AP Research Exam

What is the AP Research Exam? Everything You Need to Know

The AP Research Exam is an interdisciplinary course designed to help students demonstrate critical thinking and academic research skills on a chosen topic. 

The exam is part of the AP Capstone program, which is a two-year program that is designed to help students develop the skills that are required for success in college and beyond.

The AP Research Exam is divided into the academic paper, presentation, and oral defense. The academic paper should be between 4,000-5,000 words long and is worth 75% of the total score. 

Students are graded on the paper’s content, layout, style, final thoughts, and correct use of citations. The spoken presentation and its defense account for 25% of the overall grade and last about 15-20 minutes.

To prepare for the AP Research Exam, students should check the AP Research student page for test details and practice. The AP Research Course and Exam Description gives a straightforward overview of what the course and test cover.

The AP Research Exam is a test from the Advanced Placement Program. This program lets high school students take college-level classes and earn college credits. 

The exam happens every May. It covers various topics, similar to basic college research or elective courses. It’s best if students have finished the AP Seminar course before taking this exam.

AP Research Exam Format

The AP Research test measures students’ skills in doing their research and sharing their results. The test has three parts: a written paper, a presentation, and a spoken explanation.

Academic Paper

The research paper should show a student’s skills in doing independent research, analyzing results, and presenting their conclusions. It’s essential to follow the rules of academic writing and correctly cite all sources.


The presentation component of the exam requires students to present their research findings to a panel of evaluators. 

Ensure the presentation lasts 15 to 20 minutes, and use visuals like slides or posters to help explain your points.

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The presentation should effectively communicate the research question, the methodology used, the findings, and the implications of the research.

Oral Defense

The final exam component is the oral defense, a question-and-answer session between the student and the evaluators. 

The oral defense should demonstrate a student’s ability to articulate their research findings, address questions and concerns raised by the evaluators, and defend their research methodology and conclusions effectively.

The AP Capstone Program

The program develops students’ research, analysis, evidence-based arguments, collaboration, writing, and presenting skills. 

AP Capstone differs from other AP courses as it does not teach subject-specific content. Instead, it aims to make AP a more cohesive high school program.

Students who complete both AP Seminar and AP Research courses earn an AP Research and Seminar Certificate. If they take both classes in addition to four other AP courses and exams, they earn an AP Capstone Diploma. 

The program aims to allow students to develop skills essential for college success and beyond.

AP Seminar is the introductory course for the AP Capstone program. It aims to enhance students’ critical thinking and research abilities.

Students learn to analyze and evaluate sources, develop and present arguments, and collaborate with others. The course culminates in an individual research-based essay, team project, and presentation.

AP Research is the second course in the AP Capstone program. It builds on the skills developed in AP Seminar and focuses on independent research. 

Understanding the Research Question

The research question is the foundation of any research project and is no different in the AP Research exam. The question guides the research process and focuses on the project. 

In the AP Research exam, students are required to develop a research question that is relevant, significant, and feasible.

To develop a research question, students must first identify an issue or problem they want to address. This could be a social, economic, political, or environmental issue. 

Once they have identified the issue, they must narrow it to a specific problem they want to investigate. This problem should be significant and relevant to the issue at hand.

Once students spot the issue, they should form a clear, straightforward research question. Given their time and resources, this question should be answerable with research and possible to tackle.

Students should consult the AP Research Course and Exam Description to ensure the research question is appropriate for the AP Research exam. 

This document provides guidelines for developing a research question and outlines the characteristics of a strong research question.

Research Methodology

Research methodology is how researchers gather and study information to answer a question.

In the context of the AP Research exam, students must demonstrate their understanding of research methodology by designing and implementing a research project that addresses a research question of their choice.

To do this, students must select an appropriate research method that aligns with their research question and use it to collect and analyze data. Students can choose from various research methods, including surveys, experiments, case studies, etc. 

It is crucial for students to carefully consider which research method is best suited for their research question to ensure that their findings are valid and reliable.

Once students have collected and analyzed their data, they must interpret their findings and draw conclusions based on their analysis. 

This requires a deep understanding of the research topic and the ability to evaluate the data that has been collected critically.

During research, students need to think about ethics. They should do their studies fairly and carefully. This means getting permission from people they study, keeping their information private, and ensuring no one gets hurt by the research.

In the final academic paper and presentation, students must describe their research methods clearly and show they understand how they used them to address their study topic. 

They should write clearly and be able to share complex thoughts understandably with listeners.

Performance Tasks in AP Research

The AP Research exam does not have an end-of-course written exam. Instead, it assesses students’ performance tasks based on their year-long research project. 

The performance tasks include an academic paper, a presentation, and an oral defense of the research.

The AP Research performance task evaluates students’ ability to apply research methods and skills to a real-world problem. 

The task requires students to identify a research question, conduct a literature review, design a research methodology, collect and analyze data, and present their findings clearly and concisely.

The presentation is another critical component of the performance task. Students must create a 15-20 minute multimedia presentation summarizing their research project. The presentation should include visuals, such as graphs, charts, and images, to help illustrate their findings.

Oral Defense in AP Research

The oral defense is a crucial part of the AP Research exam. The 15-20 minute presentation includes a defense of the research question, methodology, and findings. 

The presentation is followed by a set of questions the student must answer. The oral defense accounts for 25% of the student’s score.

During the oral defense, the student must demonstrate a deep understanding of their research and be able to articulate their findings clearly. 

The presentation should be well-organized, engaging, and persuasive. The student should use visual aids, such as graphs and charts, to help convey their findings.

The oral defense is scored using a rubric that evaluates students’ ability to present their research, respond to questions, and defend their findings. 

The rubric includes seven rows, and a score of 0 is assigned to a single row when the presentation displays a below-minimum level of quality as identified in that row.

It is important to note that only the first 20 minutes of a student’s presentation and oral defense are scored. After the 20-minute mark, the scoring should stop. 

Additionally, once the student has presented to a live panel and the presentation is recorded, the recorded presentations should be kept from being repeatedly rewound or re-listened to determine the score.

Assessment and Scoring

The AP Research exam is divided into two main components: an academic paper and a presentation with an oral defense of research. 

The research paper should be 4,000-5,000 words long. The presentation and defense will likely last 15-20 minutes. This exam tests students’ research skills and ability to think critically about information.

The AP Research exam is scored using a rubric designed by the AP Program. The rubric is used by AP Research teachers, who undergo mandatory training from the AP Program on how to score the exam components. 

The rubric separately evaluates the academic paper, presentation, and oral defense of research. The scores are then combined to determine the final score for the exam.

The scoring guidelines for the AP Research exam are publicly available on the AP Central website. The guidelines describe what is expected at each score level for the academic paper. 

For example, a score of 1 is given for a report on existing knowledge, while a score of 4 is provided for a well-supported, articulate argument conveying a new understanding.

The scoring rubric for the presentation and oral defense of research is also available on the AP Central website. 

The rubric evaluates the student’s ability to clearly and effectively communicate their research findings and respond to questions from the audience.

AP Research Exam Administration

The AP Research exam is administered by the College Board, the same organization that administers other Advanced Placement (AP) exams. 

The exam is typically administered in May, and students must register for the exam through their school’s AP coordinator.

The presentation and oral defense take approximately 15-20 minutes and are conducted in person with a panel of evaluators.

The College Board provides detailed instructions for administering the AP Research exam, including exam registration, exam day procedures, and scoring information. 

Schools are responsible for ensuring students can access the necessary resources, such as computers and the Internet, to complete the exam.

The College Board also provides subject-specific exam instructions, which outline what students should and should not bring to the exam, and information on exam format and scoring. Students are encouraged to review these instructions carefully before taking the exam.

Understanding the AP Research Portfolio

The AP Research exam is unique because it requires students to submit a portfolio of work. This portfolio includes an academic paper and a presentation, which are then uploaded to the AP Digital Portfolio. 

The portfolio is a crucial component of the AP Research exam, and it is vital to understand what it entails.

The academic paper is the centerpiece of the portfolio. It is a 4,000-5,000 word research paper that explores a topic of the student’s choosing. 

The paper must demonstrate the student’s ability to conduct independent research, analyze data, and draw conclusions. Students are encouraged to visit the AP Research student page for assessment information and practice.

In addition to the academic paper, students must prepare a presentation and oral defense of their research. This presentation should be 15-20 minutes long and summarize the academic paper’s main findings. 

The presentation must also demonstrate the student’s ability to communicate their research effectively.

The AP Digital Portfolio is an online platform students use to submit their portfolios. It is also where teachers score all presentations. The portfolio submission deadline is April 30, 2024, 11:59 PM EDT. 

Students must familiarize themselves with the platform and meet all submission requirements.

Course Content and Big Ideas

The AP Research exam is designed to prepare students for the rigors of college-level research. The course content is divided into four big ideas students must master to succeed on the exam.

Big Idea 1: Question and Explore

The first big idea of the AP Research exam is focused on inquiry and investigation. Students will learn how to spot problems and create questions to research them.

They will explore different research methodologies and develop a research plan that outlines their approach.

Big Idea 2: Understand and Analyze

The second big idea of the AP Research exam is focused on understanding and analyzing research. Students will learn how to evaluate sources and analyze data critically. They will also learn to synthesize information from multiple sources to create a cohesive argument.

Course Content

The course content of the AP Research exam is designed to provide students with the skills they need to conduct independent research. Students will learn how to:

  • Develop a research question and hypothesis
  • Conduct a literature review
  • Collect and analyze data
  • Create a research report
  • Deliver an oral presentation
  • Defend their research in an oral defense

The course also emphasizes the importance of ethical research practices and requires students to complete a research ethics training module.

Services for Students with Disabilities

The College Board’s Services for Students with Disabilities program provides reasonable accommodations to eligible students with disabilities for AP exams. 

The program aims to ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to the exams and can demonstrate their knowledge and skills without interference from their disability.

Students must ask the College Board for SSD approval for extra support during tests. After getting the green light, they should talk to their AP coordinator or school counselor early on to ensure their school is aware they’ll be using these supports during AP Exams.

Examples of testing accommodations include extended time, formats such as braille or 14- or 20-point large type, the use of a reader or writer, or a reader script if the student is hearing impaired. 

Students with documented disabilities may also be eligible for assistive technology-compatible (ATC) exam format, large-print exam format, extra breaks, large-block answer sheets, or permission to use a computer for typing essays.

It is important to note that accommodations are not intended to give students an unfair advantage but rather to provide equal access to demonstrate their knowledge and skills. 

The College Board’s SSD program works with schools and educators to ensure that accommodations are appropriate and consistent with the student’s disability and the purpose of the exam.

Credit and Placement Policies

The AP Research exam tests students’ research skills and critical thinking abilities. Students who take the exam can earn college credit and/or advanced placement based on their performance. 

The American Council on Education (ACE) and AP suggest giving credit or advanced placement for AP Exam scores of 3 or above.

Many colleges offer credit for AP scores, which can help students save time and money by allowing them to skip specific courses in college. For example, if students earn a four on their AP Biology Exam, their college may grant them eight credits for that score. 

However, it’s important to note that credit policies vary by institution, and students should check with their college or university to determine their specific policies.

The College Board’s AP Credit Search tool helps students locate colleges that give credit or placements for AP exam results.

Students can search for colleges by state, name, or keyword. The tool also provides information on each college’s credit and placement policies, including the minimum score required to earn credit or placement.

Students must understand their college or university’s credit and placement policies before taking the AP Research exam. 

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