AP Computer Science A Frequently Asked Questions

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Questions about the course

This course introduces students to computer science with fundamental topics that include problem solving, design strategies and methodologies, organization of data (data structures), approaches to processing data (algorithms), analysis of potential solutions, and the ethical and social implications of computing. The course emphasizes both object-oriented and imperative problem solving and design using Java language. For more details go to the two-page Course Overview (.pdf/4.35MB).

The course is equivalent to a first-semester, college-level course in computer science.

Students should have successfully completed a first-year high school algebra course with a strong foundation in basic algebraic concepts dealing with function notation, such as f left parenthesis x right parenthesis space equals space x plus 2 and f left parenthesis x right parenthesis space equals space g left parenthesis h left parenthesis x right parenthesis right parenthesis, and problem-solving strategies that require multiple approaches and collaborative efforts. It is important that students and their advisers understand that any significant computer science course builds upon a foundation of mathematical reasoning that should be acquired before attempting such a course.

The AP Computer Science A course and exam focus on computing skills related to programming in Java. The new AP Computer Science Principles course will complement AP Computer Science A and will focus on the fundamentals of computing, including problem solving, large-scale data, the Internet, and cybersecurity. Visit the Computer Science A course home page for more information.

The course uses Java. Because Java is extensive, with far more features than could be covered in a single introductory course, the AP Computer Science A Exam uses a subset of Java, which can be can be found in Appendix A of the Course Description (.pdf/818KB).

A minimum of 20 hours of hands-on lab experience is required. The lab requirement can be fulfilled with the example AP Computer Science A labs posted on the AP Course Audit site or with other, comparable labs.

The three labs at the Course Audit site are not required – they are just examples. If you use them, you may modify them to meet your students’ needs. For each lab, there is a teacher and student lab guide, as well as starter and solution code for each activity.

Students should have access to a computer system that represents relatively recent technology. Make sure that each student has access to a computer for at least three hours a week during class. Additional time is essential for students to develop solutions to problems on their own.

The computer system must allow students to create, edit, compile quickly, and execute Java programs comparable in size to those found in the AP Computer Science Labs. Internet access for your students is highly desirable, and teachers must have Internet access.

Any motivated student should be given the chance to benefit from an AP course. If your school offers the PSAT/NMSQT®, use AP Potential. This free online tool allows you to identify students who are likely to succeed in AP based on their PSAT/NMSQT or SAT® scores. Such scores have been proven to be stronger predictors of AP success than high school grades or GPA.

The courses can be taken in any order. The decision to offer them in sequence is left up to the school and district.

These resources will help:

AP Computer Science A can be readily adapted to a block schedule.

While the AP Program does not make specific recommendations for textbooks or other teaching materials, examples of textbooks that meet the curricular requirements of AP Computer Science A are available on the AP Computer Science: Example Textbook List on the AP Course Audit website.

The AP Teacher Community might be the best source for answers. You’ll also find articles, tools, and resources to help you teach every aspect of the course on the course home page.

Questions about the AP Course Audit

The AP Course Audit is a course authorization process that provides teachers and administrators with guidelines and requirements for offering AP courses. It also ensures that AP courses across high schools meet the same college-level criteria.

Yes. Every school wishing to offer an AP course must participate in the AP Course Audit.

The AP Course Audit requires the online submission of two documents: the AP Course Audit form and the teacher’s syllabus. The AP teacher and the school principal (or designated administrator) submit the Course Audit form, acknowledging the curricular and resource requirements. The syllabus, detailing how the AP course requirements will be met, is submitted by the AP teacher for review by college faculty.

The AP Course Audit website will give you the tools you’ll need to create and submit your syllabus for authorization, including information and guidelines, sample syllabi, and a tutorial.

Go to AP Course Audit for more FAQs, resources, and information about the whole course audit process.

Questions about the Exam

These resources will help:

  • A full practice exam is available by logging in to your AP Course Audit account.
  • Free-response questions (FRQs) with student samples and scoring guidelines can be accessed from the course’s exam information page.
  • Scroll down the “Scoring” column in the free-response questions table to find yearly Student Performance Q&A’s from the Chief Reader that describe how students performed on the FRQs, typical student errors, and specific concepts that challenged students the most that year.
  • Released exams are available for purchase in the College Board store, and the 2015 exam has been released securely in Course Audit.

The exam is given each year in early May. Go to the Exam Calendar for the most current exam dates.

Teachers told us that students would benefit from more time on the multiple-choice section of the exam and that the free-response section was providing more time than students needed. Data from the recent exam administrations supported this.

There are no longer any GridWorld case study questions on the exam. The exam will not have specific questions that focus on the AP Computer Science A labs. It will continue to assess the concepts and skills outlined in the Course Description.

That depends on the college. Tell your students to use the AP Credit Policy Info tool to verify the credit/placement policies at the colleges they are considering.

Go to the AP Computer Science A Exam Information page for answers. You’ll find specifics about the exam format and more.