Our AP Exam Experience: Chinese Language & Culture

In Oregon, students entering a four year university must have completed at least two years of a foreign language. As a homeschool, we are a non-accredited provider and therefore the language learning that my children have done with their private instructor is not recognized by four year institutions in Oregon. They must prove competency through examination.

Typically, there are multiple avenues or choices for credit by examination. The two most popular options are Advanced Placement® (AP) and the College Level Exam Program® (CLEP) – both of which are subject-specific credit-by-exam programs offered by The College Board.  Keep in mind, each university determines what tests are accepted and the qualifying score required.

Though my daughter will most assuredly apply to multiple institutions, her top choice is Oregon State University (OSU). It is an in-state school and both her father and I are alumni. Most importantly, the degrees she seeks (environmental and chemical engineering) are intertwined within the same college or department, rather than separate programs as is common at other universities.

OSU will accept either exam option. However, as there is no CLEP exam available for Mandarin Chinese, the AP exam is the best choice. The score required to prove competency on the Chinese Language & Culture AP Exam is a 2. If she scores a 3+, she would be awarded 15 credits and permitted to begin with upper division language courses.

Sophomore Year

We partnered with an umbrella school in the fall of the 2017-18 school year. While our reasons were varied (I’ve outlined them here), the school we partnered with promised it would make it possible for her to take the AP exam in the spring. None of the other area schools offered the Chinese exam – though any would likely be willing to secure it, I wanted an assurance.

The AP exam is offered only once a year on a predetermined date in May. In October, we began to communicate her intent to take the exam in the spring by both email and telephone. When April’s showers began to bring May flowers, we had given up hope that it was going to happen at all. We had received no confirmation of registration.

The week of the exam, we received a phone call that a make-up exam had been scheduled for the following week. Surprise!! We had no idea this was even a possibility. The school apologized and explained that this was the first AP exam they had the opportunity to administer (it is a relatively new charter school) and thus there was a bit of a learning curve.

We drove over to the school with few expectations. She had not taken a standardized test since grade school so our goal this time around was simply to gain some familiarity with the testing format.

Upon our arrival, we are informed that the “testing room” had just used been used to heat press t-shirts which accounted for the chemical odor that lingered. They opened a window but that only served to intensify the loud ruckus of students on their lunch break.

When I picked her up a few hours later, she complained of a headache and nausea. She is a strong test taker and yet was disappointed. “The fumes and noise made it difficult to concentrate. I began to feel queazy soon after we started but there was nothing I could do.”

Needless to say, she did not pass. No big deal. She could take it again the following year (she only submits . She and her Mandarin instructor began a focused effort immediately, using Barron’s AP Chinese study guide to prepare.

Junior Year

Since we first began Mandarin language instruction years ago, we have scheduled two classes each week. During this two hour block of time, each of the kids works with Shawn for one hour. Periodically, he incorporates cultural or cooking lessons whereupon it is a combined class but generally they work with him independently.

Over the course of the year, she would often have a focused two-hour block to work specifically on AP exam prep. With a familiarity of the testing format, she knew what she needed to do the second time around.

I also communicated more effectively our disappointment in the testing atmosphere to our umbrella school. While taking AP exams provides many benefits to students, it also reflects well on the school. I was certainly willing to overlook the concerns I had last year but did expect them to make improvements.

All her efforts were rewarded last month when we received her score report from the College Board. She passed! Her score was sent automatically to the community college where she is dual enrolled and 12 credits were awarded free of charge! Well, not exactly free. The cost to take the exam in the US is $94 – but that’s certainly much less than tuition.

Benefits of AP Examination

As I mentioned briefly above, taking an AP exam provides many benefits for students. I can’t recommend this option enough.

1. You save money on tuition

2. You will have greater flexibility in college and can potentially graduate early

3. AP classes impress college admissions officers

4. AP classes help develop college-level academic skills and increase your chances for merit aid

To clarify, taking an AP class is NOT required in order to register for and thereby take an AP exam. Whether you are working with a tutor or studying independently, you can still take the exams by simply arranging to test at a participating school or authorized test center. Learn more at I’m homeschooled. How can I take an AP Exam?

About Eva Varga

Eva is passionate about education. She has extensive experience in both formal and informal settings. She presently homeschools her two young children, teaches professional development courses through the Heritage Institute, and writes a middle level secular science curriculum called Science Logic. In addition to her work in education, she is an athlete, competing in Masters swimming events and marathons. In her spare time she enjoys reading, traveling, learning new languages, and above all spending time with her family. ♥