AP, Honors, and Standard: What Class Level Is Best

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On your course list, you might notice that some classes are marked AP, Honors, or Standard. All school systems will have a variation on these three levels, some adding additional levels in between. This article will explore the major differences between these classes, why you should take a certain class level, and how they impact your grade point average.  

AP Classes

  • AP, or Advanced Placement, is a College Board program that offers classes that are often the most rigorous your school has to offer. They present chance to earn college credit.
  • AP courses culminate in a standardized final exam.
    • These exams are spaced out over two weeks in early May. Students pay for these exams. Usually, they’re $94 each, but the price can range to $120 depending on the test type. 
    • For example, AP Seminar exams are more expensive because they don’t just involve written tests. They involve research projects uploaded to an online portfolio throughout the year. 
    • You don’t have to take AP tests. However, you do have to take them if you want college credit.
  • Exams are graded on a 1 to 5 scale, with 5 being the highest score. A score above a 3 is a passing grade.
  • If you pass an AP exam, you might be eligible to place into a higher-level course in a related field in college. This all depends on the college, so check to see if colleges you’re interested in accept AP credits. Aside from skipping entry-level classes, students have even used their AP credits to graduate early from college.
  • If your college doesn’t accept AP credits, you don’t have to take the AP test. 
  • Since these classes are challenging, universities like to see them on your transcript. If you’re planning on getting into a top-tier university, plan your schedule accordingly
  • If you’re less interested in getting into a top university, take AP classes in topics that interest you. They can be a great way to explore your interests and hone your studying and note-taking skills.
  • Here is a complete list of AP exams that CollegeBoard offers. This list will differ from the AP course offerings at your school, but if something really interests you, consider talking to a teacher about instituting the course, self-studying, or taking a community college class.

Honors Classes

  • While honors classes can be as rigorous as AP classes, they don’t count for college credit.
  • However, colleges still like to see these on your transcript. Especially if they’re the hardest classes offered at your school, taking many honors classes shows that you’re making a point to challenge yourself with coursework.
  • Some schools have variations on honors classes. For example, you might see “Gifted and Talented” or “Advanced” classes at your school.

Standard Classes

  • Standard, or normal classes are the easiest classes your school has to offer.
  • Lower-level subjects are often marked standard. Also, requisite classes such as physical education and health might be standard.
  • While it might be easy to get straight As in these classes, colleges would rather you get a B in an AP course than an A in a standard course. Again, challenging yourself is important. 

Community College Classes

  • Many school districts partner with nearby community colleges to offer discounted or free courses for students. 
  • These courses often allow you to gain college credit. 
  • Talk to your guidance counselor about dual enrollment opportunities. This often refers to taking community college courses at the same time as school courses.
  • This can be an alternative to AP classes. More four-year universities take community college credit than AP credits. 

Class Difficulty and QPA

  • QPA, or Quality Point Average, not only accounts for your letter grades but the difficulty of classes you take.
  • Taking more difficult classes, such as AP and Honors, and attaining high grades in those classes, will help you achieve a higher QPA.
  • For example, an B in an AP class and an A in a standard class both have a value of 4.0, denoting the amount of effort expended to achieve that grade. 

Which Should You Take?

  • Take AP and honors classes to challenge yourself, and to show colleges that you’re challenging yourself. 
  • However, be aware of your limits. If you can’t take a full schedule of AP or Honors classes, select AP or Honors classes that you’re interested in.
  • Ultimately, it’s up to you to strike a balance between coursework and your life. Be sure that you can achieve high grades in whatever level of class you choose. 

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