5 Steps to a 5 AP Computer Science A 2017 (2016)


Set Up Your Study Program

CHAPTER 1   What You Need to Know About the AP Computer Science A Exam

CHAPTER 2   How to Plan Your Time


What You Need to Know About the AP Computer Science A Exam


Summary: This chapter provides you with background information on the AP Computer Science A exam. Learn about the AP exam, how exams are graded, what types of questions are asked, what topics are tested, and basic test-taking information.

Key Ideas

   The AP Computer Science A exam is about problem solving and the Java programming language.

   The exam has two parts: Multiple Choice and Free Response.

   Scoring a 4 or 5 will award you credit at nearly every college or university.

Background Information

A Brief History of the Exam

The first AP Computer Science exam was given in 1984, and the coding language used was Pascal. In 1999, C++ replaced Pascal. In 2004, Java replaced C++. As of 2015, the AP Computer Science A exam is the fastest-growing exam among all AP exams.

Goals of the Exam

The main goals of the AP Computer Science A exam are to test how proficient you are at problem solving and how well you know the Java programming language.

According to the College Board, here is a list of all of the goals of the test:

  • Design, implement, and analyze solutions to problems.
  • Use and implement commonly used algorithms.
  • Develop and select appropriate algorithms and data structures to solve new problems.
  • Write solutions fluently in an object-oriented paradigm.
  • Write, run, test, and debug solutions in the Java programming language, utilizing stan­dard Java library classes and interfaces from the AP Java subset.
  • Read and understand programs consisting of several classes and interacting objects.
  • Read and understand a description of the design and development process leading to such a program.
  • Understand the ethical and social implications of computer use.

This list may seem rather ambiguous and open-ended; that’s because it is. Just keep in mind that this test is all about learning how to solve different kinds of problems using Java. The best way to prepare for the exam is to follow the steps in this book and get plenty of practice designing and writing code.

Goal of the AP Computer Science A Exam

The main goals of the AP Computer Science A Exam are to test how proficient you are at problem solving and how well you know the Java programming language.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Exam

Who Writes the AP Computer Science Exams? Who Grades Them?

The AP Computer Science A exam is designed by a committee of college professors and high school AP Computer Science teachers. The process takes years to ensure that the exam questions reflect the high quality and fairness that is expected of the College Board.

Similarly, the free-response questions are scored by hundreds of college professors and high school AP Computer Science teachers. The AP exam readers are thoroughly trained so that all exams are graded consistently.

Why Take the AP Computer Science A Exam?

There are several benefits of taking the AP Computer Science A Exam. First is the college credit. If you score a 4 or 5 on the exam, you will earn credit from nearly every college or university. This saves you money. Second, you will start off at a higher level in your college coursework so that you can advance faster.

Finally, and my favorite, is that learning computer science will improve your ability to think for yourself and problem solve. Even if you don’t plan on becoming a software developer, or you fear that you will not pass the exam, the skills and thought process that you learn in computer science will benefit you. Your world will be filled with rainbows and flying unicorns. Well, maybe not, but I’m just seeing if you are reading this.

Computer Science Makes You Think

Learning how to program improves your ability to think. You learn how things work.

When Is the Exam and How Do I Register for It?

The College Board publishes an exam schedule each year. The schedule for the various AP exams is two weeks long and starts on the first Monday of May. In the past, the AP Computer Science A exam has been given during the first week.

If you are taking an AP Computer Science class, you will probably get information from someone called an AP coordinator at your school. Normally, he or she likes to have everyone sign up online before March 1. If you are not taking an AP Computer Science class and just taking this exam on your own, contact the AP coordinator for your local school district by March 1. That person will help you locate the testing site and help you register. You can take as many AP exams as you want (even if you didn’t take a class!), but they cost around $100 per exam.

What Is the Format of the AP Computer Science A Exam?

The exam is three hours long and there are two sections: multiple choice and free response.

How Is My Final Score Calculated?

Each question in the multiple-choice section is worth 1 point (total of 40 points). Each of the free-response questions is worth 9 points (total of 36 points). Since there are an unequal number of points for the multiple-choice and the free-response sections, the total from the free-response section is multiplied by 1.1111. This makes each section worth 50 percent.

The total from the two sections is fed into a chart similar to the one below and your final grade is decided. This chart is intended to serve as a guide, and the ranges will vary slightly from year to year.

Example: Computing a Score on the AP Computer Science A Exam

You score 31 on Section I (Multiple Choice).

You score 28 on Section II (Free Response).

Multiply 28 by 1.1111. This equals 31.1108.

Your total is 31 + 31.1108 = 62.1108, which is rounded to 62.

Your composite score is 62. Your AP score is a 5. Congratulations!

What Concepts Are Included in the Multiple-Choice Section?

The table below gives a rough idea of what topics are covered on the multiple-choice section of the test. The percentages change from year to year, but the emphasis stays about the same. Keep in mind that many of the questions belong to more than one category, which is why the percentages don’t add up to 100 percent.

What Is the Lab Requirement for the Exam?

Starting with the 2015 exam, a lab requirement replaced the GridWorld case study as a way for the student to get hands-on experience with a complex package with lots of class hierarchy. Your teacher should provide you with a chance to work with a big, complex set of related classes that helps you understand concepts like inheritance, polymorphism, abstract classes, and interfaces. Your teacher has the choice of either using the labs that are provided by the College Board or using something completely different.

I See Materials on the GridWorld Case Study Online. What’s with That?

That is old news. The GridWorld case study is no longer tested on the AP Computer Science A exam. It was dropped after the 2014 exam. If you want to check it out, there are some pretty interesting things you can do with it, but the GridWorld case study won’t be on your exam.

What Is the Difference Between the AP Computer Science A and the AP Computer Science Principles Exams?

Starting with the 2016–2017 school year, a new AP Computer Science course called AP Computer Science Principles is being offered. The AP Computer Science Principles course introduces students to computational thinking skills and promotes understanding of the impact of computers in our world. The biggest difference between these two courses is that AP Computer Science A focuses mainly on programming, whereas only a small part of the AP Computer Science Principles course is devoted to actual programming.