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Do Bad AP Scores Affect Admission? Facts And Misconceptions

Advanced Placement (AP) courses are a great way to boost your college applications. However, if you have taken your AP tests and not scored well, you may wonder whether this will affect your admission. Do bad AP scores affect your admission? 

Bad AP scores will not affect your college admission. You don’t have to report bad AP test scores to the universities to which you are applying. Even if you report bad scores, the college may still consider it commendable that you took on the coursework. 

This article explores everything you need to know about AP scores and coursework. It explains the different ways you can deal with AP scores, and how you can improve your AP scores and boost your college applications. 

Bad AP scores and how they affect college admission.

Why Bad AP Scores Don’t Affect Admission

If you have taken the AP test and scored poorly, your admission and college application will not be directly affected. You can choose to withhold AP scores from a particular college or cancel an AP score from your record. 

In addition, College Board, which conducts the AP tests and reports, reports that 75% of admission officers they surveyed said that bad AP test scores do not hinder a student’s application. 

However, if a student gets a failing score in any of their AP classes, it can affect their GPA, which, in turn, affects their admissions.

Colleges do not look at AP test scores to decide whether to grant a student admission. Student admission is based on a range of other factors, including:

  • School scores
  • Extracurricular activities 
  • Recommendations

AP scores are simply a way to boost an application. 

This section explores more about AP scores, providing you a background to AP tests and how colleges consider AP scores. If you have received bad AP scores, it will also give you guidelines about what you should do. 

About AP Courses

The College Board runs the Advanced Placement (AP) Program, which allows you to study college-level courses and material and sit for college-level tests while still in high school. 

Taking an AP course will allow you to gain college credits while you are still in high school. There are several advantages to earning college credits in high school: 

  • You’ll be able to understand the kind of coursework you’ll need to do in college and build on your academic skills. 
  • You may be able to skip introductory courses once you’re in college. 
  • You may be able to earn credits faster in college and even graduate early. 
  • Showing that you have completed an AP course will help your college applications stand out. 
  • High AP scores may help you secure college scholarships. 

AP scores can support your college applications as they show that you are committed and are academically oriented. In addition, several states in the USA offer different incentives for students sitting the AP exams and for schools that help students do AP courses.  

Sources: College Board and U.S. Department of Education

How You Receive AP Scores 

After you take your AP exam, your scores will typically be released three to five weeks after your exam date. To see your AP scores, you can log in to your College Board account. You can also check with your academic advisor to get your scores.

How Do Colleges Receive Your AP Scores? 

The College Board will send your AP scores directly to a university you have nominated. Colleges will not accept your AP scores unless they have been sent from College Board. Every year that you sit an AP exam, you will be allowed to send your score to one university for free. 

If you want to send your scores to more universities, you will need to pay a fee to College Board. Once they receive the fee, College Board will send your score to the university you have chosen. 

What Happens if You Get a Bad AP Score? 

While the College Board directly sends universities your AP scores, you have a range of options if you get a bad AP score. It is best not to nominate a college to send your score before knowing whether it is good or bad. 

If you receive a bad score, you should choose the option that will best support your application. You can: 

  1. Withhold a score from a particular college. 
  2. Cancel an AP score from your record. 
  3. Send the college your score. 

These options are explored further below. 

Withholding a Score

You can choose to withhold a particular score from a particular university. If you have done poorly in one AP test, you may withhold a score. However, you might do well in other tests, which means that you can send those to colleges. 

You may also withhold a score from a score report you send to one university but include it in a report you send to another university. 

To decide whether you should withhold your score: 

  • Consider the admission process for the university to which you’re applying.
  • Consult with your college admissions advisor.

To withhold a score, you need to: 

  1. Fill out and sign an AP score withholding form. You can find this form on College Board
  2. Pay a fee for withholding the score. 
  3. Submit the form. 

While the score will not be sent to the university you have specified, it will remain part of your record. 

You can release your score to the college once you have received your admission or enrolled. You may choose to do this to support an application to a particular course or earn credit points. 

To release your score after withholding it, you will need to send College Board a written request. 

Canceling a Score 

If you do not want a particular score on your AP record, you can choose to cancel your AP score. If you have taken an exam and submit a request to cancel your score, your exam will not be scored. If you have already received your score, it will be deleted from your record. 

Once a score is canceled, you will not be able to receive it. 

You may choose to cancel a score if you take an exam twice and get a better score the second time around. 

To cancel a score, follow these steps: 

  1. Download the cancellation form from the College Board
  2. Fill out, sign, and send the form. There is no fee for canceling a score. 

If you don’t want the score to be sent to the universities you have nominated, you will have to cancel before June 15th in the year you took the exam. 

Should You Send a University a Bad AP score? 

In some cases, you should not cancel or withhold your score, even if they are lower than you wanted. Sending a university AP score will indicate that you are committed and have prepared for college-level courses. 

In addition, your AP scores are typically not a prerequisite for getting into a college but rather a supplement to your application. Your admission will depend on other factors like your SAT and school scores. 

To decide whether to share a bad AP score with a university, consider the university’s admission processes and policies. 

How To Improve Your AP scores 

While bad AP scores will not significantly affect your admission, you should try to get the best scores possible. To improve your AP scores, ensure you prepare well in advance. Let’s take a look at what you need to do to prepare. 

Before the Exam 

Before you sit your AP exam, you should make sure that you have done practice tests and used various study strategies. These include:

  • Creating course outlines 
  • Taking AP classes 
  • Doing practice tests 

Begin Preparing Well in Advance 

You should probably start studying for your AP tests at least six months before taking the test. Create a study schedule where you study for an hour or two each day. Doing so will help you retain information better than if you begin studying for the text a week before you take it. 

Take the Classes

It is possible to take the AP exams without having taken an AP class. 

However, if your school offers an AP class, you should enroll in it. It will help you develop your understanding of course material and help you get support in areas in which you’re struggling. 

Create Course Outlines

Goss (2004) studied the methods of AP social studies teachers to see what preparation methods were most effective for students. One of the recommendations was that students should create outlines. 

Every time you complete a chapter in a subject, create an outline of what you have learned. This will help you retain and review knowledge better. 

Source: JSTOR: Society for History Education

Do Practice Tests

Through the year that you are studying the AP coursework, do practice tests in the chapters you have studied. When doing the practice test, allow yourself the exact timing and format you will get in the final exam. 

Look at College Board to see the format for each test. Each test format and timing will vary depending on the subject. 

During the Exam

You should use several strategies during your AP exam to help you focus and get better scores. Here are some of the strategies: 

  • Pace yourself. Take five minutes to review the test before beginning to write down answers. That way, you can gain an understanding of which questions you’ll need the most time for. With that understanding in mind, make sure you spend the right amount of time on each question. 
  • Answer all the questions. There are no penalties for wrong answers on the AP exams, so it is best to answer every question with what you know. 

How To Improve Your College Applications 

AP Scores are an excellent way to improve college applications. Other ways you can enhance your applications include:

  • Choose the right extracurriculars.
  • Get the right recommendations.
  • Include well-written writing supplements.
  • Review the information you’ve shared online, including social media and website posts.

Choose the Right Extracurriculars

Along with your academic record, your extracurriculars are perhaps one of the most essential parts of your college application. Harvard University has the following recommendations regarding extracurriculars: 

  • Community volunteer activities: You might want to choose the volunteer activities you get involved with carefully. They should be connected to your interests and background and should reflect your consistent interest and work. 
  • Jobs and entrepreneurship: If you have a part-time job or have even started a program or business of your own, feature it. It may be something as simple as a tutoring program but will show your organizational skills as well as your ambition. 
  • Leadership activities: If you have participated in activities where you take the lead, such as sports or teams, you should highlight these in your application. 

Sources: Harvard Summer School and National Society of High School Scholars

Get the Right Recommendations

Consider who you are going to ask for a recommendation. Look at the recommended guidelines for the colleges you are applying to, as some will accept personal recommendations while others will want recommendations from teachers. 

Ensure you have a conversation with the people you’ve asked for recommendations about skills and traits you’d like to highlight. 

Well-Written Writing Supplements 

The writing supplement or the essay part of your application allows you the space to present yourself as an individual. 

If you’re offered a variety of prompt choices, choose a prompt that resonates with you and allocate a lot of time to writing the supplement. If you’re given a specific prompt to use, make sure you fully understand it before you sit down and start writing.

Review Online Information

Some admissions officers may look briefly at your social media or other online footprints when verifying your identity and accomplishments. Some online profiles you should pay special attention to include:

  • Facebook 
  • Instagram 
  • LinkedIn 
  • Blogs 

You should review: 

  • Whether your profiles have any explicit or offensive content. 
  • Whether your posts still reflect the values and opinions you hold today. 
  • Whether you are following inappropriate accounts. 

You may want to make your social profiles private. 


Bad AP test scores will not adversely affect your college admission. While having good AP scores will boost your application, even bad scores will show that you are hardworking and motivated. However, if you prefer, you can choose to withhold or cancel your AP scores and retake the tests. 

Want to know the differences between regular and AP courses? I’ve got you covered with these (and more to come):

AP Biology vs. Biology

AP Chem vs. Chemistry

AP Chem vs. Honors Chemistry

AP Physics vs. Physics

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