Should I take AP informatics A or AP informatics principles?

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If you’re considering going into computer science and earning college credits in high school, you’re probably hesitating between taking AP Computer Science Principles and AP Computer Science A.

These two advanced placement courses have similar content, but the details and exam formats are different.

The AP informatics A course and exam focus on computer skills related to Java. AP Computer Science Principles is a broader, conceptual view of computer science. You can take one, the other, or both. Here’s what you need to know to help you decide.

What does AP informatics A mean?

AP computer science A covers one semester and emphasizes the use of Java. Because Java is a vast programming languagethe course focuses on object-oriented programming and design.

The AP Computer Science A course includes: 10 units of content† During the lesson, you will gain an understanding of coding by using Java to write and test code while exploring topics such as modularity, variables, arrays, and the impact of computing.

By the time the course comes to an end, you will have the skills to:

  • design programs
  • Developing algorithms
  • Write and implement code
  • Test and Document Code

As part of the AP Computer Science A course, you will complete a minimum of 20 hours of hands-on lab work.

No previous courses in computer science are required to enroll in AP Computer Science A.

However, the College Board — which administers AP exams — recommends:

  • High School English and Algebra Proficiency
  • Familiarity with features
  • Familiarity with the Cartesian coordinate system

The course builds on pre-existing mathematical reasoning skills. Please consider this with your advisor before enrolling.

At the end of the semester you take the AP informatics A exam. It lasts three hours and consists of two parts. Each lasts 90 minutes and counts towards half of the total grade.

The first part consists of 40 multiple choice questions. You can use a single dataset to answer multiple questions.

The second part of the AP computer science A exam contains four free questions. You answer each question by writing code. The questions focus on the following topics:

  • Methods and control structures
  • Class
  • Array and ArrayList
  • 2D array

What do the principles of AP computer science cover?

AP Computer Science Principles is a comprehensive look at the field of computer science. You study five big concepts from computer science:

  • Creative development
  • Facts
  • Algorithms and programming
  • Computer systems and networks
  • Impact of Computing

The instructor will choose the programming language you use as you progress through the curricula. You learn to:

  • Making connections between computer concepts
  • Designing programs to solve a problem or complete a task
  • Analyze math
  • Applying abstractions to calculations and modeling

You will also have the opportunity to communicate about technology and calculations and collaborate to solve problems.

There are no prerequisite requirements for AP computer science principles. The Executive Board recommends familiarity with:

  • high school algebra
  • Linear functions
  • Problem Solving Strategies

If you want to follow both AP informatics A and AP informatics principles, you can complete them in any order.

The AP Computer Science Principles Exam consists of two parts.

You will spend at least 12 hours of class time completing a ‘Create Performance Task’. It accounts for 30% of your total grade. You design and implement code that creatively solves a problem or expresses your interests. You also create a video and written responses to prompts.

The final test consists of 70 multiple choice questions that you complete in two hours.

According to the Executive Board, multiple choice questions fall into three categories:

  • Single-select questions
  • Single-select questions with a reading passage about a computer innovation
  • Multiple choice questions

This test is 70% of the total exam mark.

There is no specific order for the two AP computer science courses.

If you are new to computer science and programming, we recommend that you first follow the AP principles of computer science.

AP Computer Science A’s focus on Java and object-oriented programming can be intimidating to beginners. And once you understand the big ideas of computer science – as described in AP computer science principles – you can apply them to programming.

The difficulty of each course depends on your background, skills and interests. Many students find AP Computer Science A more difficult because of its practical activities and limited scope.

AP computer science principles cover broad aspects of the discipline. This can be overwhelming for some students.

A basic understanding of computer science will benefit you in both AP computer science courses

Computer science can be difficultHowever, computer science resources exist to help you manage the demands of AP computer science courses.

A quick Google search will yield study guides for the exams of both courses. Education provider Codecademy even offers an in-depth AP computer science practice resource.

READ THIS: Codecademy Review


By taking an AP computer science course, you build knowledge of the field no matter which one you complete.

AP informatics A teaches you about coding and its functions, while the principles of AP informatics show the broad outline of the field.

Any AP course can count toward credit requirements, another benefit of enrolling in one or more classes.

This article has been reviewed by Monali Mirel Chuatico

Monali Mirel Chuatico, a woman with long dark hair, smiles in a headshot.

in 2019, Monali Mirel Chuatico graduated with her bachelor’s degree in computer science, which gave her the foundation she needed to excel in roles as data engineer, front-end developer, UX designer and computer science instructor.

Monali is currently a data engineer at Mission Lane. As a data analytics captain at a non-profit named COOP CareersMonali helps recent graduates and young professionals overcome the underemployment by teaching them data analysis tools and guiding them on their professional development journey.

Monali is passionate about implementing creative solutions, building community, advocacy for mental health, empowering women and educating young people. Monali’s goal is to gain more experience in her field, expand her skills and do meaningful work that will positively impact the world.

Monali Mirel Chuatico is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.

Last reviewed on May 3, 2022.

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