The Basics of AP Exams
AP exams are subject-specific tests written and administered by a non-profit organization called the College Board. These exams attempt to measure both content knowledge and academic skills. For example, AP U.S. History covers the full sweep of American history from pre-history up to the present day, and assesses test-takers' abilities to master facts (through multiple choice questions) and synthesize facts and theory into arguments (through two different types of essay). Many (if not most) of the students who take these exams prepare for them through AP classes at their schools.
Currently, there are 34 AP exams available for students to take. There are AP classes in different areas of mathematics, science, language, history, art, music, literature, and the social sciences.
AP exams take place over the course of two weeks in May every year. For the 2014 testing year, each exam will cost $89, part of which often goes to the school running the testing site to help defray the costs of administration.
Despite the cost of the exam and the amount of work both inside and outside of school that goes into preparation and study, the amount of people who have taken AP exams has skyrocketed recently. According to the most recent data compiled by the College Board, in 2012 2,218,578 students worldwide took 3,938,100 AP exams.
When compared with the totals from a decade (1,017,396 and 1,737,231 respectively) and two decades (424,192 and 639,385 respectively) ago, it is very clear that more and more students are taking more and more exams. This begs the question: why?