How are AP scores factored into the admissions decision?
AP scores are essentially meaningless. During the admissions process, AP test scores are used to determine the caliber of your school’s AP program. If the applicants of your school turn out low scores, but earn A’s in the corresponding classes, then they know that grade inflation is happening. If you earn 5’s, but end up with C’s in the class, then they know that the AP curriculum is rigorous. The grade you earned in the class is sufficient in gauging how hard you worked. If you got an A in the class, but failed the AP test, can the college really blame you? To a considerable extent, this is the fault of the school’s program. Given the wide range in the quality of school AP programs, colleges cannot use AP scores to any significant extent. The SAT is another story, since you are supposed to study for that outside of school and that score is largely dependent on your own efforts, since it tests basic reading, writing, and math skills rather than content knowledge (like AP tests are supposed to cover).
Should I self-study for AP tests? Take more AP classes?
I have heard a myriad of reasons for taking the tests, most of which mean little during the admissions process. You could have spend time doing something so much more significant than studying for AP tests. No one needs to take 5-6 AP classes in one year. No one. Colleges are looking for people who can accomplish college level work, but they are also looking for people whose worth is based on more than just grades and test scores. People who will be movers and shakers on campus.
So why should I take AP tests?
The scores you receive could be used to test out of introductory classes. At public universities, like UC Berkeley and University of Michigan, AP scores can be used to graduate 1 to 2 years earlier. By substituting AP scores for university credit, someone could save tens of thousands of dollars with their AP scores. In this light, AP scores are highly useful, but they only matter once you start attending college.
In the end, AP classes (and the grades you earn from these classes) can constitute a rigorous course schedule and demonstrate that a student is taking full advantage of their educational resources. AP scores, on the other hand, gauge how well your school has prepared you for these tests. There are plenty of things that are more important to the admissions decision than a couple more numbers that the College Board has stuck to your name.