Advanced Placement FAQ

What is Advanced Placement?

The Advanced Placement (AP) Program is a compilation of 38 individual courses, such as English Literature and Statistics, that were designed by high school teachers and college instructors and that are taught in high schools around the country. According to the College Board, which developed the AP Program, AP "enables students to pursue college-level studies while still in high school." Every May high school students can choose to take one or more standardized AP exams, which are graded by the College Board. AP test results are then reported on a scale of 1 to 5, where

  • 1 means no recommendation,
  • 2 means possibly qualified,
  • 3 means qualified,
  • 4 means well qualified, and
  • 5 means extremely well qualified.

What does the new Illinois law—HB 3428, The College and Career Success for All Students Act—say, in plain English?

This new law states that all public universities and all public community colleges in the state of Illinois must begin awarding college credit to students entering the university in the 2016-2017 academic year for scores of 3, 4, and 5 on every AP exam. The law does not affect policies for any other standardized exam.

How does it impact our campus?

Currently on the Urbana-Champaign campus, most (but not all) AP exams are accepted for credit, and most students earn credit for scores of either 4 or 5. In keeping with the law, our campus will now award credit for scores of 3 or higher on all AP exams.

How does Illinois determine AP credit policies?

Test-based credit policies for the AP program are reviewed by campus faculty on an annual basis. Every fall the coordinator of new student placement and proficiency testing contacts the academic departments to inform them of any changes in AP curricula, exams, and scoring procedures. Faculty then review this material, comparing it to their courses’ content, the tasks their students engage in, and the level of mastery their students must demonstrate to earn passing grades in these courses. They then recommend credit policies for the next academic year, which are reviewed by the college in which the department is housed.

In setting AP credit policies, the goal is always to ensure to the best of our ability that students earning test-based credit for a course are as well-prepared to succeed in higher-level courses as students who actually took that course on our campus.

Is it better for me to accept my AP credit or take the actual course?

Course credit earned from AP exams will be posted to your official academic record. Whether you choose to take the course anyway will very much depend on your academic strengths, weaknesses, and goals. You should consider the requirements of your current program as well as your future plans.

For example, students who think they might go on to graduate school need to be aware that many professional (e.g., medical) and graduate schools will not accept test-based credit. Instead, they require evidence that you successfully completed the actual course at a college or university in order to be considered for admission to a graduate program (e.g., "MCB 150" on your transcript and not "Test-Based Credit for MCB 150"). New students at Illinois can discuss this with their academic advisors when registering for first-semester classes.

What's the difference between elective credit, General Education (Gen Ed) credit, and major credit?

The courses that college students take fall into 3 broad categories that sometimes overlap:

1. Courses that are required for their major. These courses are typically within the same field; for example, a computer science major will take computer science courses.

2. Courses that fulfill the university's Gen Ed requirements. Such courses serve to ensure that undergraduates get a well-rounded education by studying a well-balanced array of subjects. At Illinois, we have 7 Gen Ed areas:

  • Quantitative reasoning (e.g., math)
  • Composition (i.e., critical thinking and writing)
  • Social and Behavioral Sciences (e.g., anthropology, political science)
  • Natural Sciences and Technology (e.g., chemistry, biology)
  • Cultural Studies: Western/Comparative (e.g., European history)
  • Cultural Studies: Non-Western/U.S. Minority (e.g., African studies)
  • Language Other Than English (formerly known as "foreign language")

3. Courses that are electives. Electives allow a student to explore subjects simply for the pleasure of being exposed to ideas and learning something different from what is taught in their major or Gen Ed courses. These include any courses that count toward the minimum number of hours required for graduation that do not fall into (1) or (2).

For the purposes of the AP legislation discussion, major and Gen Ed credit awarded on the basis of an AP test score will correspond to an actual course when the content of the AP course and the student’s mastery of that material corresponds closely to the content of a course taught on this campus. For example, an AP Psychology score of 5 earns credit for our PSYC 100 course. In contrast, elective credit awarded on the basis of an AP test score will typically indicate that the content of the AP course does not correspond to the content of a specific course taught on this campus. For example, scores of 3, 4, and 5 on the AP Seminar exam will earn 3 hours of elective credit.

When will the AP legislation changes go into effect?

The new policies will go into effect for all new students enrolling for the first time during the 2016-2017 academic year.

Can currently enrolled students get credit for their scores of 3?

No. The law goes into effect for the 2016-2017 academic year, and so the new policies will apply only to incoming students. As has been our campus practice for many years, the amount of AP credit that currently enrolled students earned when they first enrolled at Illinois will neither be added to nor taken away when new policies go into effect.

What if a student at another institution earns credit for a test score that Illinois doesn’t accept? Or what if the other institution awards credit for a specific course and this campus does not? If the student in either of these scenarios transfers to Illinois, will the course credit transfer too?

Possibly. A student presenting test-based credit may be granted transfer credit on our campus if he or she has successfully completed

  1. at least 12 graded semester hours of transferable college-level classroom coursework from the institution or a single campus in a multi-campus institution that awarded the test credit, and
  2. advanced transferable classroom coursework in the same subject area as the test credit at the same institution awarding the credit.

If the test-based credit does not meet both of these criteria, the student may submit the original AP scores to Illinois for evaluation.

What are the new AP policies for 2016-2017?

Visit our AP page to view the AP placement and proficiency credit policies that will go into effect this summer.