If you’re considering pursuing computer science and want to start earning college credit in high school, you’re probably debating between taking AP computer science principles and AP computer science A.
These two advanced placement courses cover similar content, but the specifics and exam formats differ.
The AP computer science A course and exam focus on computing skills associated with Java. AP computer science principles is a broader, conceptual look at the field 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 computer science A cover?
AP computer science A spans one semester and emphasizes using Java. Because Java is a vast programming language, the course focuses on object-oriented programming and design.
The AP computer science A course includes 10 units of content. During the class, you gain insight into coding by using Java to write and test code as you explore topics like modularity, variables, arrays, and the impact of computing.
By the time the course comes to an end, you’ll have the skills to:
- Design programs
- Develop algorithms
- Write and implement code
- Test and document code
As part of the AP computer science A course, you complete a minimum of 20 hours of hands-on lab work.
What does AP computer science principles 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
- Algorithms and programming
- Computer systems and networks
- Impact of computing
The instructor chooses the programming language you use as you progress through the curricula. You’ll learn to:
- Make connections between computing concepts
- Design programs to solve a problem or complete a task
- Analyze computational work
- Apply abstractions to computation and modeling
You also gain the ability to communicate about technology and computation and work collaboratively to solve problems.
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Taking an AP computer science course builds knowledge of the field regardless of which one you complete.
AP computer science A teaches you about coding and its functions, while AP computer science principles shows the discipline’s broad strokes.
Any AP course can count toward college credit requirements, another benefit to enrolling in one or more classes.
This article was reviewed by Monali Mirel Chuatico
In 2019, Monali Mirel Chuatico graduated with her bachelor’s in computer science, which gave her the foundation that she needed to excel in roles such as a 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 nonprofit called COOP Careers, Monali helps new grads and young professionals overcome underemployment by teaching them data analytics tools and mentoring them on their professional development journey.
Monali is passionate about implementing creative solutions, building community, advocating for mental health, empowering women, and educating youth. Monali’s goal is to gain more experience in her field, expand her skill set, 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 May 3, 2022.