Advanced Placement (AP) is a program created in 1955 by College Board, a U.S non-profit organization. Since its inception, the program has gained popularity and expanded its offering from just ten courses to forty as of today. AP courses can be grouped into four major categories: math and sciences, liberal arts, languages, and arts.

Because the AP program is designed to give academically strong students the opportunity for direct access to universities, the difficulty level of AP courses is also higher than that of secondary school level courses.

The AP program is often compared side-by-side with IB (International Baccalaureate) Program which originated in Switzerland. Both programs are recognized by post-secondary institutions around the world and provide similar educational benefits to students, but in different ways.

Generally speaking, AP program is relatively bigger in North America, while IB program is more well-known in Europe. While IB program takes a more systematic approach and offers courses from primary school level all the way to senior high school level, only two grade levels at maximum are available for each course under the AP program. While AP program doesn’t have restriction on when students must take or when they must complete a course, success on passing a course is determined by the test score.


AP exams are administered during the first two weeks of May every year around the world. The exams are graded using a special 5-point scoring system. While the method used in the grading system is complex, in general, scoring 65% and over on subjects in the math and science category such as calculus, physics, chemistry, and biology will convert to the equivalence of 5 points. The same applies to history and geography courses in the liberal arts category. However, as for language courses, psychology, and economics, a score of 75% or higher is required to acquire 5 points.


As AP program is highly recognized by top universities around the world, students who aim to major in math, science, engineering, and business at top universities in the U.S, U.K, and Canada are strongly advised to enrol in AP courses relevant to their desired majors. High achievers in the courses and exams will have an edge and allow them to stand out in the competition when applying to universities. This is particularly helpful for students who would like to get into prestigious universities.

While the curriculum and difficulty level of AP courses are of university level, it is important to note that AP test scores are also included in calculating a student’s GPA along with their grade 12 course grades. Students with high test scores (usually 4 or higher) may earn credits towards certain university courses. This will not only save students time in completing their degree, but also translate into significant savings in their tuition fees. For a student currently enrolled at UBC where the cost of a 3 credit course is around $4,000 for an international student (Source: https://students.ubc.ca/enrolment/finances/tuition-fees/undergraduate-tuition-fees), the university credits earned from demonstration of excellence on AP tests will allow a student to take up to two less courses to complete their degree, or up to $8,000 in tuition savings.

Considering AP tests are held in May of every year and that acceptance letters for early admission into universities are usually issued and sent before this time, students are advised to complete their AP courses and exams before they enter Grade 12, so that they can make the most effective use of the opportunity if AP program is something for them.

Students can start with subjects such as computer science and psychology once their proficiency of English is above a certain level, then move on to subjects such as calculus, chemistry, and physics when they have completed the Gr. 12 level course of the subjects.

AP courses are in essence, more challenging than secondary school level courses in terms of both the curriculum and level of difficulty, hence greater commitment and effort are needed for students who would like to do well.

Due to the fact that the AP program was developed by College Board in the U.S, which uses Imperial system instead of the metric system for units of measurement, in addition to studying the core course materials students must familiarize themselves with using and converting units such as inches, feet, and gallons.