What is your opinion of the Advanced Placement (AP) Program?

Revisiting this topic is kind of weird for me given that I graduated from high school nearly five years ago and the AP program no longer directly affects me in any meaningful way. Still, I’ve recently had to send for my old AP Exam scores so that they could be received by a nearby four-year uni, and so in that sense I continue to deal with the AP Program in some capacity. So with that in mind, then, what is your opinion of the Advanced Placement Program?

I’ll be honest with you guys, I’m not a big proponent of AP in general. I’ve consistently advised my younger sibling to avoid AP and to instead just undergo concurrent enrollment with the local (now my current) JC. Still, the tests I took in high school HAVE managed to help me at the college level, effectively by allowing me to avoid a handful of GE classes that I would’ve otherwise taken at JC. Moreover, they’ve cut down my time at the JC level by at least a year, which has certainly been nice as well.

The thing is, I just don’t think that the added rigor and workload of AP classes is worth the trade-off of a passing score on the given AP Exams. At least in my high school, students who had no business in this program were funneled into AP classes en masse for less-than-ideal reasons. Once there, we were all confronted by exceedingly difficult workloads that were far more rigorous than their college-level counterparts. Five-six hours of homework were given every night - including weekends - and the entire fiasco would repeat itself the following day.

I took and passed five AP Exams; this entailed four AP classes that I took in HS, in addition to an Exam in 12th grade that I passed simply through studying for it on my own. I knew of kids in my class who took twice as many classes and Exams, and I honestly can’t even comprehend how the hell they were able to pull that off.

If you are planning to go to a competitive university (and universities are more competitive than they were even five years ago), they will want to see that you are challenging yourself as best you can. Generally, that means taking AP classes when they are offered. In admissions terms, straight As in non-honors classes is not impressive if honors classes are available. You don’t have to take every AP class offered. But if you look like you are a smart kid who is avoiding them to lessen the workload or get a better unweighted GPA, they will notice and it won’t be favorable to you.

Learning to manage a heavy workload is a good skill. In college success, things like time management and prioritization are shown to be just as important as raw smarts. Life is hard for everyone, and if that bothers you…well, you don’t even want to know how hard the kids in China are studying just to have a shot at what we’d see as a lower-middle class lifestyle. It’s a global workforce now, and we can’t expect to compete if we aren’t pushing ourselves.

And that goes for everyone. Even kids who “don’t belong” in AP classrooms have been shown to benefit from the challenge. The College Board has TONS of research on all of this, and kids who took AP classes but did poorly still benefit in a lot of ways.

That said, AP classes and tests aren’t perfect. But it doesn’t hurt our high schoolers to work hard and take challenging coursework.

I took four AP classes many many years ago. We didn’t have anything like four or five hours of homework per night. Perhaps it’s changed since then. My AP US history and AP Literature classes stand out, even after all these years, as profoundly valuable. Equal to, or exceeding some topic the best courses I took in college, and they certainly helped me prepare for college level courses. AP chemistry was interesting, but ultimately not my area of interest. I regret taking AP Physics, although it did teach me some humility.

My opinion? They’re not for everyone. Even good students should be free to decline pushing themselves too hard in high school. Life is long and interesting.follow the road life offers you, enjoy the ride

And, from what I can tell, all (almost) high school teachers need to cut back on home work and make in class time more interesting.

Disclaimer: I’ve taught a variety of AP classes for the last decade + and am about as immersed in AP as it’s possible to be.

I think having a wide variety of educational opportunities is always best, and that lots of kids that people think have “no business” in rigorous classes do rise to the challenge, and even if they do relatively poorly and make a 2 on the exam, they still likely learned more and will do better in college as a result.

Your focus seems to be entirely on outcomes–is it easier to get a credit in an AP class, or through dual enrollment? The answer, of course, is dual enrollment. But it’s also important to look at why that is–generally, the expectations at junior colleges are pretty low, and you might not learn that much. If you are just looking to check things off a list, that might be okay, but I think my English kids go on to be better-read, better readers, and better writers than they would be if they’d enrolled at the local junior college, and I know my Econ kids are better prepared to jump into intermediate econ classes at top universities than they would be if they had taken the Macro/Micro at the junior college level.

That said, all things in moderation. One should not take 8 AP classes a year simply out of a feeling of obligation to max out your potential. Nor should one NOT take 8 AP classes if you have a tremendous passion for learning and academics and that’s the best alternative within your current system. I do feel, strongly, that it’s a matter of finding a good fit for an individual, not a “right” answer. On the other hand, I do think school should be work. Yes, you need joy in your life, but the goal is not to find the more efficient path through school, any more than you try to get on the basketball team but strive to be put on the bench because it’s less work. One should look back at each year and think “Wow, I learned a LOT”. In many schools, the AP program is the way to do that.

In general, College Board writes good tests, and spends what it costs to have them graded properly (the bigger concern). The AP Macro/Micro tests are lovely: clever, efficient, and they demand real thinking and problem solving. I’d rather teach to an AP exam than any of the alternatives out there, and to some degree the AP program helps keep college-prep tracks across the country consistent. We are basically backing into a national curriculum through a private organization, and that’s fine with me. They are much better tests than the SAT: you really have to KNOW SOMETHING to pass a given AP exam, and the trick to passing is really to learn what you need to know, not practice test taking techniques.

That said, not all AP classes are equal. In some schools, they are basically the “not-remedial” classes and anyone with any idea of going to college is there. In some schools, literally no one passes the AP exams: they are just called AP because it’s the kind of thing you are supposed to have. Others involve way more homework than they probably need to be because the teachers over-assign just in case.

I have problems with AP, of course, but in general I think it’s a good system. I really appreciate that the tests have a solid reputation for consistency and rigor. I’ve always taught in Title I schools, and I think it means a lot both to my kids and to the outside world that their academic achievements are objectively verified.

In fact, now that I think about it, if efficiency is really all that matters and you fully expect to go to a JC between high school and then a non-competitive state college regardless, you should advise your siblings to drop out of high school after their sophomore year and go straight to JC. There’s no doubt that that is the fastest-and-least-effort route to a four year degree. That said, it’s not a route that makes you a rock star in your field. It’s not a route that makes you smarter. But if you tend to think of intelligence as immutable and as education as a bunch of bullshit hoops to get a receipt, that’s the path to take.

I got my college composition course out of the way by doing well in high school AP courses, and that was 100% worth it. The high school class was far less of a pain in the ass than the college course would have been–at my university, freshman comp is a five-hour course that meets every day and requires a ton of busywork. Also, it’s usually taught by undergraduate TAs, who I’m sorry but… must surely give a much lower quality of instruction than I received from my crusty old high school English teacher.

I also got out of a whole year of French classes and a semester of chemistry, via AP. Oh, and a civics class. It really was worth it to me.

Not in favor. A bit too early to be outdoing the Joneses at this age.

I managed to graduate from college with my Bachelor’s degree in 3 years and it would not have been possible without the AP courses I took.

Manda Jo**** specifically addressed taking eight AP courses- that’s actually how many I took and I was not overwhelmed at all (I took nine tests- one course was a combination of two AP courses condensed into one). It depends on the student obviously, that amount is not for everyone. But subjects in the humanities come naturally to me since I find them genuinely interesting, so those classes were not hard for me at all. Plus I was lucky to have really great teachers. I don’t think I’m super smart either- I just have a good memory.

I don’t recall any students who genuinely didn’t belong being funneled into AP courses. There was one kid in 10th grade who was seriously struggling and he dropped the course, but that was all. I had some trouble in my AP Statistics class (and I bombed that AP test), but the teacher was very nice and understanding and I wasn’t failing the course despite the lousy score I ended up getting on the AP test.

I definitely did not have hours of homework every night and I don’t think my friends did either. I’m good at multitasking so I was able to get a lot of work done discreetly in class. My teachers also allowed library time to get stuff done.

If a student is able to handle it, I think taking AP classes is definitely worth it. I would have been hideously bored in school if I had not been able to take challenging classes. I had plenty of time for extra-curricular activities. I took fashion design for three years and did fashion shows every year, I was an intern for the ACLU my senior year, and my friends and I had plenty of time to go to the mall and I think I watched every single episode of Law & Order SVU.

I’m much more of a pragmatist than an idealist, so I guess this post does a good job of describing my POV, yet you’re obviously being a tad cynical here. Keep in mind, though, that you’re talking to a guy who got accepted into the competitive schools you’ve referenced and yet who still opted for the JC route because it just made far more sense financially. That said, yes, I also tend to view education as something that needs to be “gotten through” rather than “experienced,” so I’m obviously biased here.


I am not talking about some flabby emotional “experience”; I am talking about leaving high school with a complex, nuanced, and flexible knowledge base, which lends itself to continuing to build a knowledge base–both in terms of skills and content–that has depth and breadth and substance. It’s that knowledge base that leads to a more lucrative and satisfying life, both professionally and personally. It’s not just about being able to get a job, it’s about being able to be wonderful at that job, learning faster than anyone else, making more connections, having more context.

Now, if someone were to say “I worked my butt off in high school and learned a ton, but my grades were crap because I knew I was doing the JC thing and it didn’t matter, so I put my time and energy only into those things that actually advanced my learning–both on the syllabus and off,” I could respect that. I still think colleges vary, and the sort of person who learns well and deeply is better served by going to the sort of college that is full of those sorts of people. But I frequently counsel my kids to pick and choose which assignments they do and how hard they work, and to not always prioritize a perfect grade. But learning matters. Learning makes you smarter. Smarter helps with everything.

You seem to feel like you worked 10% harder than you strictly speaking had to in High School, learned 10% more than you strictly speaking had to know, and that appears to make you feel like some how you were a chump, you were tricked, you got taken advantage of. It’s that attitude that I disagree with.

You’re probably going to disagree with this post as well.

The above quote more or less describes my own position here. Now, I’m not nearly as cynical about the entire fiasco as you would have others believe because, honestly, my experience with the AP Program concluded so long ago that I just don’t care anymore. That might not be the answer you’re looking for, but it is what it is.

But again, I’m not asserting that I derived no benefit from AP. On the contrary, as I stated in the OP, from a purely practical perspective it HAS allowed me to bypass a handful of GE requirements, and to that extent I’m glad I took and passed those AP Exams.

But the thing is, aside from the practical credit benefits, that’s really where the positives with AP end for me. No, AP didn’t fundamentally enhance my knowledge base in a way that I wouldn’t have gotten from a JC-level course. It didn’t give me a work ethic that I wouldn’t have gotten via other comparable means. It didn’t make me a better or more enlightened human being. It didn’t make me enjoy high school any more than I otherwise might have. In short, it didn’t do anything for me aside from helping me gain a few college credits; I’m glad I have them, yes, but I would argue that the tradeoff - in terms of workload vs. the eventual reward - just isn’t worth it.

That may be true, but that makes you an anomoly. The College Board has a fairly well respected research arm, and their work does show that AP students are much better prepared for college-level work than similar non-AP students.

Is several hours of work outside of class the norm as 2manytacos**** is implying? I have no idea if maybe my school was out of the ordinary, but as I said, I definitely did not have hours of homework or studying to do and neither did my friends. All of us had plenty of time for part time jobs, internships, clubs, simply hanging out or whatever. I have a cousin currently in high school who is currently taking multiple AP courses as well and she has plenty of time to focus on sports (I have no idea what other extra curricular stuff she does).

I honestly felt AP classes were worth it and my college classes were not a challenge at all having become adjusted to a rigorous course load beginning in 10th grade. Full disclosure: I went to fashion school so obviously things were going to be easier, but the Fashion Institute of Technology is part of the SUNY system so there were core liberal arts classes that were required plus I was also in the school’s honors program. My friends who went to traditional colleges however said the same thing and I was not the only one out of my high school graduating class who was able to graduate early.

If your AP classes didn’t give you the opportunity to do more labs than is typical in a JC science class, read more complex works of literature than in a JC lit course, do more primary source reading than is common in a JC, and above all do more writing across the board than is typical in any of those, than either you had a crappy AP program or attend an unusually rigorous JC.

It depends on the course, on the school culture, and on the student. I’ve found that kid taking a full load of AP courses and at least one serious extracurricular is going to be solidly busy, but it’s not a life of unending toil.

Definitely not, which is why I’m having trouble understanding the OP’s attitude about AP classes. Also, If an AP class is taught so that it’s less challenging than a junior college course, wouldn’t the students be failing the AP test?

I guess having taken a bunch of AP classes I flat out don’t get why someone wouldn’t have gotten at least something** out of them.

ETA: In my experience AP classes did influence my enjoyment of high school because a) I was in classes with all of my friends and b) why would I want to take classes that are too easy for me? I would have been bored and miserable.

I’m also confused by “it was so much work, but we didn’t learn anything we wouldn’t have learned in a JC class”. What was all that work, if it didn’t result in more learning?

Maybe he thinks he had busy work in which case he sounds like he had crappy teachers. Being a teacher yourself I’m sure you’re aware of this, but the quality and attitude of a teacher can definitely affect a student’s perception of a class.

I understand the OP’s point of view and sympathise with him (or her). For many students, taking a class at a local JC can be a much better option than taking an AP class. When you consider that many colleges don’t accept AP credit and/or AP test takers may not get the required score to recieve the college credit if it is offered then a JC is sometimes a better option.

Someone pointed out that the CollegeBoard’s research arm is robust and the unwritten assumption is that the research and subsequent press releases are trustworthy. I would point you to FairTest.org and then to Americans for Educational Testing Reform. In 2009 the College Board made $53 million in profits. Why would they publish anything that would hurt their product? The CollegeBoard is even insinuating itself into my daughter’s 6th grade classes. This year her English teacher had to use the Springboard (ie College Board) curriculum which the school has adopted.

The point was also made upthread that students who take AP classes do better in college. This should not be a surprise to anyone…students who take AP classes in high school are the most academically motivated students that a school has, of course they are going to be successful in college.

IMHO, AP classes are good when there is a good AP teacher.

I only took two AP classes–US history and English. The only one left at my school was AP calculus, which I couldn’t take.

The two classes really quite stressful. The work was no joke. And there were quite a few students who had to drop out of them–just like what happens in an actual college class. But they were definitely worth the stress. Not only did I learn skills that carried me through graduate school, but being an “AP kid” made high school fun.

I thought I was tough shit until I got to college. Many of my college classmates hailed from rich suburban schools that offered AP everything. Suddenly my two classes didn’t seem all that great, particularly since it was an engineering school. And I was terrified I would never be able to hang in there with those AP Calc kids. But I survived. And I actually did better than a lot of them did, despite not knowing a single thing about calculus. I know at one time AP Calc was taught substantially differently from college calc, so that they weren’t really comparable. But I don’t know if this is still the case.