Everything You Need to Know About Pre-AP Classes
Advanced Placement classes and exams give high-performing high school students the opportunity to access challenging college-level coursework, prepare for the demands of college, and potentially even earn college credit that will save them time and money. They’re a popular option among students planning to apply to competitive colleges.
While AP courses are often a great choice for motivated students, they don’t exist in a vacuum. You’re much more likely to succeed in an AP course if the course you’ve taken previously prepared you well for AP content and expectations. Pre-AP courses, whether official or unofficial, provide a targeted way for students to ensure that they’re building the requisite skills in advance.
Interested in taking a pre-AP course? Read on for more information about what this designation means, what distinguishes the official College Board Pre-AP program, and what you can (and can’t) expect from your pre-AP classes.
What’s a Pre-AP Class?
Generally speaking, the term “pre-AP class” can refer to any course that’s designed to prepare you for the demands of an AP class you plan to take in the future. Pre-AP classes are typically offered to students in late middle school or early high school, and unlike actual AP courses, they don’t provide you with the opportunity to earn college credit or placement advantages. These courses are intended for preparation only.
Pre-AP courses come in two varieties: official and unofficial. Your school may offer either or both; ask a teacher or guidance counselor for clarification if you’re not sure about the details of your school’s offerings.
The Official College Board Pre-AP Program
The official Pre-AP program is a recently developed program in which the College Board itself has developed specific courses to prepare high school students (and possibly middle school students in the future) for the rigors of AP coursework. These courses will be taught for the first time in the 2018-2019 school year.
Two major features make the official Pre-AP program distinctive. The first is that the Pre-AP program is only offered through participating schools. These schools apply to the College Board for permission, and if accepted, pay a fee to access the College Board’s Pre-AP curricula, materials, and teacher training.
The second is that the CollegeBoard’s Pre-AP program is intended to also broaden access to AP testing. To this end, schools participating in official Pre-AP programs are required to offer Pre-AP courses as the “normal” course for that subject area and grade level, not as an honors or otherwise selective course. This potentially means a wider range of students will be exposed to AP as an option and prepared if they want to pursue the program further.
In the 2019-2020 school year, the College Board plans to offer official Pre-AP classes in the following subjects, all intended for ninth-graders, and all only available through participating high schools. As you can see, options are available not only in traditional academic subjects, but also in the visual and performing arts. (Additional subjects and grade levels are being developed, but are not yet available.)
- Pre-AP English 1
- Pre-AP Algebra 1
- Pre-AP World History and Geography
- Pre-AP Biology
- Pre-AP Theatre
- Pre-AP Dance
- Pre-AP Visual Art
- Pre-AP Music
For more detailed information about this program, visit the College Board’s Pre-AP website.
Unofficial Pre-AP Classes
Your middle or high school might choose to use “pre-AP” or a similar term to refer to courses that aren’t part of the College Board’s official Pre-AP program. In this case, pre-AP classes are simply what your school recommends or requires students to take before taking an AP class. As with official pre-AP courses, these classes are designed to teach you the skills you’ll need to eventually succeed in your AP courses and exams.
Unofficial pre-AP classes may vary a great deal from school to school, so if you’re considering taking one, be sure to research your particular school’s policies. For instance, an unofficial pre-AP class may only be offered to honors students or students on a particular academic track. The class might appear as “pre-AP” on your transcript, or it might not. The curriculum isn’t controlled by the College Board, so this may vary too; it’s all up to your school and what they choose to offer.
Why Take a Pre-AP Class?
AP courses are explicitly designed to be challenging for high-school students. They’re generally academically rigorous, involve learning a large body of material, and culminate in a high-stakes standardized exam, which distills a year of learning down to a single numerical score between 1 and 5. That’s a lot of pressure.
Understandably, some students find it difficult to adapt to the AP mindset, especially if their previous classes have been significantly less rigorous or haven’t covered the right background material. While AP classes generally teach their material more slowly than actual college courses, they’re often still a challenge to handle, especially alongside a full roster of other academic classes and extracurricular activities.
Pre-AP classes were created to ensure that students come into AP classes well-prepared for both the content and the expectations of the AP program. If you take one of these courses, you’ll have the opportunity to develop the necessary skills in a lower-stakes environment, rather than being plunged directly in to the demanding AP world, which can help with both your grades and your stress level once you’re actually taking an AP course.
If your school uses the official College Board Pre-AP program, you may not have much of a choice as to whether to take a pre-AP class; that program is intended to be used as the “normal” curriculum for a particular grade level. If your school has classes that are unofficially designated “pre-AP”, or if you have a number of high schools to choose from, you may have more control over whether you take a pre-AP course.
If you do have a choice, besides the benefits in getting ready for the AP program, you might choose to take a pre-AP course if it’s the most challenging course available to you. That’s something that colleges like to see on applicants’ transcripts. Your school’s pre-AP class for a particular grade level might also cover a different topic than other courses the school offers, which can be interesting, especially if that topic will better prepare you for AP course content.
What If My School Doesn’t Offer Pre-AP Classes?
Many or most middle and high schools don’t offer pre-AP classes, official or unofficial. That’s perfectly okay! Pre-AP classes aren’t required by the College Board if you want to take AP courses or exams later on—in fact, you don’t even have to take an AP course in order to take an AP exam, as self-studying to prepare for the exam is an option.
Plenty of people enter the AP program without having taken specifically pre-AP courses beforehand, and most of them do just fine. It depends on your personal academic skills, your school’s curriculum, and your previous teachers, among other factors. If you end up struggling with your AP course’s format or content, you still have other options, such as private tutoring and online study resources, to improve your performance and your grade.
If you’re concerned about your ability to handle an AP class you’re considering taking, it’s a good idea to talk to the course instructor, your guidance counselor, or other advisors before you sign up for that AP class. They can help you find out what to expect, decide whether you’re ready for the challenge, and if necessary, undertake some preparation on your own.
Taking a pre-AP class can definitely be a beneficial experience, especially if you’re unsure whether you’re prepared to take AP courses. However, it’s far from the only concern that should motivate how you choose courses and manage your academic workload during high school. It’s up to you to balance these concerns and figure out the plan that will prepare you best for the college and career goals you’d like to achieve.
Interested in the AP program? You’re not alone—millions of students take AP exams each year. To get started in learning about this program and its offerings, check out these posts from the CollegeVine blog:
- How to Choose Which AP Courses and Exams to Take
- How Important Are AP Scores for College Admissions?
- Guides for Acing Your AP Exams
You can find additional content and advice from CollegeVine about AP courses and exams, including our guides to every AP subject, under the AP Guides category on our blog.
Looking for help navigating the road to college as a high school student? Download our free guide for 9th graders and our free guide for 10th graders. Our guides go in-depth about subjects ranging from academics, choosing courses, standardized tests, extracurricular activities, and much more!
Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
Want more tips on improving your academic profile?
We'll send valuable information to help you strengthen your profile and get ready for college admissions.