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High School: Choosing AP Exams Wisely

AP college boardI was working with a graduating high school senior this week who is planning to go to a community college for two years to improve grades and (she hopes) transfer to UCLA or Berkeley. She will be taking her AP Art exam shortly as well as her AP Psych exam. In terms of majors, she is planning on Communications (Media Studies at Berkeley).

Here is what we discovered by doing a simple search on

Berkeley – Media Studies
Requirements include choosing one course from each of four groups.  Group three has this list:
1. Intro to Anthro
2. Macro and Micro Economics
3. General Psychology
4. Intro to Sociology

Situation:  AP Psych is the same as general psychology.  Taking that psych course would duplicate the AP exam and invalidate it. But there are other options. The student can take anthro, econ and sociology and still retain the five semester units from AP Psych.

Result:  Good to go

UCLA – Communications Studies
Included in the requirements is a section that says choose three additional courses from:
1. Intro to American Politics
2. Intro to Psychology
3. Intro to Sociology
3. Micro Economics

Situation: Again, AP Psych is a duplicate of Intro to Psychology so taking that course invalidates the AP exam. But there are three other options, so the AP exam would remain viable and provide five semester (eight quarter) units.

Result:  Good to go

UC Davis – Communications
Situation:  Among the various courses listed as required for UCD’s Communications major is Psych 100 (Intro to Psychology). It is not listed as an option. Intro to Psych is listed as a required course.  Now, in case you don’t know, major requirements must be taken as a class. AP exams are not accepted for major course fulfillment (except in extremely rare circumstances where it will be duly noted). This means the AP Psych exam will almost invariably not count toward the major course fulfillment. The student has the option of taking Intro to Psych (highly recommended) or continue with the application knowing the end result is not clear — or that the course may need to be taken at UCD, if accepted.

Result:  Since taking the Intro to Psych course invalidates the AP exam, should that occur the student will get neither subject credit nor unit credit for the exam. Plus, she will have wasted money on the test. I suggested she not take the AP psych exam, and instead take the course at community college. Luckily she was able to cancel it for a refund.

Final thoughts
This is why it helps if you have an idea of possible majors before you schedule AP exams. Obviously, this is not always doable, but just keep in mind that AP exams will not replace a major required course, and if a course duplicates an exam you will get neither subject credit nor unit credit for the exam.

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Lindy is an independent UC admissions consultant, who works with both transfers and freshmen. She also has just completed her first novel, a supernatural thriller set in San Francisco.

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