In the 2009–10 school year, a total of 16,699 U.S. high schools offered Advanced Placement (AP) courses designed to prepare students for corresponding AP exams (The College Board 2011). AP exams provide an opportunity for students who receive scores above a minimum threshold to fulfill college requirements and complete their college coursework in a shorter time frame. Thirty-three AP exams were offered in 2010; schools that offered the AP program offered an average of 10 different AP courses (The College Board 2011).
In 2009–10, over 1.8 million students in the United States took at least one AP exam, a number that increased from 0.6 million students in 1996–97. The number of AP exams administered also increased, from 0.9 million in 1996–97 to over 3.1 million in 2009–10. In 1996–97, about 55 percent of the students who took an AP exam were female. This pattern has held over time, as 56 percent of the test takers in 2009–10 were female.
AP examinations are scored on a scale from 1 to 5, with a 5 being the highest. The College Board considers a student to have been "successful" on an exam if he or she receives a 3 or higher. In 2009–10, the mean score across all exams was 2.84 (The College Board 2011), with 58 percent of all test scores being a 3 or higher. A greater percentage of exams taken by males (61 percent) than by females (54 percent) received a 3 or higher. Both of these rates decreased from 1996–97, when 67 percent of exams taken by males and 62 percent of exams taken by females scored a 3 or above.