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If the College Board got a grade on how well it runs its Advanced Placement (AP) tests, it would probably get an A-. The big exams are well-organized and contain interesting original thought, and you certainly have to admire the College Board for grading 1 million U.S. history essays by hand in six weeks. But if you said A-, the College Board wouldn't know what you were talking about, because the AP deals in numbers rather than letters. The following sections explain what this scoring means, how it affects your college credit, and what impact certain scores have.

Converting letters to numbers

The College Board talks in numbers. Most people know the famous range from flunky 200 to perfect 800 on the College Board's SAT tests. For the AP U.S. History exam, you can count the important numbers on one hand: You will receive a score from 1 to 5.

How do those numbers relate to the working alphabet world of most students: A, B, C, D, and F? By checking the grades past AP U.S. History exam takers actually get in college, the College Board sets AP exam grade boundaries so that exams earning an AP grade of 5 are roughly equivalent to the average AP exam score of students who go on to earn college As. They then make sure the exam receiving an AP grade of 4 equals the average scores of those college students receiving Bs, and the lowest score corresponding to an AP grade of 3 equates to the average score of college students receiving Cs. About half of the students who take AP U.S. History exam get a grade of 3 or better. So there you have it:

AP Exam Score

College Grade Equivalent











In most institutions, you can get college credit simply by doing as well on the AP exam as college students who get Cs in Intro U.S. History. And you won't have a C on your college record; just a nice, satisfying notation that college credit is in the bank. Besides possibly earning you an actual college credit, an AP U.S. History score of 5 also looks great on your college application.

College credit policies

Colleges are big institutions with impressive buildings and really smart people. You may be surprised, therefore, to hear that these colleges have widely differing Advanced Placement credit policies. The College Board can help you get it straight.

Go to to search for your school(s) of choice. You can also google College Board and AP credit policy. When you're on an AP Credit Policy search page, search by the names of the colleges you may attend. If the Internet doesn't work for you, call the admissions office of the schools you're interested in and ask where you can find the school's AP policy in writing. You can get the phone numbers of your prospective colleges from your school advisor.

When you've got the information, make a copy. Beware the colleges that have no clear AP policy. If you're in the final strokes of choosing between two colleges, double-check to make sure each college's AP policy covers U.S. History.

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