What Happens If You Fail An AP Exam?

what happens if you fail an ap exam

In the first 2 weeks of May, students around the U.S. brave the College Board Advanced Placement (AP) exam process, with over 35% of high school students nationwide taking the exams. If your child just finished taking their AP exams or is pondering taking AP classes in the next few years, you may be doing a risk-benefit analysis in your mind.

Some students who consider AP courses feel worried about what would happen if they fail an AP exam, but there is little to no risk involved in the actual exam process. Although these fears are valid, taking a look at the AP process can help you consider whether this opportunity is right for your child.

What Are AP Classes In High School?

There are 38 Advanced Placement classes available through the College Board. AP classes give students a space to tackle college-level work in a variety of subject areas, ranging from the arts and languages to sciences and social sciences, and to AP seminars where students can pursue their own research of choice.

Students might gain college credit for these courses IF they pass their exams, generally with a score of 4 or 5. However, college processes for accepting AP class credits vary widely so families should research their colleges of interest to review their AP policies.

Students who gain AP credit will save on their tuition bill, possibly opt-out of college prerequisites or general education credits, and push closer to an on-time graduation, a strong incentive to enroll in the courses.

Pros And Cons Of AP Classes


Students who take AP classes access several benefits, including many that revolve around college admissions.

  • Admissions Chances: College admissions personnel want to see that students are taking the most rigorous course load they can successfully manage and AP classes are often the hardest coursework available in high schools. AP classes require your child to analyze, think independently, and complete outside research which can better prepare them for the demands of college.
  • Rank/GPA Boost: High marks in AP classes add GPA points to your child’s weighted GPA and can improve student standing at both the high school and prospective college level. A higher rank and/or higher GPA also improves your student’s scholarship eligibility as well.
  • Major/Career Exploration: Your student can explore their content and career interests for a much lower cost in an AP course than in college. The College Board has a handy tool that helps students match their prospective major or career to aligned AP options to aid in this exploration. 



In recent years, many school districts have placed caps on how many AP classes students can take. Why?

  • Mental Health: As the pandemic has added stress, depression, and anxiety to the lives of many students, it’s essential to really consider what your student can achieve while maintaining their mental health. Colleges are not looking for an AP robot. In efforts to encourage students to take a more balanced approach to their course load and high school experience, consider encouraging your child to pursue APs that genuinely reflect their interests and demonstrate their character.
  • Balancing Act: AP classes are taxing on time. Keep in mind APs often require 1 hour+ a night of homework for a single AP class, not including substantial reading. If your student is heavily involved in sports, clubs, or employment, they may struggle with a loss of sleep, or worse, turning to substance abuse to cope with limited time.


AP Exams

Throughout my time as a high school counselor, I’ve experienced multiple students who have chosen NOT to take their AP exams. I often encourage students to go ahead with the AP exam process, even if they don’t think they’ll do well, for the following reasons.

  • Students cannot fail AP tests. They either get a qualifying score for college credit or they don’t.
  • Students DO NOT have to report their scores to colleges
  • There are plenty of careers that require licensure and certification tests. AP Exams provide students with a chance to practice both their stamina and critical thinking during testing. 


And again, if your student doesn’t get a qualifying score, colleges won’t know unless the student reports that score. Occupying approximately 2.5 hours of their life, if they even have a slim chance of saving money and time in college with a qualifying exam score, it’s worth showing up to the test.

Looking for more AP knowledge? Check out this previous blog post with more AP pros and cons.



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