For some students, the hardest part of standardized tests isn’t the prep work. It isn’t the test-taking strategies or the test-day jitters either. Nope, for lots of high schoolers nationwide, the hardest part of standardized tests is the agonizing wait between test day and the day you receive your scores.

For some tests, like the SAT, you know from the moment you sign up for the test exactly when you can expect the results back. For other tests, like the ACT, you are given a window of time in which you can expect to access your scores. But for AP exams, you won’t know the date of your score release until much closer to exam day, and scores are typically not released until July (for tests you take in May!). The waiting game can be excruciating if you’re waiting to find out if you’ll be eligible for college credit or advanced standing. You’ve no doubt put months of work into preparing for your exams so it’s completely natural to experience some impatience when awaiting your results.

So why are the results from AP exams released several months after the actual test date? What happens to your test between the moment you turn it in and the moment your score pops up on a computer screen up to three months later? If you’re curious about how AP exams are scored and how to interpret your score, read on.

How Are AP Exams Scored?

Most AP exams consist of two parts: the multiple-choice section and the free-response section. Due to their inherently different natures, the two sections of the exam are graded separately and in different manners.

The multiple-choice section of your exam is graded first, and this job is done completely by a computer that scans your answer sheet and records the number of correct responses. You are not penalized for wrong answers, so it is always best to guess on the multiple-choice section even if you aren’t sure of the right answer. Your multiple-choice raw score is simply the number of questions you got correct.

The scoring process for the free-response section is much more involved. These questions, usually essays or open-ended questions, are scored at the annual AP Reading held each year during the first two weeks of June. At this giant convention, specially appointed college professors and experienced AP teachers gather to read the tens of thousands of AP free-responses produced by students each year. This is the first reason why your scores take so long to come back—the AP Reading does not take place until nearly a month after APs are administered.

As AP readers evaluate your free-response answers, they use a set of universal scoring criteria developed for each specific prompt. Most free-response answers are scored on a scale between one and nine, with one being least effective and nine being nearly perfect. Some shorter questions are graded on a smaller scale. AP readers will evaluate your response using the scoring criteria provided for that prompt and will award you between one and nine points for your answer.

To review specifically how free responses have been graded in the past for subject areas you’re interested in, visit the AP Central homepage for each course and follow the link to the Free-Response Questions index. Here you can read authentic student responses from past exams, along with scoring criteria and actual scoring explanations from AP readers for each one.

Once both sections of your exam have been graded, their total scores are combined, according to the weight of each section, to form your composite score. These composite, or raw, scores are then translated into a five-point scale using statistical processes designed to ensure that, for example, a score of four this year reflects the same level of achievement as a score of four on last year’s exam. In other words, AP scores are not graded on a curve but instead calculated specifically to reflect consistency in scoring from year to year.

Although it’s impossible to know exactly what work goes into the statistical design for converting composite scores to the five-point scale, an example of the conversion process for a previous version of the AP English Literature Exam is available here.

Why Do Some Exams Have Subscores?

Two AP exams currently have subscores: the AP Calculus BC exam and the AP Music Theory exam. These subscores are designed to give colleges and universities more information about your specific abilities, which they can then use to shape decisions about class placement or credit granted.

On the AP Calculus BC exam, you will receive a subscore for Calculus AB. This subscore is the converted score you received on the portion of the exam devoted to Calculus AB topics (which is about 60% of the exam). If you do very well on this subscore but not well overall, colleges and universities will still know that you are capable of introductory-level calculus, but not necessarily of Calculus BC-level work. Many institutions will apply the same policy to the Calculus AB subscore that they apply to the AP Calculus AB exam score. This is consistent with the philosophy of the courses, since common topics are tested at the same conceptual level in both Calculus AB and Calculus BC.

On the AP Music Theory exam you will receive one aural component subscore and one nonaural component sub-score. If you plan to continue studying music through your higher education, your subscores will help music departments to make appropriate decisions about credit and placement based on the separate courses for written theory and aural skills that they offer. For students continuing study in music, subscores will be considered along with the overall score. If, however, you are seeking general humanities credit, your overall score will be used to determine your eligibility.

What Happens After My Exam is Scored?

After AP exams are scored, official score reports are compiled and distributed. These range in depth from individual student reports all the way up to national databases. A complete listing of last year’s program summaries can be found here. You can also learn more about what specific data is included in each report on the AP Score Reports and Data page.

Also, once all exams have been scored, your overall performance across all the AP exams will be assessed to determine if you are eligible for an AP Scholar Award. District data will also be assessed for the AP District Honor Roll.

When Will My AP Scores Be Available?

Generally, AP scores are released in the beginning of July, but the exact date that your scores will become available will vary by region. Also, if you took an exam during the late-testing period, these scores will not be available until August. In 2016, scores for the northwest region were released first and scores for the northeast region were released last. In the past, the College Board has alternated which region is released first every year.

How Can I Access My Score?

The College Board went green in 2014, so scores are available online only now. You will not be sent a paper copy in the mail. To access your online score report, you’ll need to create a College Board account if you haven’t already. If you have accessed SAT scores or other AP scores online, you already have a College Board account.

To access your score report, you’ll need to sign in to your College Board account and provide your AP number (or student ID if provided on your AP answer sheet). When you filled out your AP Student Pack, you were given an extra copy of this number and instructed to keep it in a safe place. Now is the time to put it to use.

If you’re still wondering what an AP number is, don’t worry: read more about it here. If you misplaced your AP number, read what to do here.

Your AP scores will be available through your online College Board account on the day they are released.

What Does My AP Score Mean?

Your final AP score will be a weighted combination of your scores on the multiple-choice section and on the free-response section of your exam. This score will be reported on a five-point scale, with the following designations:

5 = extremely well qualified

4 = well qualified

3 = qualified

2 = possibly qualified

1 = no recommendation

A score of three, or “qualified,” generally means that you have proven yourself capable of doing the work and thereby “passed” the exam. Although many students try to predict their scores based off of a general idea of how confidently they performed, it is difficult to guess a score on the AP because its scaling is so variable. In fact, since scaling varies year to year, there are no exact cutoff numbers for scores for AP Tests, and an 80% on the multiple-choice section one year may equate to a much different final score than an 80% on the same section in a different year.

How Do I Send My Scores to Colleges or Universities?

After your exam is scored, the College Board will automatically send your score report to the college or university that you designated on your answer sheet, free of charge. This score report is cumulative so it will include not only your most recent AP exam, but also scores for every other AP exam you have taken, unless you’ve specifically cancelled or withheld a score. This is the same score report that is visible to you online through your College Board account.

If you wish to send score reports to additional colleges or universities, you may do so online for a fee of $15 per report. It is best to send your scores as soon as they become available, since some colleges will not accept them after you arrive on campus as a freshman. Other colleges have strict cut-off dates in the summer before you begin your freshman year. Be sure to check the deadline at your school before you send score reports.

What Score Do I Need to Receive Credit or Advanced Placement in College?

The score that you need to receive credit or advanced placement at your college or university will depend on which college or university that you attend. While many schools will grant credit and placement for scores of three or above, many others will only accept the highest scores. Each college decides which scores it will accept. To see college policies for AP scores, visit the AP Credit Policy Search.

What If I Think My AP Exam Score is Incorrect?

While it is unlikely that your exam has been scored incorrectly, it’s not impossible. There could be a very rare computer malfunction during scanning, or you could have used the wrong type of pencil when filling out your answer form. For that reason, the College Board does allow you to request a review of your multiple-choice scoring if you believe that it was in error. When multiple-choice section scoring is reviewed, your original multiple-choice test section is rescored manually. In the event that the reviewed score is different from the one that was previously reported, the newer score will prevail, whether it is higher or lower, and your college reports will be notified of the updated score.

If you want to request a rescore of the multiple-choice portion of your exam, you will need to fill out and submit the official AP Multiple-Choice Rescore Service Form no later than October 31 of the year in which you took the exam. You will also need to pay a fee of $30 per exam requested.

Because your free-response section is scored manually to begin with, you may not request a rescore of the free-response section, nor may you appeal your score. If you would like to review your response yourself, you can request a copy of your AP free-response booklet, which is the book in which you wrote your free-response answers. This service is available only on AP Exams for which free-response content is released on the College Board website, two days after the regularly scheduled AP Exam administration.

To request a copy of your free-response answers, fill out the AP® Free-Response Booklet Request Form and submit it before September 15 of the year in which you took the exam. There is a $10 per booklet fee that must be submitted with your request.

If you feel like you need more help with reviewing for your AP exams, or you are not sure that you can do it on your own, look no further. For personalized AP tutoring, check out the CollegeVine Academic Tutoring Program, where students who are intimately familiar with the exam can help you ace it too, just like they did.    

For more about information about APs, check out these CollegeVine posts:

Kate Sundquist

Kate Sundquist

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.
Kate Sundquist