Comparing AP Music Theory Subscore Grades with the Composite Grade

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The AP Music Theory Exam provides an overall music theory grade and two subscore grades: aural and nonaural. These subscore grades provide very useful information about the students taking the exam. The aural and nonaural portions of the AP Music Theory Exam do not measure the same skills. The aural component includes questions related to recorded musical examples, two melodic dictation questions, two harmonic dictation questions, and two sight-singing questions. The nonaural component includes questions not related to recorded musical examples and questions calling for realization of figured bass, realization of Roman numerals, and the composition of a bass line to fit a given melody.

The correlation of these subscores is about 0.6 (out of a maximum of 1.0 if the skills measured were identical). Some students may obtain grades of 1 on one subscore and 5 on the other. In addition, the reliability of the subscores is so high that they exceed the reliability of several other AP Exams. In general, the 0.6 correlation between the aural and nonaural subscores and the high reliability of the subscore grades mean that the grades on the subscores themselves are more informative of a student's specific aural and nonaural skills than the grade on the overall exam.

Because the aural and nonaural subscores are not perfectly correlated, however, the cut-off points on the overall exam are not the sum of the corresponding cut-off points on the aural and nonaural subscores. In particular, the minimum score required to obtain a grade of 3 on the overall exam is slightly higher than the sum of the minimum scores required to obtain a grade of 3 on each of the two subscores. The result is that, in some rare instances, it is possible for a student to receive aural and nonaural subscores that exceed those required to obtain a grade of 3 on those subscores, but the sum of the subscores may fall slightly short of the score required to obtain a 3 on the overall exam.

As has already been mentioned, the subscore grades may be more meaningful than the overall exam grade, especially for music departments that offer separate courses for written theory and aural skills. In situations where a student receives a grade of 3 on one or both subscores, but an overall grade of 2 on the exam, colleges and universities that offer separate courses for written theory and aural skills should give primacy to the subscore grades rather than the overall grade. In other words, at colleges and universities that offer separate courses for written theory and aural skills, if the policy is to grant credit for an AP Exam grade of 3, then a student with a grade of 3 on both subscores should be granted credit regardless of their grade on the overall exam.