Homeschool AP Science Options

Is your homeschooler a strong science student? If so, AP sciences may be a a good option to consider. Science APs are considered among the harder of the Advanced Placement tests which means they are also among the APs most likely to be awarded college credit.

AP Science Homeschool
APs are intended to function as college level courses for high school students. Homeschoolers can enroll in AP courses or can prepare on their own for AP tests. These tests are offered in May at local public and private schools. AP courses can be a good way to motivate high school students and can offer the possibility of challenging coursework while in high school. Many colleges also offer college credits for stronger scores on AP exams. If your student is considering a STEM career such as engineering or pre-med APs may help them develop the foundational knowledge they need to be successful in highly competitive introductory college courses.

AP students have a variety of choices available for studying science. Remember that APs are intended to be the equivalent of college courses, so typical students will do the AP as the second year of study in a particular area. For example, most students will do a year of general biology before they take a year long AP biology course. As a homeschooler, though, you have flexibility. If your student is particularly capable or had strong sciences while in middle school they may be able to go directly to the AP course. Some homeschoolers also opt to schedule more time in the day to fit both the introductory and the AP course into one year. Here is an overview of the AP science tests.

AP Biology
AP Biology is the most popular of the AP sciences taken by over 170,000 students a year. The biology exam was redesigned for the 2012 school year. It covers four “big ideas”: evolution, cellular processes, genetics, and interactions. AP biology is intended to be taught with a lab component. I suggest students have at least some foundation in chemistry before beginning AP biology. AP biology is intended to cover the same material as a two semester introductory college biology course.

AP Chemistry
The second most popular AP science, AP Chemistry is known to be a solid and challenging course. Students should expect to put in a significant amount of time to master this material. The College Board has the expectation that students spend 90 minutes a week in lab. Chemistry can be one of the more challenging subjects to teach at home, but there are a variety of options. Many co-ops and some colleges offer lab-only courses for homeschoolers. AP chemistry assumes students have met the prerequisite of algebra 2. Topics in AP chemistry include: atomic theory, chemical bonding, phases of matter, solutions, types of reactions, chemical equilibrium, reaction kinetics, electrochemistry and thermodynamics.

AP Environmental Science
The third most popular AP science course is AP Environmental Science. This interdisciplinary course encourages students to use scientific principles to analyze global environmental problems. While this is considered the “lightest” AP science by most colleges, it also has one of the lowest number of 5 scores of any AP exam. Colleges are less likely to award college credit for this course than for other APs. At the same time, many high school students are interested in environmental science and it may be one of the easier AP sciences to do at home because it lends itself to labs that are more easily done at home.

AP Physics
Currently there are three physics exams: AP physics B, and two AP Physics C exams, mechanics and magnetism. These exams end at the 2014-2015 testing and will be replaced by two physics exams, AP physics 1 and AP physics 2. Both exams will be algebra based. Physics 1 is intended to be the equivalent of a first semester algebra based college physics course and will cover Newtonian mechanics (including rotational dynamics and angular momentum) work, energy, and power, mechanical waves and sound.  Physics 2 is intended to cover the second semester of college introductory physics and will cover fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, electricity and magnetism, optics, atomic and nuclear physics.


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  1. SImpsonFive

    We have a 14 and 16 year old in high school. The 16 year old is taking the AP bio exam in may, but I read APs are bad for medical school and she plans to be a surgeon. What should we do?

  2. Barbara Hettle

    Most future pre-med students will take some science APs in high school. They are helpful for building a good science curriculum and they can be helpful for college admissions. What is important for medical school is to not use these AP courses as a substitute for core college classes. Your student can take the AP courses and then use that strong foundation to do well in the very competitive introductory “weeder” science courses. Most students in these courses will have had AP level coursework so your student can be at a disadvantage if they don’t have a similar background.

  3. Keren

    Hi, Where do homeschoolers wanting to take these AP exams, biology in particular, typically get the lab experience? I’m finding that part very challenging. Thank you!

    1. Barbara Hettle

      Dear Keren,
      Thanks for your question. The lab component for APs can be challenging for homeschoolers for sure and often families end up outsourcing this to a local college. Some students take online courses that have a lab component. Some students attend lab intensive sessions at local colleges or through homeschool organizations. Occasionally a homeschool parent who has a strong background in sciences may offer a local lab focused session out of their garage or a community center.

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