How AP Capstone Works

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Students typically take AP Seminar in grade 10 or 11, followed by AP Research. Students who earn scores of 3 or higher in AP Seminar and AP Research and on four additional AP Exams of their choosing receive the AP Capstone Diploma™. Students who earn scores of 3 or higher in AP Seminar and AP Research but not on four additional AP Exams receive the AP Seminar and Research Certificate™.

The graphic consists of a vertical column with multiple rows of text. The column is broken into three main sections. The top section has the heading AP Seminar open parenthesis Year 1 close parenthesis. Under this heading are three rows of text, as follows: Team Project and Presentation; Individual Research-Based Essay and Presentation; and End of Course Exam. The middle section has the heading AP Research open parenthesis year 2 close parenthesis. Under this heading are two rows of text as follows: Academic Paper and Presentation and Oral Defense. The bottom section consists of the heading 4 AP Courses and Exams. Underneath the heading is the following text: open parenthesis Taken at any point throughout high school close parenthesis. Along the left side of the vertical column is a bracket labeled AP Capstone Diploma. The bracket includes all three sections of the vertical column. Along the right side of the column is a bracket labeled AP Seminar and Research Certificate. This bracket includes only the AP Seminar and AP Research sections of the column.

The QUEST Framework

In the AP Capstone™ program, students consider and evaluate multiple points of view to develop their own perspectives on complex issues and topics through inquiry and investigation.

AP Capstone gives students the following pedagogical framework (“QUEST”) to develop, practice, and hone their critical and creative thinking skills as they make connections between various issues and their own lives:

  • Question and Explore
    Questioning begins with an initial exploration of complex topics or issues. Perspectives and questions emerge that spark one’s curiosity, leading to an investigation that challenges and expands the boundaries of one's current knowledge.
  • Understand and Analyze Arguments
    Understanding various perspectives requires contextualizing arguments and evaluating the authors’ claims and lines of reasoning.
  • Evaluate Multiple Perspectives
    Evaluating an issue involves considering and evaluating multiple perspectives, both individually and in comparison to one another.
  • Synthesize Ideas
    Synthesizing others’ ideas with one’s own may lead to new understandings and is the foundation of a well-reasoned argument that conveys one’s perspective.
  • Team, Transform, and Transmit
    Teaming allows one to combine personal strengths and talents with those of others to reach a common goal. Transformation and growth occur upon thoughtful reflection. Transmitting requires the adaptation of one’s message based on audience and context.

The graphic is titled QUEST: An Instructional Foundation. The graphic consists of five boxes arranged in a sideways V shape. Each box contains text, and there is smaller text below each box. The first letter in each box is emphasized, spelling the word QUEST. The text associated with each box is as follows, from top to bottom of the graphic: First box: Question and Explore: Challenge and expand the boundaries of your current knowledge. Second box: Understand and Analyze: Contextualize arguments and comprehend authors’ claims. Third box: Evaluate Multiple Perspectives: Consider individual perspectives and the larger conversation of varied points of view. Fourth box: Synthesize Ideas: Combine knowledge, ideas, and your own perspective into an argument. Fifth box: Team, Transform, and Transmit: Collaborate, reflect, and communicate your argument in a method suited to your audience. Each box is connected to the subsequent one below it by a bidirectional solid arrow. There are dotted arrows from the third, fourth, and fifth boxes back up to the first box. Another arrow extends from the fifth box and points toward the right edge of the page. It is labeled with the following text: Use these QUEST skills as you advance to college, career, and beyond.

AP Capstone Professional Development

Because of the unique format of both courses, and the skills that must be developed in each, professional development is required for all AP Seminar and AP Research instructors. Teachers must complete a five-day face-to-face training in the summer prior to the first year of teaching the course. In addition, teachers must complete online scoring training modules and pass the associated certification assessment prior to scoring their students’ work. The College Board will also require teachers to complete plagiarism training, to ensure consistent and fair application of the AP Capstone plagiarism policy.

For more information about AP Capstone professional development, visit AP Capstone Professional Development on AP Central.

AP Seminar

In this yearlong course, students develop and strengthen analytic and inquiry skills, exploring two to four relevant issues chosen by the student and/or teacher. For example, students might explore the question of whether national security is more important than a citizen’s right to privacy, or whether genetic engineering is a benefit to society.

Using an inquiry framework, students practice reading and analyzing articles; research studies; foundational, literary, and philosophical texts; listening to and viewing speeches, broadcasts, and personal accounts; and experiencing artistic works and performances. Students learn to consider an issue from multiple perspectives, evaluate the strength of an argument, and make logical, fact-based decisions. Students question, research, explore, pose solutions, develop arguments, collaborate, and communicate using various media. After taking AP Seminar, students will have the opportunity to further hone their inquiry and analytical writing skills in AP Research.

AP Seminar Assessment

AP Seminar students are assessed with two through-course performance tasks and one end-of-course exam. The performance tasks consist of a team project and presentation, and an individual research-based essay and presentation. All three assessments are summative and are used to calculate a final AP score of 1 to 5.

The two through-course performance tasks for AP Seminar are teacher-scored. The end-of-course exam is in May; it takes two hours and consists of three short-answer questions and one essay question.

AP Research

AP Seminar is a prerequisite for AP Research.

AP Research allows students to design, plan, and conduct a yearlong research-based investigation on a topic of individual interest, documenting their process with a portfolio. This allows students to demonstrate the ability to apply scholarly understanding to real-world problems and issues.

Students further the skills developed in AP Seminar by learning how to understand research methodology, employ ethical research practices, and access, analyze, and synthesize information to build, present, and defend an argument. Students may choose to do one of the following:

  • Dig deeper into a topic studied in an AP course.
  • Work across academic areas with an interdisciplinary topic.
  • Study a new area of interest, perhaps one for further study at the college level.

AP Research Assessment

The AP Research course culminates in an academic paper of 4,000 to 5,000 words and a presentation with an oral defense. The two components of the through-course performance task are teacher-scored, and the academic paper is validated by the College Board after being scored. There is no end-of-course exam for AP Research.

For the oral defense, AP Research teachers should choose two additional adult panel members — expert advisers or discipline-specific experts. Both components are included in the calculation of a final AP score (using the 1–5 scale).