the test” or in actual depth. I know a large amount of students who have gotten 5s on APs by studying only a few days prior to the exam. Indeed, results can be achieved through crashing through a review book and memorizing answers to questions or topics that the AP exam always include. However, if the AP subject is something that will be central to your major, taking the exam for a studied-to-the-test 4 or 5.
For AP physics C at least, cramming all of the material from both exams mechanics and electricity and magnetism almost guarantees a thorough understanding of torque to Faraday’s law impossible, The same can be said of AP chemistry. AP biology and environmental sciences, on the other hand, are more memorization oriented and are classes that “you forget and have to relearn in college anyway” quote a student on a pre-med track. Nevertheless, AP science are the most likely to gain credit for introductory level classes. Most engineering majors accept AP physics and chemistry. but still require students to take an english class even if the student has AP credit for english language or literature.
However, the AP science classes are by a majority consensus, not the easiest of APs. Exams such as human geography and psychology are more likely to be considered “easy”. These subjects typically can only gain credit for electives if at all as each credit policies differ from college to college. But if you’ve already taken many APs, there is a high chance that one of those credits cannot get you out of class and can only be used for electives. Of course, there is the potential scholar award from taking the a certain number of APs and scoring a certain average, but it is only a nominal award; the CollegeBoard gives no monetary scholarships. Furthermore, a number of students who have taken AP human geography and psychology stated that The verdict? “Easy” APs that are for padding your college resume are not worth it. So unless you plan on majoring in psychology or human geography, there are other APs that can be more productive towards your future.
AP languages are another exam that many current college students tell me that they either regret not taking, or are extremely grateful that they did take them. College level language courses are often much more difficult than high school level courses and AP language exams can often (fully or partially) fulfill that language requirement, even for Ivy leagues that are notorious for not accepting any credit.
So should you self study “easy” AP exams? Yes. Nearly all colleges accept credit for elective courses, which can provide room for students to take courses that they are truly interested in or that help fulfill their major. More importantly, APs can potentially save a decent portion of tuition costs if you have enough credit to graduate early. Of course, take that advice with a grain of salt, as getting a 5 on the AP is rarely representative of how you will do in a college level class.