The Ultimate Guide to Acing the AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

The Ultimate Guide to Acing the AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam

For many of the most impressive high school students in the United States, one of the best ways to set themselves apart from the pack regarding college application profiles is to create a challenging and impressive high school curriculum. This often means enrolling in AP and honors courses that frequently reflect college-level courses more than they resemble your introductory high school class. While AP courses that deal with STEM subjects, history, or writing are undoubtedly the most popular, some of the most impressive are part of the AP Languages and Cultures program, such as the AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam.

What is the AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam?

The AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam is a rigorous test administered by the College Board. It is designed to evaluate students’ proficiency in Mandarin Chinese language skills and their understanding of Chinese culture. This exam assesses your ability to listen, speak, read, and write in Chinese, as well as your knowledge of Chinese history, literature, and society.

Chinese is one of the eight languages that are part of the AP World Languages and Cultures program and is – perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly – one of the most popular AP Language and Culture programs, right behind AP French Language and Culture and AP Spanish Language and Culture. If you are thinking about taking the AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam, whether you have taken the AP Course, are a native Chinese speaker, or have taken other Chinese language courses and have self-studied for this exam, we at AdmissionSight have made a point to offer an objective breakdown of this course and exam so that you can prepare yourself as best you can for this fantastic and challenging course!

The College Board created the AP Languages and Cultures program based on their belief that American students should gain proficiency in a second language to gain success in the increasingly globalized culture and economy of the 21st century. When it comes to learning Chinese, there are a few more essential languages in international business. China is a significant economic power, and many of the top businesses in the world emphasize hiring young professionals who can speak Chinese and helm potential deals and partnerships with Chinese brands.

Therefore, even if your ultimate interest is not directly related to the Chinese language, you are interested in one day enrolling in a top business program or even an MBA program. Thinking about learning Chinese in high school and eventually taking the AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam could be a remarkable decision for you!

What is on the AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam?

One important thing to keep in mind is that the AP Chinese Language and Culture exam is that the emphasis of the course is to encourage true communication skills, which means that there is a significant focus on making sure that students can express themselves in speaking and writing and understand others through speaking and writing rather than mastering grammar specificities.

On top of emphasizing teaching students about communication in Chinese communication, the class is also geared towards educating students on modern and historical Chinese culture. Overall, the course is meant to assess three primary skills:

  • Interpersonal communication
  • Interpretive communication
  • Presentational skills

Furthermore, the course has six learning objectives:

Skill Description
1. Comprehend Text Comprehend written, audio, audiovisual, and visual text (text and pictures).
2. Make Connections Make interdisciplinary and cultural connections.
3. Interpret Text Interpret the content of written or audio text (words).
4. Make Meanings Make meanings from words and expressions.
5. Speak to Others Communicate interpersonally by speaking with others.
6. Write to Others Communicate interpersonally by writing to others.
7. Present Orally Communicate through spoken presentations.
8. Present in Writing Communicate through written presentations.

On top of focusing on the communication skills within the course, students will also be expected to grasp fundamental truths about Chinese culture. That means that students will study and be expected to memorize and understand modern and historical contexts, along with developing a deep awareness and appreciation for social, political, and educational issues.

Some specifics include learning about the role religion and politics play in modern Chinese society, the modern gender roles in Chinese culture, and other topics such as history, customs, and art.

In all, the course revolves around six primary course themes. These themes are used to help students develop their skills in the modes of modern communication.

Within each of these themes, there are five to seven recommended contexts. Each unit does target a primary piece; however, it is also used to connect to additional recommended contexts for those themes.

The primary themes are as follows:


It is essential to understand that students who take the AP Chinese Language and Culture exam are typically entering their fourth year of high-school-level Chinese language study. Keeping that in mind, there are no official prerequisites for this course, which is different from many other AP courses that are available to high school students. The reason for that is that many students who end up taking AP Languages and Cultures courses are native speakers in the language they have chosen to study.

For that reason, unless you are regularly exposed to the Japanese language outside of the classroom or have taken three years of Chinese language study, you should not consider this course to be an option for you even though there are no official prerequisites.

In case you are not convinced, consider the fact that the majority of the course is taught in Chinese, and the majority of the exam’s directions are written in Chinese. If you do not think you would be able to operate well within these guidelines, then you should seek out other options regarding language study.

AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam

Now that you have a decent idea about the format of the actual course, it is crucial to break down the format of the exam itself. Much like standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT, students must take the time and energy to not only master the subject matter that they will face on an AP exam but also master the format in which those questions will be asked.

With that in mind, we at AdmissionSight have broken down the exam itself and what we believe is the most effective and impactful way to prepare for and study for this – and every other – AP exam.

In all, the AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam takes two hours and 15 minutes to complete. The exam is split into four sections, meant to study a student’s mastery of four skills.

Another unique thing that is important to note is that, unlike the majority of other AP exams, the AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam is administered entirely on a computer. Throughout the exam, students read text on a computer screen, type using a keyboard, listen to recordings through headphones, and speak into a microphone. Students do not need to write on paper for the exam. However, writing on paper is allowed to take notes and work out problems during the exam. Any paper that is used during the exam will be collected but is not scored.

Throughout the exam, students can choose between two options of Chinese characters. Students can either read in traditional characters or simplified characters.

Students also get to choose between two different input methods. The first is Microsoft Pinyin IME (MSPY), which is based on Hanyu Pinyin, and the other is Microsoft New Phonetic IME, which is based on Zhuyin Fuhao.

On top of that, students who decide to type with Hanyu Pinyin can choose between traditional and simplified characters.

Multiple Choice

The first section of the exam is a multiple-choice section, which takes up the first 80 minutes of the test. There are two sections, with the first featuring rejoinders questions and listening selections.

  • The rejoinders section makes up 10 percent of your score and features 10 to 15 questions.
  • The listening selections comprise 15 percent of your score and feature 15 to 20 questions.

The second section of the multiple-choice part of the exam is based on reading selections. This section accounts for 25 percent of your total score, and students are given 60 minutes to complete the section.

Below are several examples of questions you might face on the multiple-choice section of the exam.

Multiple Questions for AP Exam

Multiple questions for AP exam 2

multiple questions for AP exam 3

When facing the multiple-choice section of the AP Chinese Language and Culture exam, consider the following tips to help you perform your best:

  1. Practice Regularly: A consistent approach with sample questions and past exams is critical to improving your multiple-choice skills. This section assesses your reading comprehension and language skills.
  2. Understand the Format: Familiarize yourself with the format of multiple-choice questions in this exam. They often include reading passages and questions related to Chinese culture and language.
  3. Read Carefully: Take your time to read each passage and question carefully. Pay attention to details, as the correct answer might depend on nuances in the text.
  4. Context Matters: Consider the context of the passage when answering questions. Understanding the broader context can help you make informed choices.
  5. Vocabulary Skills: Your knowledge of Chinese vocabulary can be a valuable asset. When faced with unfamiliar words, use your understanding of related words and root meanings to deduce the meanings.
  6. Process of Elimination: If you’re unsure about an answer, try eliminating options you know are incorrect. This increases your odds of selecting the correct answer.
  7. Time Management: The multiple-choice section is time-bound, so allocate your time wisely. Don’t dwell on a single question for too long. If you’re uncertain, mark it for review and move on.
  8. Stay Calm: Maintain composure even when dealing with challenging questions. Stress can impair your performance, so staying relaxed is crucial.
  9. Practice Listening: Some questions may involve listening comprehension. Practice your listening skills with audio materials in Chinese to prepare for these questions.
  10. Review Past Exams: Reviewing past exams and official sample questions can give you insight into the types of questions typically asked on the AP Chinese exam.

Free-response questions

The second section of the exam comprises free-response questions and takes up the remaining 40 minutes. There are two different sections within the free-response question, with the first two questions testing a student’s writing ability and the last two questions testing a student’s speaking ability. Each sub-section accounts for 25 percent of the student’s total score.

  • Question 1 tests through story narration
  • Question 2 tests students through an email response
  • Question 3 is a conversation that features six questions
  • Question 4 is a cultural presentation

Below is an example of a free-response question you might face on the exam:

To help those who understand better through visual representation, here is a table breakdown of the entire AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam.

Breakdown of AP Chinese and Culture exam

Here are some valuable tips for the free-response section of the AP Chinese Language and Culture exam:

  1. Organize Your Thoughts: Before you start writing, take a moment to organize your thoughts. Plan what you want to say in each section of your response.
  2. Address the Prompt: Ensure that your response directly addresses the prompt or question provided. Be clear and concise in your response.
  3. Use Formal Language: Write in a formal and appropriate style. Use polite language and proper honorifics when necessary, especially for formal letters or essays.
  4. Vocabulary and Grammar: Showcase your vocabulary and grammar skills. Use various vocabulary words and complex sentence structures to demonstrate your language proficiency.
  5. Cultural References: Incorporate cultural references and examples into your responses when appropriate. Show an understanding of Chinese culture and traditions.
  6. Time Management: Keep an eye on the time. The free-response section consists of several tasks, so allocate your time wisely to complete all parts.
  7. Proofread: After completing your responses, take a moment to proofread. Check for grammar and vocabulary errors and make any necessary corrections.
  8. Practice, Practice, Practice: Practice writing free responses regularly. You can find past AP Chinese exam questions online to practice with. It helps you become familiar with the format and types of questions.
  9. Seek Feedback: If possible, have a teacher or native speaker review your responses and provide feedback. Constructive criticism can help you improve.
  10. Stay Calm and Confident: Maintain your composure during the exam. Stay confident in your language skills and cultural knowledge.

Remember that the free-response section evaluates your ability to express yourself in Chinese effectively while demonstrating your cultural understanding. Practice and preparation are vital to performing well in this section.

AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam Score Breakdown

Students who take the AP Chinese Language and Culture exam are assessed in two groups. The first group is the total group – meaning all of the test takers. The second group is the standard group, which comprises the students who generally receive most of their foreign training in United States schools, those who do not speak Chinese as a native language, or those who have lived for more than one month in a Chinese-speaking country.

In other words, the standard group comprises students without exposure to Chinese outside of the high school classroom.

In 2019, the College Board’s data shows that 60 percent of students who took the exam scored a perfect 5 out 5. That said, only 16.3 percent of those students came from the standard group. The average exam score for the total group was an impressive 4.19, while the average score of the standard group was 2.95 – less than a passing score of 3.

Here is a graph breakdown of the two groups and their related scores.

Breakdown of scores for AP exam

How to study for the AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam

Now that you have a great idea when it comes to what will be covered in the course and what you will be expected to master if you want to score an excellent grade on the exam, let us at AdmissionSight enlighten you on how to best prepare for this – and every other – AP exam. We have created a step-by-step process so that you can learn and master the material of the exam while also preparing yourself for the format of the exam.

Analyze your ability

The first step to preparing for the exam is to take a complete practice exam to analyze your mastery of the material. While you do not need to time yourself on this exam in the way that you will be timed on the real one, you should go through your questions and understand why and how you got any answers wrong.

This will not only help you learn but will also help you identify parts of the subject matter that you may want to commit extra time to as you continue to study and prepare.

Immerse in the language

Surround yourself with Chinese language materials, such as books, movies, and music. This will help you improve your listening skills and familiarize yourself with the language.

One effective way to immerse yourself in the language is to find a Chinese language club or community in your area. By joining these groups, you can converse with native Chinese speakers and fellow learners. This will not only enhance your oral proficiency but also provide you with valuable cultural insights.

Additionally, consider incorporating Chinese language podcasts into your daily routine. Listening to podcasts on various topics, such as history, culture, and current events, will expose you to different accents and vocabulary. This will further strengthen your listening skills and broaden your understanding of Chinese society.

Find a language partner or join a study group to practice speaking Chinese. Engaging in conversations will enhance your oral proficiency and boost your confidence.

Master the material

The second step to preparing for this exam is to master the material that you will be tested on. Of course, this means getting as good as possible at speaking and understanding conversational Chinese. While your course and study guides are undeniably helpful, it is also a good idea to consider picking up some Chinese newspapers or magazines, visiting Chinese websites, watching Chinese films and television, or even starting up a study group with your fellow students so that you can meet one or two times a week to speak about current affairs taking place in China in Chinese!

Take practice tests

The next step to preparing for the exam is to take practice exams. What is essential to keep in mind is that if you want to make sure that you are as prepared as possible for the exam, you will have to give yourself the same amount of time on these practice exams as you will be given on the day of the test.

Finally, keep in mind that as the day of the actual exam approaches, you will want to lay off practicing and give your mind and body the rest they need so that you can perform your very best!

Can I score a perfect 5 on the AP Chinese Language and Culture exam?

Scoring a perfect 5 on the AP Chinese Language and Culture exam is achievable, but it requires diligent preparation and a strong command of the language. Here are some strategies to help you aim for a perfect score:

  1. Early and Consistent Preparation: Begin preparing well before the exam date and maintain a consistent study schedule.
  2. Use Practice Tests: Work through past AP Chinese exams and practice questions to become accustomed to the types of questions and improve test-taking skills.
  3. Seek Expert Guidance: Consider finding a qualified tutor or teacher who can provide guidance, feedback, and insights.
  4. Speaking with Native Speakers: Engage in conversations with native Chinese speakers to enhance fluency and pronunciation.
  5. Develop Test Strategies: Develop strategies for effective test-taking, such as scanning through questions before answering.

While a perfect score is challenging, with dedicated effort and the right resources, you can increase your chances of achieving it. It’s important to remember that the AP Chinese Language and Culture exam assesses your language skills comprehensively, and your performance in each section contributes to the final score. Therefore, a well-rounded approach to studying is vital.

How hard is the AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam?

The difficulty level of the AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam can vary depending on your level of proficiency in the language. However, it is generally regarded as a challenging exam that requires extensive preparation.

Regarding the AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam, it is essential to understand the depth and breadth of the content covered. The exam assesses your ability to comprehend and communicate in Chinese, as well as your knowledge of Chinese culture, history, and society. It tests your skills in listening, speaking, reading, and writing, making it a comprehensive assessment of your overall language proficiency.

Students with a strong foundation in Chinese language skills and a deep understanding of Chinese culture will have an advantage. These students will likely be more familiar with the nuances of the language, the cultural context, and the intricacies of Chinese characters. They may have a better grasp of grammar, vocabulary, and sentence structure, which makes tackling the exam questions easier.

Nevertheless, with diligent study, dedication, and practical strategies, anyone can achieve a good score on this exam. It is essential to approach the exam with a growth mindset, recognizing that improvement is possible with consistent effort and practice. Developing a study plan that includes regular practice in all language skills, exposure to authentic Chinese materials, and targeted vocabulary and grammar review can significantly enhance your chances of success.

Additionally, taking advantage of available resources such as practice exams, study guides, online forums, and language exchange programs can provide valuable support and guidance throughout your preparation process. Engaging in conversations with native Chinese speakers, watching Chinese movies or TV shows, reading Chinese literature, and immersing yourself in the language and culture can also help you develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the subject matter.

What units are most challenging to learn in the AP Chinese Language and Culture exam?

While the difficulty of specific units may vary from student to student, some areas are often considered more challenging:

  1. Language Proficiency: Units focusing on advanced language skills, such as complex grammar structures, idiomatic expressions, and extensive vocabulary, can be challenging. These units assess your ability to use the Chinese language effectively in both spoken and written contexts.
  2. Cultural Understanding: Units related to Chinese culture, history, and traditions may pose difficulties for those less familiar with these topics. Understanding and analyzing cultural nuances require in-depth knowledge.
  3. Interpersonal Communication: The unit that evaluates your ability to engage in real-life conversations in Chinese may be challenging. It assesses your speaking and listening skills and ability to communicate effectively in various situations.
  4. Presentational Communication: This unit focuses on your ability to present information and ideas in written and spoken forms. Crafting coherent essays and delivering clear presentations can be demanding.
  5. Media and Authentic Materials: The exam often includes content that uses real-life materials such as newspaper articles, films, music, and books. These units can be challenging due to the complexity and authenticity of the materials.
  6. Comparisons: Units that require you to compare aspects of Chinese culture with your own culture can be tricky, as they demand a deep understanding of both cultures.

Ultimately, the difficulty of the AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam is not impossible. With the right mindset, dedication, and a well-rounded study plan, you can confidently approach the exam and showcase your language proficiency and cultural knowledge.

When is the AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam in 2024?

The exact date for the AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam in 2024 is May 9th. It is essential to stay updated with the official College Board website for the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding exam dates.

Here’s a complete list of 2024’s AP examination schedules:

Week 1 Morning 8 a.m.

Local Time

Afternoon 12 p.m.

Local Time


May 6, 2024

United States Government and Politics Art History



May 7, 2024

Human Geography





May 8, 2024

English Literature and Composition Comparative Government and Politics

Computer Science A


May 9, 2024

Chinese Language and Culture

Environmental Science


May 10, 2024

European History

United States History


Spanish Literature and Culture

Art and Design: Friday, May 10, 2024 (8 p.m. ET), is the deadline for AP Art and Design students to submit their three portfolio components as final in the AP Digital Portfolio.
Week 2 Morning 8 a.m.

Local Time

Afternoon 12 p.m.

Local Time

Afternoon 2 p.m.

Local Time


May 13, 2024

Calculus AB

Calculus BC

Italian Language and Culture



May 14, 2024

English Language and Composition African American Studies

Physics C: Mechanics

Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism

May 15, 2024

French Language and Culture

World History: Modern

Computer Science Principles

Music Theory


May 16, 2024

Spanish Language and Culture Biology

Japanese Language and Culture


May 17, 2024

German Language and Culture

Physics 1: Algebra-Based


Physics 2: Algebra-Based

How long is the AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam?

The duration of the AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam is approximately three hours and twenty minutes. This includes a ten-minute reading period at the beginning of the exam, during which you can review the questions, texts, and prompts. The actual testing time is approximately two hours and fifty minutes.

It is crucial to manage your time effectively during the exam to ensure sufficient time to complete all the sections.

When do AP scores come out?

The AP scores for the Chinese Language and Culture Exam are typically released in early July. You can access your scores online through your College Board account. Keep track of the specific release date to promptly view your results and determine if you have achieved your desired score.

Remember, even if you don’t receive the score you were aiming for, it’s essential to stay positive and continue learning and practicing. Every attempt at the AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam is an opportunity to grow and improve.

By utilizing effective study strategies, understanding the exam format, and consistently practicing your language skills, you can confidently approach the AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam. Remember to stay focused, dedicated, and determined throughout your preparation journey, and success will be within your reach. Best of luck!

If you want to discuss the matter to a greater extent or inquire about college admissions, look no further! Our experts here at AdmissionSight can help you! Here at AdmissionSight, we have over a decade’s worth of experience guiding students through the competitive admissions process to get accepted to the top universities in the world. Feel free to set up an appointment today to book your initial consultation.

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