Will a Bad AP Score Sink My Application?3 min read

Fear not, a single "bad" AP exam won't sink your Ivy League dreams!
Fear not, a single “bad” AP exam won’t sink your Ivy League dreams!

We get this question a lot here at College Compass: “I got a 1/2/3 on an AP test! Do I still have a chance at Harvard?!” Though you might be panicking or worried that your Ivy Dreams are now toast, fear not! A single “bad” AP score won’t sink your application, but low AP scores definitely should not be a trend.

What is a “Bad” Score?

Of course, you want to score as well on AP exams as you can, but some of you might be wondering what exactly a “bad” score is. Because the AP exam is designed to test you on your mastery of college-level material, there really isn’t a bad score, per se, but low scores on an AP might signal to elite colleges that you might be entirely ready for a heavy or rigorous curriculum. As a general rule of thumb, you want to shoot for a 4 or a 5 on the AP exam because that does show mastery or at least extreme proficiency in that respective subject. Though some of you might be worried that a slew of 4’s might be worrying to Ivy Leagues, stop panicking! A 4 is a very respectable score that you shouldn’t be ashamed of!

Will a 1/2/3 Sink My Ivy League Application?

College applications are a finicky subject, but in general, a single 1/2/3 on an AP exam won’t sink any application, as long as these scores are isolated and not indicative of a trend. If you have a 2 in WHAP but pull 4 and 5’s in English Lit and Calculus, don’t sweat it! Again, schools just want to show that you are able to excel in subjects, and they certainly don’t expect you to be an expert in every one. The caveat to this is that you do absolutely want to do well on AP exams related to your intended course of study. Bombing the AP English Lit test isn’t as big of a deal for an intended engineer, but it might raise some red flags if you’re intending to become an English major.

In short, getting a single or even two low scores on an AP exam isn’t a huge dealbreaker, as long as you have other AP scores to back up your academic performance. If you’re only taking two APs in high school, and both are 1’s, then yeah, you might have a problem, but if you have two 1’s and a handful of 4-5’s, you should be in the clear.

Should I Risk Taking an AP Test for a Class that I have a Bad Teacher In?

If you're on the border of a 3 and a 4, put in that extra effort! However, if you're lost and without hope, it might be best to sit that test out.
If you’re on the border of a 3 and a 4, put in that extra effort! However, if you’re lost and without hope, it might be best to sit that test out.

We hear this a lot, and indeed, most of us have had teachers who perhaps weren’t up to par in terms of AP-quality instruction. The decision to take or skip an AP exam is ultimately a personal one and depends on your comfort with the subject at hand. We highly recommend taking diagnostic exams to see how you might fare on the actual one, and if you’re scoring poorly on these practice exams, it might be best to skip the test altogether than to have a 1 or a 2 on your application.

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