Computer science is an integral part of our world, from smartphones and video games to medicine, research, and more. An AP Computer Science course helps students learn how to create real-world solutions using computing and technology.
To show what they've learned, teens can take two APCSP Exams—AP Computer Science Principles or AP Computer Science A. Both exams measure a student's understanding and proficiency in computer science topics and can be counted as college credit, depending on a student's final score and the college requirements.
This article shares everything students and parents need to know about the APCSP exams. Learn the test dates, get study resources, and discover the best practice exams so students feel confident and prepared when test day comes around.
What’s the APCSP Exam?
The APCSP Exam (AP Computer Science Principles) is one of the two computer science AP course/exam combinations offered by the College Board.
Both AP Computer Science Principles and AP Computer Science A are introductory college-level computing courses that expose students to the field of computer science. Students learn about the disciplines, principles, and science of computing by developing programs and designing solutions to real-world problems. This includes gaining critical thinking skills, solving problems using algorithms, and understanding the foundation of computing systems, like the internet. The aim is for students to begin addressing real-world problems using computation tools and processes, and exploring the impact of their solutions to contribute to a fair, ethical computing culture.
While each AP Computer Science exam is different, both measure students' proficiency in computing concepts and contribute to the final AP score. This is done through performance tasks, multiple-choice questions, and free-response questions. Let's explore the format of each exam.
Explore the APCSP exam format
The two AP Computer Science exams have different formats in order to reflect the material learned throughout each course.
AP Computer Science Principles Exam
The AP Computer Science Principles exam has two parts: a Create Performance Task that's completed during the course and a multiple-choice exam that's given at the end of the course. The Create Performance task accounts for 30% of the final exam score, and the multiple-choice exam accounts for 70% of the score.
Part I: Create Performance Task
Students develop a computer program of their choice that solves a problem, showcases an innovation, or expresses their personal interests. According to the College Board, the task must include:
- A video of the program running
- Individual written responses about the program and development process
- Program code
Every student should have a minimum of 12 hours of class time to finish the task, which is submitted through the online AP Digital Portfolio for scoring.
Part II: Multiple-Choice Exam
Students have two hours to complete the 70-question test, which contains three types of questions:
- Single-select questions (57 questions)
- Single-select questions based on a reading passage (5 questions)
- Multi-select questions (8 questions)
The questions revolve around five major ideas in computing:
Both the Create Performance Task and the multiple-choice exam contribute to the final AP score range of 1-5.
AP Computer Science A
The AP Computer Science A exam is an end-of-course written test that features two sections: multiple-choice questions and free-response questions.
Section 1: Multiple Choice
Students have 1.5 hours to answer 40 questions, including single questions and sets of two questions. In this section, the College Board asks students to:
- Determine the required code segments to produce a given output
- Identify the output, value, or result of a given program code based on initial values
- Analyze program code for correctness, equivalence, and errors
- Describe the behavior and conditions that lead to results in a program
This section account for 50% of the final AP score.
Section 2: Free Response
Students have 1.5 hours to answer four free-response questions that focus on code implementation. The College Board creates these questions based on the following topics:
- Question 1: Methods and Control Structures. Students are asked to write program code to create objects of a class and call methods, and satisfy method specifications using expressions, conditional statements, and iterative statements.
- Question 2: Classes. Students are asked to write program code to define a new type by creating a class and satisfy method specifications using expressions, conditional statements, and iterative statements.
- Question 3: Array/ArrayList. Students are asked to write program code to satisfy method specifications and create, traverse, and manipulate elements in 1D array or ArrayList objects.
- Question 4: 2D Array. Students are asked to write program code to satisfy method specifications and create, traverse, and manipulate elements in 2D array objects.
This section account for 50% of the final AP score.
While each test requires hours of studying, practice exams, and actual test-taking, a good final score can be a major benefit for students.
Will I get AP credit for the 2023 AP Computer Science Principles exam?
The APCSP and AP Computer Science A exams are considered introductory computing college courses. So if a student scores well, they may be able to get AP credit for the course or be placed in a higher-level computing course.
Currently, over 950 colleges and universities accept the APCSP and AP Computer Science A for credit and placement. The College Board works with these institutions to help them develop policies for AP Exams, so the list of schools that accept AP exams is always evolving.
You can see the current list of schools that accept both AP Computer Science exams, including the minimum score requirements. Simply toggle between the exam types to view the schools that accept the tests, and click on the school name to discover the details on credit and placement. Keep in mind, most schools require a final score between 3-5 for both AP Computer Science exams.
When is the 2023 ASCSP Exam and how do I take it?
The AP Computer Science exams only happen once per year in May, so make sure to mark these dates down on your calendar.
AP Computer Science Principles Create Performance Task Due Date
According to the College Board, the deadline to submit the 2023 APCSP Create Performance Task is Monday, May 1, 2023, at 11:59 pm EDT.
Students have to submit the three task components (program, video, and written answers) to the AP Digital Portfolio by this time for it to be considered in the final scoring. You can find detailed information on task direction, guidelines, and submission in the Create Performance Task Walk-Through webinar.
AP Computer Science Principles Exam
The multiple-choice exam portion of the APCSP takes place on Wednesday, May 8, 2023, at 12 pm local time.
AP Computer Science A Exam
The AP Computer Science A Exam takes place on Wednesday,
May 3, 2023, at 12 pm local time.
How to take the AP Computer Science Exam
All AP exams are administered at high schools or approved exam centers. Students can start by asking a teacher or school counselor if their school gives the AP Computer Science exams. If so, they can ask to sign up.
If a school doesn't administer the exam, students will have to sign up to take it at a different local school or local center. You can find a list of the official, up-to-date schools and centers that administer AP exams on the AP Course Ledger. These places have passed the AP Course Audit and may allow outside students to test at their location.
Once you've found a list of schools that administer the AP Computer Science exam you're interested in, find the phone numbers and ask to speak with the AP coordinators. This person will let you know if outside students are allowed to test at the school. They can also order the test materials, collect test fees, and help coordinate when and where students report for the exam.
Note: Many schools have deadlines and policies for allowing outside students to test at their facilities. To improve students' chances of taking the exam, contact the schools as early as possible. The AP Course Ledger for 2022-2023 is updated in November, so check back throughout the month to see if any schools in the area were added to the list.
Unsure which AP Computer Science course and exam is the right one? Let's walk through the differences.
Know the Differences Between the Two AP Computer Science Courses (Comp Sci A and Comp Sci Principles)
The APCSP and the AP Computer Science A courses cover the basics of computing, but the topics and exam formats differ for each course.
The Computer Science A course and exam focus on the fundamentals of programming and problem solving using Java. Students learn how the coding language works by writing, analyzing, and testing code. They get a hands-on learning experience by designing computer programs that solve issues or accomplish goals. The aim of this course is to develop coding skills so students can pursue studies and careers in computer science or other STEM fields. This AP exam tests students' knowledge through a multiple-choice and free-response question test at the end of the course.
The Computer Science Principles course and exam broaden students understanding of computer science and focus on how computing impacts the world. Students learn how to work with data, problem-solve through programming, and understand cybersecurity. They develop algorithms and programs to creatively fix issues and explore the ethics of computing innovation. By the end of the course, students are prepared to apply computer science principles to a variety of majors and careers. The APCSP exam tests students understanding through a Create Performance task that's completed during the course and a multiple-choice exam at the end of the course.
ASCSP Exam question types
Although the College Board doesn't release the exact questions for each AP Computer Science exam, they do explain the primary question types and exam layouts.
AP Computer Science A Exam
This exam is three hours long and features multiple-choice questions and free-response questions. The 40 multiple-choice questions are mainly individual questions, with one or two sets of multiple questions. There are also four multi-part free-response questions that cover computing thinking and code implementation.
Here's how the Princeton Review breaks down the question types:
AP Computer Science Principles Exam
The APCSP exam contains the Create Performance task and a written multiple-choice test.
The Create Performance Task is a program developed by the student during the APCSP course. Students need to submit their program code, a video running the program, and a written response to a number of prompts about the program.
The multiple-choice section contains 57 single-select questions, 5 single-select questions based on a computing innovation passage, and 8 multi-select questions. According to the Princeton Review, students can expect these questions to cover the following topics:
- Creative Development. The questions may cover collaboration, program functions and purpose, program design and development, and identifying and correcting errors.
- Data. The questions may cover binary numbers, data compression, extracting information from data, and using programs with data.
- Algorithms and Programming. The questions may cover variables and assignments, data abstraction, mathematical expressions, strings, Boolean expressions, conditionals, nested conditionals, iteration, developing algorithms, lists, binary search, calling procedures, developing procedures, libraries, random values, simulations, algorithmic efficiency, and undecidable problems.
- Computer Systems and Networks. The questions may cover the Internet, fault tolerance, and parallel and distributed computing.
- Impact of Computing. The questions may cover beneficial and harmful effects, digital divide, computing bias, crowdsourcing, legal and ethical concerns, and safe computing.
ASCSP test scoring
All AP exam scores range from 1 to 5. This score scale is designed to reflect a student's understanding of the AP course concepts. For final scores of 3 and above, many colleges give students credit for an introductory course or offer advanced placement.
The AP Computer Science exams are scored by the College Board and a group of experienced educators called AP Readers. After the exams are complete, schools return the paper AP exams to the AP program for scoring.
- The multiple-choice section is scanned and scored by computer, and the total number of correct answers becomes the score for that section.
- The free-response questions and performance tasks are scored by trained college professors and AP teachers. This happens during the annual AP Reading in the first two weeks of June.
The total scores from each section are combined to create a composite score, which is translated into the 5-point scale using statistical computing. The goal is to ensure that a 3 from the previous year of testing shows the same level of success as a 3 from the current year.
The range of scores differs every year, but here's a look at what the distribution looked like for the 2020 AP Math and Computer Science exams:
How should I prepare for the APCSP test?
It's tough to do well on the AP Computer Science exams without prep work. Here are five ways students can prepare in order to feel confident, relaxed, and ready on test day.
1. Sample questions and responses.
College Board shares tons of resources to help students prepare for the AP exams, including sample responses from previous exams. Explore 10 written and video responses from actual students for the APCSP exam, and an extensive archive of free-response questions from the past 20 years of AP Computer Science A exams.
2. Create & Learn’s APCSP course.
Our APCSP courses include two parts. The first part gives an extensive overview of the various computer science areas covered by APCSP. So any student who has learned Python can take it, regardless of whether you want to take the AP exam or not. Part II is designed specifically for preparing for the exam in May 2023.
3. Pre-made computing flashcards.
Know the definitions of "lossy" and "lossless"? How about the various ways the government can control speech on the Internet? Study 160 vocabulary words and computing questions with this set of APCSP flashcards.
4. Practice questions and vocabulary.
Prep for the APCSP exam with the Khan Academy guide. It includes an exam overview, a practice system, exam pseudocode, and passage-based questions. This is helpful for learning how the test is designed and getting a taste of what questions may look like on a true practice exam.
5. Video lectures on exam topics.
Learn from expert AP Computer Science teachers across the country with this YouTube video playlist. It covers topics such as the impact of computing, data abstraction, Create Performance Task examples, and so much more. While this won't take the place of an AP course, it's a great complementary resource.
Once students have filled their brains with computing knowledge, it's time to move on to the ultimate pre-test—practice exams.
APSCP practice exams: Know what’s on the AP Computer Science Test
Practice tests are a tried-and-true way to evaluate how students will do on an AP Computer Science exam. These tests review content that's likely to appear on actual exams and offer activities to help students assess their computing knowledge.
This prep book is a comprehensive review of the APCSP test topics, including the Create Performance Task. It gives study guides, printable resources, online tools, pseudocode from the AP CompSci Principles Reference Sheet. and three full-length practice tests with detailed answer explanations.
Learn test-taking strategies and review content from the AP Computer Science A course with this book. It includes an overview of test topics, lab requirements, study plans, printable resources, helpful pre-college information, and online student tools. Students can evaluate their understanding with four practice tests—three in the book and one online—and answer explanations.
Assess students' understanding of the APCSP course with three full-length practice exams. This book also includes access to an online learning platform, examples of stimulus question types, Create Performance Task prompt tactics, and strategies for answering multiple-choice questions.
Feel confident going into exam day with a comprehensive review of APCSP content. This book is written and reviewed by AP experts who share tips and strategies for taking the exam. It includes practice questions at the end of every chapter, four full-length practice exams, and a diagnostic test to help hone a study plan.
For the most accurate results, it's best to take practice tests under the same time and resource constraints as the real exam. Students should use a timer, take the breaks they'd be given during an exam, and only use the tools allowed on test day.
Now you know all about the APCSP Exam
Scoring high on the APCSP or AP Computer Science A exams is about knowing what to expect and taking the time to study and strategize. After signing up for an exam, students should focus on reviewing their course materials, taking a complementary APCSP class, and mimicking the real exam through practice tests.