What is AP CS Principles? A Guide for High School and Middle School

In this blog post, we answer some common questions about the AP CS Principles curriculum and exam.

What is taught in AP Computer Science Principles? According to the US College Board: "AP Computer Science Principles is an introductory college-level computing course that introduces students to the breadth of the field of computer science. Students learn to design and evaluate solutions and to apply computer science to solve problems through the development of algorithms and programs."

AP CS Principles is an introduction to computer science that does not focus on specific deep topics (such as programming or data science), but rather introduces students to many of the core ideas that are present across different computer science specialities - such as (1) Software Development, (b) Data, (c) Algorithms and Programming, (d) Computer Systems and Networks and (e) The impacts of Computing. Students should understand each core idea at a conceptual level, ideally informed by practical exercises in some programming language. In addition, the exam includes a project, where a student is expected to implement some of these ideas in a software program of their choice.

When can a student take AP CS Principles?

It depends. Many schools offer it somewhere in high school, and each school can offer for different grade levels. We have also seen middle school students take AP CS and do well.

Is AP CS principles easier than AP CS A?

It will depend on the student. AP CS Principles is broad while AP CS A is deep (and focused on programming language specifics). Some students will find one or the other easier depending on whether they prefer focused or broad topics. Both are valuable learnings. Unlike AP CS A - which is Java focused, AP CS Principles is language agnostic and the project can be done in any of a variety of languages.

Is AP CS Principles worth it? We think so. Learning the breadth of computer science can help you no matter what career you choose in the future - even if that career is not in Computer Science.

What coding language is AP CS principles?

AP CS Principles is coding language agnostic - meaning that the custom project and any exercises you do to practice the concepts can be done in a variety of languages. Which language you choose should depend on what else you are doing. For example

- Python is great because AI uses Python very heavily. You can build an AI project for your project part and also learn a lot of useful Python.

- Java is the language for AP CS A, so if you do Principles in Java, it will give you a leg up for AP CS A.

What does AP CS Principles have to do with AI?

AP CS Principles is not about AI, but we have found that students who have taken our AI Classes learn a lot of concepts that are part of AP CS Principles. For example, they learn

- About data. Different types of data and how it is used for prediction and insight

- Programming. They learn ore concepts of programming in a Python context (such as input/output, modules, flowcharts, data structures etc.) and also learn how to build custom projects using AI and Python. Students also learn app development.