Advanced Placement

The Difference Between AP Computer Science Principles and AP Computer Science A

Do you like creating things? Learning skills that solve real-world problems? If so, you might be trying to decide which AP computer science course is right for you. In this post, we’ll explain the similarities and differences between AP Computer Science Principles (AP CSP) and AP Computer Science A (AP CSA).


What is AP Computer Science Principles?

AP Computer Science Principles is a course that encompasses a wide range of topics. When you take AP CSP, you'll learn how computers and technology are impacting our daily lives, from the apps we use, to how our personal data is collected, to how AI can have positive and negative consequences. Students will learn how to harness technology to:

  • Work collaboratively to address real-world issues
  • Design a program to solve a problem
  • Analyze computational work
  • Communicate ideas about technology

Learn more about the course and how the exam is structured. And check out this webinar to hear directly from students who took AP CSP.


What is AP Computer Science A?

AP Computer Science A is a course that enables students to take on more advanced programming problems. When you take AP CSA, you'll learn the most in-demand programming language, Java, and build skills used by computer scientists to develop creative solutions to today’s problems. Skills emphasized in this course include:

  • Designing a computer program
  • Writing the necessary code to implement a program
  • Testing program code and correcting errors
  • Documenting and explaining how program code works

Learn more about the course and how the exam is structured. And check out this webinar to hear directly from students who took AP CSA.


How are these two courses similar?

AP Computer Science Principles and AP Computer Science A share characteristics. Both courses:

  • Give you a solid introduction to programming content and skills.
  • Encourage you to continue your studies and interest in the field of computer science.
  • Require you to have familiarity with concepts from algebra 1.
  • Do not require you to have any computer science or programming experience before enrolling in the course.


How are these two courses different?

Although AP Computer Science Principles and AP Computer Science A have similarities, they differ in ways you should know:

AP Computer Science Principles

AP Computer Science A

Your teacher can choose which programming language you'll learn in the course.

Your teacher is required to use the Java programming language.

You'll be introduced to broader concepts in computer science, including analyzing data, explaining how the internet works, and exploring the impacts of computer science in areas like cybersecurity.

You'll do a deep dive into programming with Java, exploring more advanced programming concepts.

The AP Exam is made up of both a traditional paper and pencil  part and a performance task that’s completed during the school year. The paper and pencil part is made up of multiple-choice questions. The performance task requires you to write a program of your choice and provide written answers to a series of questions about your program.

The AP Exam is a traditional paper and pencil exam with multiple-choice questions and free-response questions. You'll have to demonstrate your knowledge of Java programming in the free-response questions by writing program code.


Learn more about the benefits of taking AP Computer Science A and AP Computer Science Principles. And learn about scholarships, paid internships, and other opportunities for high school and college students interested in computer science.