The AP Java subset is intended to outline the features of Java that may appear on AP Computer Science A Examination. The AP Java subset is NOT intended as an overall prescription for computer science courses — the subset itself will need to be supplemented in order to cover a typical introductory curriculum. For example, I/O is essential to programming and can be done in many different ways. Because of this, specific I/O features are not tested on the AP Computer Science A Exam.

This document describes the Java subset that students will be expected to understand when they take the AP Computer Science Exam. A number of features are also mentioned that are potentially relevant in a CS1/2 course but are not specifically tested on the AP Computer Science Exam.

When formulating the subset, we were guided by three principles:

  1. Enable the test designers to formulate meaningful questions
  2. Help students with test preparation
  3. Enable instructors to follow a variety of approaches in their courses

To help students with test preparation, the AP Java subset was intentionally kept small. We omitted language constructs and library features that did not add significant functionality and that can, for the formulation of exam questions, be expressed by other mechanisms in the subset. For example, inner classes or the StringBuffer class are not essential for the formulation of exam questions — the exam uses alternatives that can be easily understood by students. Of course, these constructs add significant value for programming. Omission of a feature from the AP Java subset does not imply any judgment that the feature is inferior or not worthwhile.

The AP Java subset gives instructors flexibility in how they use Java in their courses. For example, some courses teach how to perform input/output using streams or readers/writers, others teach graphical user interface construction, and yet others rely on a tool or library that handles input/output. For the purpose of the AP Computer Science Exam, these choices are incidental and are not central for the mastery of computer science concepts. The AP Java subset does not address handling of user input at all. That means that the subset is not complete. To create actual programs, instructors need to present additional mechanisms in their classes.

The following section contains the language features that may be tested on the AP Computer Science A Exam. Following that is a section specifying which Standard Java classes and methods will be used on the exam. There will be no extra AP classes provided as part of the subset. A summary table is provided that outlines the features that are tested on the exam, and those features that are useful but are not tested on the exam.

Language Features

  1. The primitive types int, double, and boolean are part of the AP Java subset.
    The other primitive types short, long, byte, char, and float are not in the subset. In particular, students need not be aware that strings are composed of char values. Introducing char does not increase the expressiveness of the subset. Students already need to understand string concatenation, String.substring, and String.equals. Not introducing char avoids complexities with the char/int conversions and confusion between "x" and'x'.
  2. Arithmetic operators: +, -, *, /, % are part of the AP Java subset.
  3. The increment/decrement operators ++ and -- are part of the AP Java subset. These operators are used only for their side effect, not for their value. That is, the postfix form (for example, x++) is always used, and the operators are not used inside other expressions. For example, a[x++] is not used.
  4. The assignment operator = is part of the AP Java subset. The combined arithmetic/assignment operators +=, -=, *=, /=, %= are part of the AP Java subset although they are used simply as a shorthand and will not be used in the adjustment part of a for loop.
  5. Relational operators ==, !=, <, <=, >, >= are part of the AP Java subset.
  6. Logical operations &&, ||, ! are part of the AP Java subset. Students need to understand the "short circuit" evaluation of the && and || operators. The logical&, | and ^ and the bit operators <<, >>, >>>, &, ~, |, ^ are not in the subset.
  7. The ternary ?: operator is not in the subset.
  8. The numeric casts (int) and (double) are part of the AP Java subset. Since the only primitive types in the subset are int, double, and boolean, the only required numeric casts are the cast (int) and the cast (double). Students are expected to understand "truncation towards 0" behavior as well as the fact that positive floating-point numbers can be rounded to the nearest integer as (int)(x + 0.5), negative numbers as (int)(x - 0.5). Autoboxing, that is the automatic conversion between primitive types (int, double) and the corresponding wrapper classes (Integer, Double) is not in the subset.
  9. String concatenation + is part of the AP Java subset. Students are expected to know that concatenation converts numbers to strings and invokes toString on objects. String concatenation can be less efficient than using the StringBufferclass. However, for greater simplicity and conceptual clarity, the StringBufferclass is not in the subset.
  10. The escape sequences inside strings \\, \", \n are part of the AP Java subset. The \t escape and Unicode \uxxxx escapes are not in the subset. The\' escape is only necessary inside character literals and is not in the subset.
  11. User input is not part of the AP Java subset. There are many possible ways for supplying user input; e.g., by reading from a BufferedReader that is wrapped around, reading from a stream (such as a file or an URL), or from a dialog box. There are advantages and disadvantages to the various approaches. In particular, reading from is both fraught with complexities (two nested readers and the handling of checked exceptions) and considered old fashioned by some instructors. The exam does not prescribe any one approach. Instead, if reading input is necessary, it will be indicated in a way similar to the following: 

    double x = call to a method that reads a floating-point number;


    double x = IO.readDouble(); // read user input

    Converting strings to numeric values (e.g., with Integer.parseInt) is not in the subset.
  12. Testing of output is restricted to System.out.print andSystem.out.println. As with user input, there are many possible ways for directing the output of a program, for example to System.out, to a file, or to a text area in a graphical user interface. The AP Java subset includes the ability to print output to System.out, because it makes it easy to formulate questions. Since most graphical environments allow printing of debug messages toSystem.out (with output being collected in a special window, e.g., the "Java console" in a browser), students are usually familiar with this method of producing output. Formatted output (e.g., with NumberFormat orSystem.out.printf) is not in the subset.
  13. The main method and command-line arguments are not in the subset. The AP Computer Science Committee does not prescribe any particular approach for program invocation. In free-response questions, students are not expected to invoke programs. In case studies, program invocation with main may occur, but the main method will be kept very simple.
  14. Arrays: one-dimensional arrays and two-dimensional rectangular arrays are part of the AP Java subset. Both arrays of primitive types (e.g., int[]) and arrays of objects (e.g., Student[] ) are in the subset. Initialization of named arrays (int[] arr = { 1, 2, 3 };) is part of the AP Java subset. Arrays with more than two dimensions (e.g., rubik = new Color[3][3][3]) are not in the subset. "Ragged" arrays (e.g., new int[3][]) are not in the subset. In particular, students do not need to know that an int[3][3] really is an "array of arrays" whose rows can be replaced with other int[] arrays. However, students are expected to know that arr[0].length is the number of columns in a rectangular two-dimensional array arr. Anonymous arrays (e.g., new int[] { 1, 2, 3 }) are not in the subset.
  15. The control structures if, if/else, while, for, (including the enhanced for loop), return are part of the AP Java subset. The do/while, switch, plain and labeled break and continue statements are not in the subset.
  16. Methods: Method overloading (e.g., MyClass.method(String str) andMyClass.method(int num)) is part of the AP Java subset. Students should understand that the signature of a method depends only on the number, types, and order of its parameters but does not include the return type of the method. 

    Methods with a variable number of parameters are not in the subset.
  17. Classes: Students are expected to construct objects with the new operator, to supply construction parameters, and to invoke accessor and modifier methods. Students are expected to modify existing classes (by adding or modifying methods and instance variables). Students are expected to design their own classes.
  18. Visibility: In the AP Java subset, all classes are public. All instance variables areprivate. Methods, constructors, and constants (static final variables) are either public, or private.
    The AP Java subset does not use protected and package (default) visibility.
  19. The AP Java subset uses /* */, // and /** */ comments. Javadoc comments@param and @return, are part of the subset.
  20. The final keyword is only used for final block scope constants and static final class scope parameters or instance variables, finalmethods and final classes are not in the subset.
  21. The concept of static methods is a part of the subset. Students are required to understand when the use of static methods is appropriate. In the exam, static methods are always invoked through a class, never an object (i.e., ClassName.method(), not obj.method()).
  22. static variables are part of the subset.
  23. The null reference is part of the AP Java subset.
  24. The use of this is restricted to passing the implicit parameter in its entirety to another method (e.g., obj.method(this)) and to descriptions such as "the implicit parameter this". Using this.var or this.method(args) is not in the subset. In particular, students are not required to know the idiom "this.var = var", where var is both the name of an instance variable and a parameter variable. Calling other constructors from a constructor with the this(args)notation is not in the subset.
  25. The use of super to invoke a superclass constructor (super(args)) or to invoke a superclass method (i.e., super.method(args)) is part of the AP Java subset.
  26. Students are expected to implement constructors that initialize all instance variables. Class constants are initialized with an initializer:

    public static final int MAX_SCORE = 5;

    The rules for default initialization (with 0, false or null) are not in the subset. Initializing instance variables with an initializer is not in the subset. Initialization blocks are not in the subset.
  27. Students are expected to extend classes and implement interfaces. Students are also expected to have a knowledge of inheritance that includes understanding the concepts of method overriding and polymorphism. Students are expected to implement their own subclasses.
  28. Students are expected to read the definitions of interfaces and abstract classes and understand that the abstract methods need to be implemented in a subclass. Students are expected to write interfaces or class declarations when given a general description of the interface or class.
  29. Students are expected to understand the difference between object equality (equals) and identity (==). The implementation of equals and hashCodemethods is not in the subset.
  30. Cloning is not in the subset, because of the complexities of implementing the clone method correctly and the fact that clone is rarely required in Java programs.
  31. The finalize method is not in the subset.
  32. Students are expected to understand that conversion from a subclass reference to a superclass reference is legal and does not require a cast. Class casts (generally from Object to another class) are part of the AP Java subset, to enable the use of generic collections, for example: 

    Person p = (Person)people.get(i);

    The instanceof operator is not in the subset. Array type compatibility and casts between array types are not in the subset.
  33. Students are expected to have a basic understanding of packages and a reading knowledge of import statements of the form

    import packageName.subpackageName.ClassName;

    import statements with a trailing *, packages and methods for locating class files (e.g., through a class path) are not in the subset.
  34. Nested and inner classes are not in the subset.
  35. The use of generic collection classes and interfaces are in the subset, but students need not implement generic classes or methods.
  36. Enumerations, annotations, and threads are not in the subset.
  37. Students are expected to understand the exceptions that occur when their programs contain errors (in particular, NullPointerException, ArrayIndexOutOfBoundsException, ArithmeticException, ClassCastException, IllegalArgumentException). On the AB exam, students are expected to be able to throw the uncheckedIllegalStateException and NoSuchElementException in their own methods (principally when implementing collection ADTs). Checked exceptions are not in the subset. In particular, the try/catch/finally statements and the throwsmodifier are not in the subset.

Standard Java Library Methods Required for AP CS A

Accessible Methods from the Java Library That May Be Included on the Exam

class java.lang.Object

  • boolean equals(Object other)
  • String toString()

class java.lang.Integer

  • Integer(int value)
  • int intValue()
  • Integer.MIN_VALUE // minimum value represented by an int
  • Integer.MAX_VALUE // maximum value represented by an int

class java.lang.Double

  • Double(double value)
  • double doubleValue()

class java.lang.String

  • int length()
  • String substring(int from, int to) 
    // returns the substring beginning at from
    // and ending at to-1
  • String substring(int from)
    // returns substring(from, length())
  • int indexOf(String str)
    // returns the index of the first occurrence of str;
    // returns -1 if not found
  • int compareTo(String other) 
    // returns a value < 0 if this is less than other
    // return a value = 0 if this is equal to other
    // return a value > 0 if this is greater than other

class java.lang.Math

  • static int abs(int x)
  • static double abs(double x)
  • static double pow(double base, double exponent)
  • static double sqrt(double x)
  • static double random()
    // returns a double in the range [0.0, 1.0)

class java.util.List<E>

  • int size()
  • boolean add(E obj)
    // appends obj to the end of list; returns true
  • void add(int index, E obj)
    // inserts obj at position index (0<= index <= size),
    // moving elements at position index and higher 
    // to the right (adds 1 to their indices) and adjusts size
  • E get(int index)
  • E set(int index, E obj)
    // replaces the element at position index, with obj
    //returns the element formerly at the specified position
  • E remove(int index) 
    // removes element from position index, moving elements 
    // at position index + 1 and higher to the left 
    // (subtracts 1 from their indices) and adjusts size
    // returns the element formerly at the specified position
  • class java.util.ArrayList implements java.util.List


Tested in A exam Potentially relevant to CS1/CS2 course but not tested on the A exam
int, double, boolean Integer.MAX_VALUE, Integer.MIN_VALUE short, long, byte, char, float
+ , -, *, /, %, ++, -- Using the values of ++, --expressions in other expressions
=, +=, -=, *=, /=, %=  
==, !=, <, <=, >, >=  
&&, ||, ! and short-circuit evaluation <<, >>, >>>, &, ~, |, ^, ?:
(int), (double) Other numeric casts such as (char) or (float)
String concatenation StringBuffer
Escape sequences \", \\, \n inside strings Other escape sequences (\', \t, \unnnn)
System.out.print, System.out.println Scanner,, Stream input/output, GUI input/output, parsing input, formatted output
  public static void main(String[] args)
1-dimensional arrays 
2-dimensional rectangular arrays;
Arrays with 3 or more dimensions, ragged arrays
if, if/else, while, for, enhanced for, return do/while, switch, break, continue
Modify existing classes, design classes  
public classes, private instance variables,public or private methods or constants protected or package visibility
@param, @return javadoc
static class variables final local variables, finalparameters, final instance variables, final methods, finalclasses
static methods  
null, this, super, super.method(args) this.var,
Constructors and initialization of static variables Default initialization of instance variables, initialization blocks
Understand inheritance hierarchies. Design and implement subclasses. Modify subclass implementations and implementations of interfaces.  
Understand the concepts of abstract classes and interfaces.  
Understand equals, ==, and != comparison of objects
clone, implementation of equals, generic Comparable<T>
Conversion to supertypes and (Subtype) casts instanceof
  Nested classes,inner classes
Package concept, import packageName.ClassName; import packageName*, static import, defining packages, class path
Exception concept, common exceptions Throwing standard unchecked exceptions. Checked exceptionstry/catch/finally, throws
String, Math, Object, List, ArrayList Sorting methods in Arrays andCollections
Wrapper classes (Integer, Double) autoboxing