When Should I Start Taking AP Classes?

Thousands of high schools across the United States offer their students the chance to take Advanced Placement (or AP) classes. These classes are taught at a high level, covering more material with greater in-depth analysis and perspective. AP classes are typically on par with college-level courses, and students can take a year-end AP exam to prove their mastery and potentially earn college credit. But many students wonder, “When should I start taking AP classes?” While this is unique for everyone, students should start taking AP classes based on their answers to the following questions:

Which AP classes are appropriate for my grade level?

When answering, “When should I start taking AP classes?” one of the first things to think about is grade level. Students can take AP courses and exams as early as 9th grade, but this is rarely recommended. Certain AP subjects, such as European History and World History, are great choices for 10th graders, but most AP classes are best suited to high school juniors and seniors. If you are an ambitious freshman or sophomore, you can work with your high school guidance counselor to ensure you are taking academically rigorous courses that will prepare you for the AP classes in your future. Don't forget to use the free resources available to you as well; these AP practice tests are a great resource to help you prepare to take your AP exam.

 AP Topic  Number of Courses Offered
 History & Social Science  9
 World Languages & Cultures  8
 Sciences  7
 Math & Computer Science  5
 Arts  5
 English  2

Above data comes from the College Board website.

Do I have prior subject knowledge relevant to any of the AP classes?

AP courses are offered in a wide variety of subject areas. You will have regularly studied some of these subjects (such as English or math) for years. But you may be learning others (such as AP Psychology) for the very first time. If you are considering one or more AP classes, it certainly helps to have some familiarity with the content area. For example, if you have excelled in a particular subject in the past, the advanced curriculum may be well suited to you. However, if you haven’t had experience with the content area before, you risk taking on a bigger challenge than you are prepared to handle.

Think of AP subjects in larger categories. For example, if you did well in Introductory Chemistry, your skill in lab sciences may translate to success in an AP Biology course. Although prior subject knowledge helps, it is not a requirement to do well in an AP class. You may just need to devote a bit of extra time to studying and completing course assignments. If you are prepping to take your AP exam, you should learn how to answer free-response questions on AP exams.

Do I meet the necessary AP class prerequisites?

Some high schools have AP prerequisites that block students from enrolling in these courses before the school feels they’re ready. For instance, certain schools may require:

  • prior experience in an honors-level class in the same subject
  • a minimum GPA
  • a certain grade level to be completed/surpassed

In these cases, you may need to wait to start taking AP courses until you have met your high school’s prerequisites. Speak with your guidance counselor to determine the steps you must take in order to enroll in the AP classes that interest you. If you are still unsure of your decision, here are five questions you should ask yourself before taking an AP course.

“When should I start taking AP classes?” is a question that many students ask themselves. AP courses are challenging and exciting, and your readiness for this curriculum is key. Be sure to consider the above factors before you enroll in an AP class to ensure the timing is right for you. And as always, consult with your high school guidance counselor and teachers for recommendations on preparing for your high school’s AP courses.


Any topics you want to know more about? Let us know! The Varsity Tutors Blog editors love hearing your feedback and opinions. Feel free to email us at blog@varsitytutors.com.