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AP Exam Scoring – Grading Scale with Examples

Apr 12, 2023

AP Exam Scoring

If you hope to take an AP class in the future or are studying for an AP exam right now, the question: “How are AP exams scored?” will be on your mind.

In this blog, we hope to simplify the scoring process, from the raw scores you earn on the MCQ section and other sections to how the final score on a scale of 1-5 is assigned. This information can help you do your best on your AP exams, especially if you are working towards that perfect 5! 


The AP Grading Scale

According to the AP grading scale, each AP exam is assigned a score from 1-5. Wondering what a passing AP score is? The answer is three.

These Numbers Translate in the Following Way According to the College Board:

1: No recommendation


2: Possibly Qualified

3: Qualified


4: Well Qualified

5: Extremely Well Qualified


The 1-5 scaled score is derived from a composite score calculated from the total number of raw points achieved from the correct MCQ answers and free responses. So if you find it confusing, don’t worry! We will explain it all in detail!

How are AP Exams Scored?

Most AP exams comprise two sections— the multiple-choice question part and the free response part. On some exams, equal marks are assigned to both sections, while on others, one is assigned slightly higher marks. You can get specific information about each exam on the official AP website. A machine automatically grades the MCQ section. No deductions are made for blank or incorrect answers. The total score corresponds to the number of questions you mark correctly. 


The grading for the free-response section is conducted during the annual AP Reading that takes place in the first two weeks of June. The event is a huge convention where lots of college professors and teachers gather to grade thousands of responses written by students for each exam.

If you know a teacher from your school who goes to the AP Reading each year, you can talk to them about what happens there, how quickly the free responses are scored, and the best and the worst cases they have seen. This information could be very helpful for you when you do your AP free-response section. 


For the reasons mentioned above, the results for the AP exams are not ready until July, even though the exam is held in May. The app grading scale percentage for the written portion of the exam isn’t calculated until mid-June. At last, the College Board calculates the composite score for each exam, followed by calculating the final scaled score.

The test is equated with ensuring the final scaled score stays even yearly. For instance, they make sure that a three on the AP Chemistry exam means the same thing from year to year, even if the exam paper was more difficult for the students in one year. 


A holistic score is assigned to every free response, which means it is assessed based on its correctness or effectiveness. Usually, no marks are deducted for small errors like spelling or grammatical mistakes, so these won’t affect your AP grade scale percentage. The free responses for most tests are graded from 1-9 according to the AP grading scale, with 1 being the lowest score and 9 being the nearly perfect score. The raw free-response score combines all the scores received for individual responses.

How are Scaled AP Scores Between 1 and 5 Assigned?

After the grading for your multiple-choice and free response sections (by a machine and a teacher, respectively), a composite score is produced by combining the essay and multiple-choice scores. This way of combining the scores of the two sections makes sure they are weighted correctly. For instance, the multiple-choice section is worth 45% for AP English, while the free response section is 55%. The composite scores generally lie between 0-100 or 0-150.

The composite score calculated for each student is then converted to a scaled version and assigned a scaled score of 1-5. This means a range of composite scores for each scaled score. For instance, to get a 5, the student might have earned a composite score of anywhere between 110-150.

As scaling varies yearly, no exact cutoff points for the AP test scores have been assigned. The College Board does not release detailed scoring data. Additionally, students only see their final scaled score from 1-5. They do not get to know their composite score. These days many prep books, teachers, and websites have come up with ways to predict the scaled scores for the AP exams, which can help you to come up with a target score while grading your practice tests. 

Scoring Examples on AP English Language and Composition

As we have already seen, the AP exam scoring method is not straightforward. To better understand the process, we will consider an example where we discuss scoring the most popular AP exam— AP English language and comprehension. 

The test paper contains 55 MCQs that constitute 45% of the total score. Additionally, three essays are worth 55% of the total score. A grade between 1-9 is assigned for each essay. 

Before we move forward, please remember that this example will only give you an estimation of how the scores are calculated. This is because the score conversions vary from one year to the next according to the difficulty of the exam. Therefore, it is impossible to predict your exact AP exam score, but you can still form an idea about how the process works and try to guess an approximate score till you get your actual score. 

Step 1: Check your Correct Answers and Add Those Up to Get your Raw Score

Let’s say that out of the 55 multiple-choice questions, you get 40 right, leave seven blanks, and get eight wrong. Your raw MCQ score would be equal to the number of correct answers. In this case, 40 points.

For the three essays, let’s assume you got the following scores from the examiners— 7,8 and 4. Your total raw essay score, therefore, comes out to be 19. 

Step 2: Calculate a Single Composite Score from your Raw Scores. 

This part, where you must convert the raw scores into a single composite score, is tricky. The composite score will be anywhere between 0-150. 

82.5 is the maximum converted essay score, 55% of 150. On the other hand, 67.5 is the maximum converted MCQ score, which is 45% of 150. Therefore, the formula given below can be used to calculate your composite score:

Composite Score = (Raw Score of Essay x 3.05) + ( Raw Score of MCQs x 1.23) 

In this case, your composite essay score will be 57.95, and your MCQ composite score will be 49.2. Therefore, the total composite score comes out to be 107 (after rounding off).  

Step 3: Estimate your Final AP Scaled Score by Using the Chart Given Below:

Composite ScoreScaled Score

Please note that these scores are just a rough estimate and are subject to change from one year to the next based on the difficulty of the exam. 


We hope that this blog helps you understand how AP exams are scored. Even though you can’t get an exact score on your practice exams, you can form a rough estimate of it which will help you understand where you stand in your preparation process and how much more work you need to put in to achieve an AP passing score!

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can the formula given above be used to score every AP exam?

A. No, the same formula can’t be used for every AP exam. This is because different tests have slightly different weights and the number of questions for different sections. For example, suppose the AP Calculus test contains fewer MCQs and more free responses. 

2. Which is the hardest AP exam?

A. AP Physics 1 is the most failed AP exam, therefore, the hardest one. The passing rate for this exam is the lowest, 51.5%, meaning almost half of the students who sit on this exam fail. The exam consists of 50 multiple-choice and five free-response questions and lasts three hours. If you take this course, you will need more effort to get an AP passing score. 

3. What are passing AP scores, and what is the highest score according to the 1-5 scale?

A. To pass, you need to score three or higher. Some colleges even award credit only to students with four or higher. However, five is the highest and the most desirable score. It puts the students in the top 10-20% of scorers. 

4. What are the AP core courses?

A. AP Mathematics, AP English, AP Biology, AP Chemistry, and AP Physics are some core AP courses.

AP Exam Scoring


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