AP Classes: Not Worth the Stress

By Christopher Ramos ‘15
You’ve seen the fatigue-ridden faces of AP students. They carry large review books, studying whenever they have a chance. You’ve heard about the stress that these people endure.
More and more high schools in the US are offering AP classes to students. The classes offer college-level curriculum and examinations. Most colleges grant placement and course credit to students who obtain a grade on an examination above a certain number on a scale of one to five. There are various classes covering everything from physics to Japanese language and culture. The AP program that has made these classes possible is run by a non-profit membership organization called the College Board.
“I applied to three AP classes last year and have been accepted to two,” said Isheta Khanom ‘15. “I regret doing so because they take up so much of my free time.”
Students apply to as many AP classes as possible because they believe these classes will give them advantages in terms of college, but is it really worth it? In reality, AP classes aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
One assumed advantage is AP classes make students more likely to succeed in college. There are multiple studies which show that students who take AP classes perform better in college, obviously. It is common sense that most of the students who were motivated enough to take an advanced class stay motivated and work hard when they get to college. In other words, it isn’t the classes themselves, but the students taking those classes.
It is also widely believed that taking AP classes will boost a student’s chance of being accepted into college. For many colleges, AP classes alone do little to influence the decision of whether or not to accept a student. According to a 2013 study from Stanford University that reviews research on the Advanced Placement program, it depends on the college. “It depends” can be said for many of the assumptions made; however, considering the fact that many colleges don’t even receive AP scores earned by seniors until after acceptances, the results of the test don’t seem to have much of an effect on their decision. Instead, a combination of academics such as AP classes and extra-curricular activities will have an influence. Colleges don’t care how well you score on the AP exams, but merely want to see that students are taking the most rigorous course load possible.
A major flaw in the AP program is the structure of the classes. In every class there is an exam that students take, often in an effort to earn college credit. In a high school setting where students have required classes, AP classes are allotted one or, at max, two periods every day This leaves the teacher with no time to spare for anything other than the topics on the exam. A class geared toward a standardized test results in students who have more test preparation than comprehensive knowledge.
Ames Bartels ‘15, a student currently taking an AP class said, “I feel overwhelmed with the amount of information that we are expected to learn. I try to focus on the topics that are likely to appear on the test.”
To top it off, the scores that students receive — even high ones — aren’t always awarded with college credits. Dartmouth, an Ivy League college, announced in 2013 that it will no longer give college credit to students who do well on AP exams. At that time, many colleges didn’t give credit for a good grade on the corresponding AP exam, but this case was special. The Dartmouth psychology department tested 100 students who received a five on the AP Psychology exam by making them take a condensed version of the Psych 1 final. Out of these students, 90 percent failed. This statistic shows how the AP program isn’t optimally designed to teach students college level material. It contributed to the beginning of a trend in which colleges deny credits to students who do well on AP exams.
A college-level class can be a beneficial experience, if it actually provides a consistent, optimal learning environment. In the current AP program different high schools handle the same AP classes differently. The classes are often too test-intensive because of a shortage of time. Until AP classes are structured differently, students who actually want to have comprehensive knowledge about a topic shouldn’t take them. Instead, high schools should give students the opportunity to take actual college courses at local universities. A promising program that does this, only available in New York City, is a program called College Now.

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