The Ultimate Guide to Taking AP or Honors Courses

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Female student smiling at the camera while her classmates are working on the table.

The Ultimate Guide to Taking AP or Honors Courses in High School

Higher education enrollments are competitive, and many students start preparing for college even before they start high school. High school students want to stand out during applications, so enrolling in AP and honors courses helps to show that you’ll be successful in college. If you’re thinking about taking more advanced courses and seeking to guarantee your success, this guide will breakdown everything you’ve wanted to know about AP or Honors courses.

What are AP Courses?

According to the College Board, AP classes are designed to give students the college level experience and college credit while they are still in high school. This includes using college level textbooks and providing college level assignments that ask students to do higher order thinking.

Students read several books a year, either as a class text or in book reading groups. Students may also write several papers, conduct their own research, and engage in discussions and presentations.

This requires students to highly develop their reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills along with more specific skills related to different subjects.

At most schools that participate in the AP program, there are 34 options for AP courses. Students can take the following courses for AP credit by exam:

Students prepare for the AP exams through their courses, and they may take the exams in their junior and senior years.

Students typically need a score of at least 3 out of 5 points to earn partial to full college course credit. Students may take any number of exams for which they have taken the corresponding course.

What are Honors courses?

Honors courses are more similar to non-AP courses in that they teach the same grade level material with more in-depth assignments and the ability to move through additional resources and materials. Learn everything you’ve wanted to know about AP or Honors courses.

For example, in a regular chemistry class, students might complete four experiments over the year. In an Honors chemistry class, students might do seven experiments throughout the year with the option to submit their research for science fairs or student conferences based on the work they do in class.

In Honors French, students might have all portions of the class completed mostly in French with writing assignments in French as well as conversational exercises.

In Honors English, students might read an extra book, participate in an independent reading program, enter writing competitions, and complete supplementary writing assignments for each unit.

Differences between AP and Honors?

AP Courses use a curriculum that is recommended by the College Board. They also require that all students are given the option to take AP courses. All AP students have the option to take AP Exams in order to receive college credit at most universities around the world.

Passing AP exam scores give students the option to move through lower-level general education college courses without having to take them. Receiving a high score on the AP exams reduces the number of time students have to spend working toward a four-year degree.

Group of students studying on a table.

On the other hand, Honors courses require a placement test for entry in the program. The placements are usually given by the department chair and may range from speaking in language classes to problem sets for math classes.

Honors curriculums are also varied from state to state, district to district, and especially school to school. There is also no standardized assessment at the end of Honors courses, but students may take a course final or complete a capstone project.

Knowing everything you’ve needed to know about AP and Honors courses will help you to weigh the benefits and decide if either option is worth it.

Other options for college prep

If a student’s high school does not offer AP or Honors courses, students can elect to take college courses while still enrolled in high school.

Dual enrollment gives students the option to enroll in classes at local community colleges or universities to earn credits. This program involves more coordination between high schools and state schools.

Students can also choose to take International Baccalaureate (IB) classes which may offer college credit as well. Like the AP courses, students can take the IB classes to earn college credit or a diploma.

There are major differences between all of these options, such as the IB exams being more expensive and the course having more specific requirements for both students and teachers. Ultimately they all end with a student earning college credit, which can benefit the student and their family in various ways.

Students can even choose to do a combination of the different options with both AP and Honors courses in their schedules. Any advanced level of coursework will demonstrate a student’s preparedness for college, but taking AP courses is a great way to impress admissions counselors.

Should students take AP or Honors courses?

When deciding between AP or Honors, students should seek assistance with planning their course schedules. Many schools offer a four-year program which will help students meet the credit requirements to graduate.

AdmissionSight also offers consultations for college planning and college enrollments. It is a benefit to students to take AP and Honors courses in high school.

University students talking in front of a laptop.

If a student’s high school offers multiple options or programs, students have to decide if they want to begin gaining college credit before enrolling in college.

They will have to take the various offered exams at a later date. If a student wants advanced coursework but is not necessarily planning for college or ready to start college level work, they may choose to take Honors courses.

If a student is ready to begin college level work with the goal of transferring their credits by exam, then AP courses make more sense in the schedule. Taking AP classes is worth it for the student and their family to save time and money in the long-term.

What to do once you’re in AP or Honors courses?

Taking advanced coursework requires students to put in more effort, do more assignments, and demonstrate a higher level of work. The classes are hard, or at least challenging.

Students will need to consider their time management skills, their future goals, and their persistence and determination to work harder than they ordinarily would. Students will need to devote their time and attention to passing their courses, especially if they take more than one AP course.

Once you’re in AP and Honors courses, it’s a good idea to imagine the kind of major you might want to pursue. This will help you with figuring out which courses to continue each year. If writing and reading are where you excel, you might consider taking AP English and AP History courses.

If you prefer to conduct experiments and perform calculations, then AP Geometry and AP Biology might be where you focus your efforts. If learning a foreign language is easy for you, you may want to continue with AP language classes.

Time management is the most important skill to have for success in AP and Honors courses. Yes, we know, having to manage your time is obvious, but here is everything you’ve wanted to know about navigating AP and Honors courses:

1.Add your assignments, due dates, and class times to your calendar(s).

Students may use planners, wall or desk calendars, or the calendar app on their phones. Students should use what is most convenient and what they can easily access several times a day. With a calendar app, students can enter the times during the week when they’ll have classes and their due dates for assignments.

2. Avoid starting assignments too late.

Everybody procrastinates to some extent. We’ll wait until the night before an essay is due to start writing it. The stress and anxiety can bring you to tears!

You can avoid this level of stress by starting assignments the day you get them and doing a little bit of work everyday until it is finished well before the deadline. If you think you work better under pressure, wait until you see how well you work when you’re not stressed and can’t relax.

3. Reserve assignment extensions for busier schedules that require more time in other activities.

Try not to miss too many assignment deadlines or ask for extensions. When work is pushed back, it piles up, and now you have multiple assignments to complete at once. Getting behind can feel overwhelming and unmanagement.

Try to enjoy your experience by only asking for extensions when you need them, like for play rehearsals, sports travel, or illness.

4. Make at least one friend in each of your courses to discuss class with.

Having someone to practice quizzing for a math test and to read over each other’s essays can be very helpful in your AP courses. Make friends with different people in your classes. You can talk through assignments, share ideas, and help keep each other motivated.

5. Regularly check your school’s learning management system (LMS).

Different classes may use different methods to post assignments, input grades, and make announcements. Stay on top of whatever LMS your school uses, whether its Google Classroom, Canva, or Blackboard. Check the LMS at least twice a day.

Check in the morning before school to make sure you’re bringing everything to school you’ll need. Check again in the afternoon after school to see your homework and updated grades. Getting practice with these systems in high school will make using them in college easier to adapt to.

6. Get your teacher or a tutor’s help.

If the classes are challenging for you, seek out your teacher’s help. This is something you will have in high school that will be more difficult to access in college.

Female student writing in front of her laptop

Your high school teachers may seek you out if they notice you getting behind or not performing well. Struggling doesn’t mean the classes are too hard; it may mean you need a different study strategy or a different method for understanding the material.

How to choose which AP or Honors courses to take

A typical high school schedule for a well-rounded student will include advanced AP courses every year in every subject at which they excel. This leads students to ask, “What if I don’t perform as well or fail?”

A student who earns a B or C in an AP course might or might not pose a risk for the student’s college enrollment courses. Students who seek out advanced coursework tend to be very self-motivated and have proven themselves, so their ability to earn an A grade is highly likely.

At the same time, life happens, so students may still consider classes in which they know they can be successful based on their previous record of enrollment. In 9th grade, a student can try Pre-AP English, Pre-AP History, Pre-AP Algebra 1, and Pre-AP Biology.

These are great introductory courses, and can help a student transition into harder courses later. If the student earns As in all the courses, indicating they performed well, then they can choose to do the same thing in each year of high school.

If a student realizes they are earning higher grades in ninth grade math and science classes, they might choose to take AP Geometry and AP Biology in 10th grade, AP Algebra 2 and AP Chemistry in 11th grade, and AP Calculus and AP Physics in 12th grade.

If they notice that they’re performing well in English, they may take AP English Language and Composition in 11th grade and AP English Literature and Composition in 12th grade. It is up to the student and their consultants to make the best decision for the student’s capabilities.

How to get the A in AP and Honors courses

Beyond tailoring your schedule to your skills, goals, and realistic abilities, there are other things students can do to earn an A in their AP and Honors courses. Depending on your previous record, you may not think AP or Honors classes are hard. If you were successful and an overachiever in the past, you should be able to successfully implement all the tools and techniques of earning an A grade.

1. Follow the instructors directions.

Use the syllabus, assignment guides, rubrics, and checklists to complete everything necessary to earn the points you need for an A.

2. Turn in assignments on time.

Completing and turning in assignments on time shows good time management and motivation.

3. Seek out extra instruction.

Use your teacher as a resource and a mentor. Stay after school for office hours/conference periods to get help with assignments or ask questions.

4. Ask questions and have discussions of course content.

Talk about the course with the teacher and your peers. Ask questions that you need clarity for.

5. Quiz yourself and others.

Ask yourself questions about the course content to stimulate  your long-term memory and recall. Use flashcards and lecture notes to generate questions to answer.

6. Ask to re-do or revise assignments to earn lost credit.

If your teacher doesn’t have a specific resubmission policy, ask them if you can resubmit any assignments that you didn’t perform as well on.

7. Take advantage of all the extra opportunities you can.

Many of your AP and Honors teachers will offer extra credit assignments, invitations to conferences and seminars, and other special content. Take advantage of any that interest you for future goals.

How will AP and Honors affect college?

Students in AP and Honors courses get to experience what college work will be like while still in high school. This gives a preview of what to expect and can give students an idea of how they will perform in college.

Just like in college, in AP and Honors classes, students are held to a higher standard, given more responsibilities, and expected to perform better. The assignments are a preview of what they can expect if they enroll in college.

With the possibility of taking exams, students can also earn college credit before they even graduate. This benefit alone makes taking AP courses worth it. This tells colleges that a student is ready to enroll and will be more likely to achieve success.

While students may need support and have other challenges in college, being successful in AP courses translates most strongly to college success than many other college application materials.

AP and Honors students in College

Students who take AP and Honors courses can expect to have more success in college and familiarity with college level expectations. By learning everything you’ve ever wanted to know about AP and Honors courses, you can make the decision on whether these classes really help.

Young woman searching for a job via laptop.

At AdmissionSight, we recommend that students take AP and Honors courses to prepare for college.

A student who learns how to conduct a research experiment, write a science lab report, properly write a five-paragraph essay, and prepare and present an oral argument will have mastered the basis of most college courses.

What happens if you don’t take AP or Honors?

Students can absolutely take non-AP courses throughout their high school careers and excel or perform moderately well and still be admitted into college.

While the college enrollment process is super competitive, there are community colleges, trade schools, certification programs, and numerous universities beyond the Ivy Leagues that offer students enrollment even without taking a single AP course.

Young woman attending an online class in a room.

While AP and Honors courses will give you the best chance of being admitted and succeeding in college, college admissions are more about your ability to learn and use new skills, expand to a high level of knowledge, and perform achievements that determine your success.

Using everything you’ve ever wanted to know about AP and Honors courses will contribute positively to your potential for success.

How AdmissionSight Can Help

We at AdmissionSight help students get into the Ivy League of their dreams. Based on the countless students we have helped succeed, having AP and Honors courses on their schedule gives students the edge over other applications and the most success with their applications and classes beyond enrollment.

Getting into the Ivy Leagues requires the demonstration of a more stringent and rigorous academic program. AP and Honors courses are just one option for creating a successful application. Contact us today to discuss everything you’ve ever wanted to know about AP and Honors courses and your future higher education goals.




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