The College Board offers two AP Computer Science courses for students who are interested in learning about computer science and programming. Because these two courses are so different, you might be wondering how to choose the right AP Computer Science course to take. Let's take a look at these two courses more closely.
The AP Computer Science Principles (AP CSP) course is designed to introduce students to fundamental computer science and programming concepts, and the AP CSP Exam consists of a performance assessment and an end-of-year multiple-choice exam. The AP Computer Science A (AP CSA) course is designed to introduce students to the Java programming language and object-oriented programming design and development, and the AP CSA Exam consists of an end-of-year exam with multiple-choice and free response questions.
The guide to the 2023 AP Computer Science courses
These AP Computer Science courses provide opportunities for students to gain exposure to fundamental computer science and programming concepts and to learn the Java programming language. Both courses are equivalent to a first semester college computer science course and allow students to potentially earn college credit based on their performance on the AP exams.
What is AP Computer Science A?
AP Computer Science A (AP CSA) introduces students to software engineering and object-oriented programming and design using the Java programming language. Students learn a broad range of topics, including the design of solutions to problems, the use of data structures to organize large sets of data, the development and implementation of algorithms to process data and discover new information, the analysis of potential solutions, and the ethical and social implications of computing systems. You can read more about the AP CSA course here.
Why should I choose to take AP Computer Science A?
AP CSA is ideal for high school students who want to learn Java and continue strengthening their skills in software design and development. While the College Board does not require students to have taken a computer science or programming course before taking AP CSA, it is recommended that students have taken some form of introductory computer science course first. AP CSA builds on students' existing knowledge of how computers and software works to dive deeper under the hood to design and develop more complex and personally relevant programs using the Java programming language. For students who are ready to expand their skills to the next level or are interested in pursuing a career in computer science, AP Computer Science A is the best choice.
What is AP Computer Science Principles?
AP Computer Science Principles (AP CSP) is an introductory computer science course that provides students opportunities to learn fundamental computer science concepts and analyze the impacts technology has on our society. Students learn how to design and evaluate solutions to a variety of problems involving technology as well as develop algorithms and programs. AP CSP focuses on exploring how computing innovations and systems work and exposes students to a variety of topics within computer science, such as big data, cloud computing, and the Internet.
Why should I choose to take AP Computer Science Principles?
AP CSP is ideal for middle or high school students who are interested in computer science but may not be sure where to start. Students do not need any previous knowledge of computer science to be successful in AP CSP, as it is intended to build on their current understanding of their world and the role technology plays. For students who are ready to learn about how the technology they use everyday works or want to start developing their programming skills, AP Computer Science Principles is the best choice.
Key differences between AP Computer Science A and AP Computer Science Principles
- AP CSP focuses on general computer science concepts, such as data science and how the Internet works. AP CSA focuses entirely on software design and development using the Java programming language.
- AP CSP assumes no prior knowledge of computer science. AP CSA builds on existing knowledge of how computers and software work.
- AP CSP introduces students to programming fundamentals, however learning programming is only one component of the course. AP CSA is entirely focused on building programming skills using Java.
- The AP CSP Exam consists of a performance assessment done during the course and an end-of-year multiple choice exam. The AP CSA Exam consists of only an end-of-year exam that consists of multiple choice and free response questions. You can read more about the exam structures for both AP CSP and AP CSA in our APCSP exam guide.
How to choose the right AP Computer Science course
AP Computer Science Principles and AP Computer Science A are very different courses with very different goals and topics. While AP CSP focuses on exposing students to the fundamentals of computer science and programming, AP CSA focuses on deepening knowledge of programming to design and develop programs using the Java programming language. How to choose the right AP Computer Science course is based more on a student's current level of computer science knowledge and their personal goals in pursuing computer science. When you're ready, you can get started with our live online AP CSA course or our AP CSP course!
Written by Jamila Cocchiola who has always been fascinated with technology and its impact on the world. The technologies that emerged while she was in high school showed her all the ways software could be used to connect people, so she learned how to code so she could make her own! She went on to make a career out of developing software and apps before deciding to become a teacher to help students see the importance, benefits, and fun of computer science.