Exam Development

Get an overview of how we write, review, and test exam questions.

AP Exams include three possible types of questions or tasks: multiple-choice questions, free-response questions, and through-course performance tasks.

Most AP Exams are a mix of multiple-choice and free-response questions. All questions are constructed to measure skills and knowledge using the evidence-centered approach to assessment design.

Exam Development Step by Step

Developing an AP Exam is a multiyear process that takes place in parallel with the development of the course. Here are the steps.

  1. Set exam specifications. First, the test development committee makes decisions on the exam's overall nature, such as:
    • How long will the exam be?
    • What types of questions should it include?
    • What evidence of student learning does each type of question elicit?
    • How many of each type of question should appear?
    • How much time should students devote to each section?
    • How are the course content and skills distributed across each section?
    Answers to these questions become part of the exam specifications.

  3. Write questions. When the specifications are set, the committee and content experts, in collaboration with assessment specialists, design questions that conform to them.

  5. Review the questions. The committee reviews every potential exam question for alignment with the course framework, content accuracy, and other criteria that ensure the integrity of the exam.

  7. Test the questions. Before considering questions appropriate for inclusion on an exam, AP test developers conduct mini-pilot exams separate from the AP Exam to determine their statistical properties. These mini-pilot exams help AP test developers improve the questions that are put on an AP Exam.

  9. Put the exam together and review. When assembling an exam, the committee members conduct a final review to ensure conformity with the specifications.

Once the exam is constructed, we determine what should be required to earn each possible specific score. Learn how we set scores for AP Exams.

Question Types

Multiple-Choice Questions

Multiple-choice questions are initially written by college faculty who teach college courses that correspond to a particular AP course as well as by experienced AP teachers. The development committee reviews these questions to ensure that:

  • Questions adhere to standards of quality and fairness.
  • Questions are of appropriate difficulty for the test-taking population.
  • Each exam will distinguish among students with different levels of knowledge and skills.

A percentage of multiple-choice questions from prior exams are reused every year, guaranteeing the statistical reliability of each AP Exam from year to year.

Free-Response Questions

Free-response questions are created and reviewed by content experts. Once a question is chosen for inclusion in an exam, it goes through several rounds of review and revision by the committee, a process that typically takes up to two years.

Performance Tasks

Several AP courses, including AP Computer Science Principles, AP Research, AP Seminar, and AP Art and Design, include through-course performance tasks, either in place of or in addition to multiple-choice or free-response questions.

The development committees for these courses have reviewed every facet of the performance tasks and each potential exam question for alignment with the course framework, content accuracy, conformity with specifications, and other criteria that ensure the integrity of the assessment.