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In high school, college-bound students are bombarded by upperclassmen, teachers, parents, and counselors to take as many AP Classes and AP Exams as possible. While, of course, challenging yourself with hard classes and testing your knowledge with an exam is a good way to perfect study skills and find topics you are interested in, sometimes they are (bear with me) unnecessary.

The Scores

Everybody wants to score as high as possible on AP exams. 4s and 5s can translate into college credit and, with enough of them, College board awards. In the long run, the exams can save thousands of dollars, and parents push their kids to take as many as possible. This is ultimately really problematic and stressful; students should be able to decide what exams they want to take based on what material they are more comfortable with, and the obsession over standardized test scores to determine one’s academic “worth” is really silly.

The Money

Okay, each exam is over 80 dollars. That is a tad bit ridiculous. There are policies in place for students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, but they still require the student to pay around 20 dollars for exam. With the obsession over high test scores and college credit, this can be a major barrier for those with a lower income. Some schools even force students to take AP exams if they took the class, which can place a really heavy burden on their economic situation.
Alas, some schools pay for AP Exam costs. If you attend a high school where your expenses are paid, consider yourself lucky. If you don’t have to think about money when deciding how many/which exams to take, you are privileged! Other students don’t have that luxury – low-income students are just as high achieving as everyone else, and take a lot of AP classes, but cannot always afford to take the exams.

The College Applications

If you’re looking to score 5s to look good on college applications, stop. I’m serious. They don’t care as much as you think they do.
Unfortunately, we still live in a standardized-test-score-oriented-world, but admissions officers care more about SAT and ACT scores than they do about AP Exam scores. A lot more. Like, a lot lot more. I got into one of the top Liberal Arts Colleges in the United States with a 1 on my AP Bio Exam. It is possible, and it won’t kill you. AP Scores are used for placement or college credit, not admission (that is unless you want to ‘wow’ them by self-studying, in which case, go you). Even then, SAT Subject Tests can be used for placement, and they can also help you look good on college applications.

The Stress

Take an exam because YOU want to take it, not because there are other people around you forcing you to. Ultimately, you decide what you use your AP scores for (if you use them at all), and you decide whether or not a specific exam is worth the stress. End of story.
Take care of yourself, and don’t unnecessarily stress yourself out over an AP Bio exam you KNOW you’re going to get a 1 on anyway. Especially for seniors or really put-together juniors: if the college you will be attending doesn’t accept a certain AP score, why would you take the test?

Taking a lot of exams can also deter students from scoring high on other exams. It would be hard to really study for an exam you know you can do well on if you’re taking 4 other AP exams and studying for the ACT at the same time. Plenty of people manage to do it, but not everyone is a super-student. Keep that in mind! It is totally okay to pick and choose what exams you want to take based on how comfortable you are with the material and how many exams you can handle. I did it my senior year of high school, and I don’t regret it at all. In fact, it probably allowed me to score higher than I thought possible on my AP Physics C exam (who knew?). It is better to work with a reasonable amount of stress than drown under AP Exam Prep books, trust me.

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the author

Originally from the Philadelphia suburbs, Debra is a first-year college student in Wellesley, Massachusetts. In her free time, you can find her roaming the streets of Boston, attending concerts, bragging about women's colleges, blogging, drinking coffee, and procrastinating. She is a first-generation college student that aspires to go to law school one day and change the world (on a somewhat-small scale).

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