Gas station without pumps

2012 May 19

AP blog pulse over

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 23:23
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Now that the AP exams are over, the big increase in hits to my blog from search engine hits to 2011 AP exam score distribution is mostly over. The pulse was a bit embarrassing anyway, as that post only pointed to another unofficial source of information and not to the official AP statistics.

There is a lot of other interesting data on those official pages, not just the 2011 score distributions.  For example, there are distributions of students taking exams by grade level and by gender (World History peaks in 10th grade, Chem, English Language Composition, US History, and Chinese peak in 11th grade, everything else peaks in 12th grade).  The large gender imbalances seen in college majors are already well established in high school AP classes—it seems that the socialization of students into subjects happens in high school or earlier.

I also found the historical participation numbers interesting—the program has grown over 46 fold since I took AP exams.  What was once a rare thing for the top few % of students is now common place.  The number of exams per student taking exams is about 1.75, but the number of exams per 11th or 12th grader varies from state to state, with a low of 116/1000 students in North Dakota, to a high of 1015/1000 in the District of Columbia.  The pass rates vary a lot also, with a low of 30.8% in Arkansas to a high of 73.1% in New Hampshire.  Of course, neither of those two numbers is really measuring how good the program is, as both can be manipulated (in opposite directions) by encouraging or discouraging weaker students from taking the exams.

What we really want is the number of AP exams passed per 11th or 12th grader.  Luckily, they provide the data in a spreadsheet and we can add a column to do that computation.  We then get a low of 4.8% for Mississippi  and a high of 55.5% for District of Columbia.  The top states (not counting DC) are Maryland 45.4%, Connecticut 40.4%, Virginia 38.2%, Massachusetts 38.1%, New York 34.6%, New Jersey 32.9%, Florida 31.6%, and California 29.0%.  For all states combined, the number of passed AP exams is 23.7% of 11th and 12th graders.

A student trying to get into University of California is supposed to be in the top 1/8 of his or her classes, and it looks like having one AP pass is nowhere near enough to be that exclusive.  We can look at the “AP Scholar” counts instead.  Of the 952,842 11th and 12th graders in California in 2011, 28,514 were “AP Scholars”, having 3 or more AP exams with scores of 3 or more. Of the seniors, 16,438 were AP scholars, or about 3.5%.  So this is too exclusive—UC admittees don’t need to be AP scholars.  There don’t seem to be any statistics available that tell me what level of AP performance is the top 1/8 of Californians.  Probably it is one 4 or two 3s, but that’s just a guess.

[Oops.  I think I goofed in reading the spreadsheet.  I think that there are 16438 AP Scholars, 6818 Scholars with Honor, 14949 Scholars with Distinction, 2 state scholars, 2797 AP National Scholars and 4 APIDs among California 12th graders last year, for a total of 41008 AP scholars of some type.  That’s about 8.6% of all California high school seniors—about the level that guarantees Californians entrance into UC.  So students planning to go to UC should be aiming for 3 or more passed AP exams.]

My son will probably aim for “AP Scholar with Distinction”: “average score of at least 3.5 on all AP Exams taken, and scores of 3 or higher on five or more of these exams.” [AP Scholar Awards]  He took two tests this year and will probably take three next year.  I don’t know if he’ll try for “AP National Scholar”, which requires “an average score of at least 4 on all AP Exams taken, and scores of 4 or higher on eight or more of these exams.”  Currently, he only has plans for 7 exams.


  1. Just for clarity, the AP State Scholars are almost always also AP National Scholars. Every AP National Scholar is also awarded an AP Scholar with Distinction certificate. So, I think you really want to sum AP Scholars, AP Scholars with Honor, and AP Scholars with Distinction.

    From an admissions perspective, rumor is that the AP awards mean nothing. The schools can already tell based on the self-reported scores.

    Also, none of these AP awards come with money. The only AP award that brings money is the Siemens AP award which is for the boy and girl in each state with the highest number of 5s on the highest level math & science exams (Calc BC, Computer Science, Environmental Science, Biology, Chemistry, Physics C: Mechanics, Physics C:Electricity & Magnetism, and Statistics) after the junior year (student must still be in high school in December/January after exams when the award is given out). If there is a tie, the tie is broken by the raw score (which the students never see).

    Comment by Jo in OKC — 2012 May 20 @ 14:37 | Reply

    • I checked the College Board spreadsheet, and they had a column that corresponded to the sum that I got by adding all the other other columns, so I think that in the spreadsheet they had put each student into only one category,even if they qualified for multiple categories.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2012 May 20 @ 22:27 | Reply

  2. […] This, my 700th blog post, is also one day after my second blogoversary—I started this blog on 1 Jun 2010.  My readership has gone up over the past year, averaging about 2000 views a week lately (not counting the spike in the AP exam score post around AP exam time). […]

    Pingback by Second Blogoversary « Gas station without pumps — 2012 June 2 @ 18:15 | Reply

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