The AP Scholar Guide: Benefits, Distinctions, Awards & Honors

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“AP Scholar” isn’t a term for just any student who takes Advanced Placement courses—it’s an honor awarded by the College Board.

To become an AP Scholar, you’ll need to perform well on multiple AP exams. Below, we’ll take a look at the specific requirements and benefits for this distinction, plus give you tips on how to earn an AP Scholar award.

What Are the Benefits of Becoming an AP Scholar?

First, let’s take a look at how becoming an AP Scholar can benefit you.

While there’s no monetary reward involved, you will receive a certificate commemorating the honor. Even better, the AP Scholar designation will appear on the AP score reports you send to colleges and universities.

  • Plus, you can mention the award on college applications and resumes. It demonstrates that you’ve taken rigorous courses in high school and have excelled.
  • In turn, this indicates that you’re ready to conquer the challenges of college.
  • Admissions officers will see this readiness as a signal that you’ll be academically successful if you’re admitted to their college.

You’ll likely also be recognized at the school or district level for your accomplishment.

AP Scholar: Everything You Need to Know!

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The College Board provides a roster of award recipients online for teachers, schools, and districts.

Many colleges and universities accept scores of 3 and higher on AP exams in exchange for college credit.

  • Thus, receiving college credits in high school can help you save when the college tuition bill arrives.

Some students are able to graduate faster by moving on to more advanced classes earlier in their college careers – this is because they received credit for pre-requisite classes by passing related AP exams.

Others take advantage of completed pre-requisites by focusing more on core classes and taking fewer courses each semester.

  • Having your exam scores count toward college credit also opens up opportunities to take more electives or complete a second major, if desired, without adding extra time to your overall college plan.

Check carefully which scores are accepted by the colleges you’re interested in or applying to.

Not every college has the same requirements and standards for accepting AP test scores. While some may give college credit for a score of 3, others may require a 4 or 5.

How to Become an AP Scholar With Honors & Distinctions

If you want to become an AP Scholar, the first step is registering for AP courses (at least three of them).

  • You’ll also need to perform well in these classes and prepare adequately for your AP exams. Shoot for a three or higher on every AP exam that you take.

The AP Scholar designation is based on two main criteria:

1) The number of AP exams on which you score a 3 or higher

2) Your overall AP test score average

There are multiple award levels based on these criteria:

  • AP Scholar – Score a 3 or higher on at least three AP exams.
  • AP Scholar with Honors – Score a 3 or higher on at least four AP exams. Have a minimum AP average of 3.25.
  • AP Scholar with Distinction – Score a 3 or higher on at least five AP exams. Have a minimum AP average of 3.5.
  • State AP Scholar – Awarded to one male and one female in each state. Score a 3 or higher on more exams than anyone else in the state. Have the highest AP average among all in-state students who scored a 3 on the same number of exams.
  • National AP Scholar – Score a 4 or higher on at least eight AP exams. Have a minimum AP average of 4.

If you have a particular award level in mind, be sure to take the correct amount of AP courses and aim for the required scores.

Keep in mind that if you want to include this award on your college applications, you’ll need to take all necessary exams by the end of your junior year. This way, you’ll receive the award by fall of your senior year.

Also keep in mind that some of these AP scholar awards require multiple years to accomplish.

You’ll likely need to begin taking AP classes your sophomore year, if not earlier, depending on what your high school offers. Speak with a counselor to develop a plan to meet this goal.

Additional Information About Award Calculation

It’s important to note that your average AP test score is determined based on all AP exams you’ve taken (in any year).

Exams that you’ve taken more than once are not counted twice.

  • Instead, only the highest score is factored into your award calculation.

It’s not unheard of for a student to decide not to take an AP exam when the time comes if they feel unprepared.

  • The amount of AP courses you’re planning to take in your high school career, how well prepared you feel for other exams, and how many exams you’ve already passed are all points to consider if you think you may skip taking an AP exam.

This is another time you’ll want to speak with your adviser, teacher, or counselor before making a decision.

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When Do I Find Out If I’m An AP Scholar?

After you’ve taken your AP tests, you’ll be notified in mid-July via email if you’re an AP Scholar.

  • Around the same time, your teachers, school, and district will be able to access information indicating that you’ve earned the designation.

In mid-September, award certificates are sent to the State Superintendents of Education in each state to distribute to State AP Scholars.

Checklist to Becoming an AP Scholar

It’s clear that in order to become an AP Scholar, you’ll need to take multiple AP courses and perform well on multiple AP exams.

Here’s a checklist that will help you become an AP scholar.

  • Sign up for AP courses that interest you and/or that you feel you can excel in. Don’t simply register for AP classes at random.
  • Complete all work in your AP courses, participate in class discussions, pay attention in class, and ask your teacher questions as needed. Simply signing up for AP courses isn’t enough—you need to also master the material.
  • As your AP exams approach, intensify your preparation. Organize study sessions with your peers, schedule tutoring sessions with your teacher, hire an AP tutor, or invest in AP test prep books from reputable organizations.
  • Continue getting plenty of sleep and enjoying a well-balanced diet.
  • Take at least one full-length AP practice test under test-taking conditions for each AP exam you’ll sit.
  • Get a good night’s sleep before your test day and eat a good breakfast. This will ensure you have enough energy to focus your full attention on the exam. That focus won’t stray despite how tired, hungry, or nervous you may feel.
  • On test days, don’t do any last-minute cramming. Feel confident in the preparation you’ve done throughout the year, both inside and outside of class.
  • Arrive early so you know you’re in the right place. Don’t risk not being able to start or complete your AP exam.

How to Successfully Study for the AP Exam

The only way to become an AP scholar is to make sure you’re passing the AP exams, and the key to that is creating successful study habits.

Each person embraces unique study methods. Here are a few general tips when studying for your AP exams.

  • AP testing season is stressful, so try to keep your stress to a minimum. The best way to do this is to start preparing well in advance, so that you’re not rushing to cram information.
  • Try different methods of studying, like making flashcards, reviewing notes, watching videos, and taking practice quizzes that are shorter.
  • Search for mobile apps that provide additional study questions and quizzes, so you can study when in transit.
  • Build breaks into your study sessions, exercise or go outdoors when you feel too anxious.
  • Practice basic test-taking strategies, including skipping difficult questions in order to return to them later, using process of elimination, and taking a deep breath if you start to feel nervous.
  • Evaluate the questions you answered incorrectly. Why is the right answer correct? Why is your answer wrong? How can you perform better on this type of question in the future?
  • Pay attention to the clock and pace yourself accordingly. You can do this!

Advice from Academic Experts

We asked academic experts and former AP scholars what they had to say about the necessity of AP classes. Read on to find out more!

Savannah Oxner, senior admissions counselor and school counselor liaison at Sweet Briar College:

AP courses are a great way of experiencing (fairly closely) the rigor of college courses. The amount of reading, writing, and research required for AP courses closely resembles that of college coursework, as well as the intellectual depth of the work versus standard high school courses.

We do not expect students to overload themselves by taking exclusively AP courses, but we do recommend students take some AP courses when they are available and especially in those areas students expect to study in college.

Kendall Young, lead high School counselor at Tivy High School and educator for over 20 years:

The short answer is that you should take at least one or maybe several AP classes to not only experience the rigor of coursework to prepare you for the college level, but also provide you with an in-depth experience into a curriculum that you would not otherwise get in a regular course. There are opportunities to research, dig deeper, and expand thinking in an area that is interesting to a student.

As well, students are able to earn many college credits by taking the course and scoring a 3 or higher (up to 5) on the AP exam.

You can set yourself up for success in two ways: Take AP classes in high school that interest you and expand your understanding of the topic that you will be studying in the future as well as possibly look for additional ways to enrich the content through research or discovering summer programs through your teacher or counselor; and, secondly, you can take AP classes that you might not necessarily want to take in college to get them out of the way in high school so you can take other classes of interest that are on your college degree plan.

Gaye Weintraub, a former public school teacher:

AP classes give students an in-depth exploration of the specific subject matter and require not only a solid understanding of the covered material but the application of that gained knowledge to additional lessons. College-bound students benefit from AP classes because such classes strengthen students’ overall appeal to universities and enable students to obtain credit for college coursework when they perform well on the AP exams.

AP classes are generally a good fit for solid students who are on an advanced track in school (honors, gifted and talented, IB program) and who tend to earn As and Bs in those advanced classes.

Conclusion: The AP Scholar Journey

Becoming an AP Scholar is all about performing well on several AP exams.

  • If you want to earn this honor in time to mention it on college applications, you’ll need to take at least three AP courses during your junior year.

Regardless of how many AP tests you take, you should aim to score at least a 3 on every test.

  • Only scores of 3 or higher help you earn the AP Scholar designation, and scores lower than 3 will drag down your average and jeopardize your chances of receiving the award.

The AP Scholar award won’t make or break your chances of college acceptance, but it can give your application a nice boost!

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