Recently, many top private schools have decided to eliminate Advanced Placement, or AP classes. AP classes are advanced class work in a wide range of areas, including English, math, the sciences, foreign languages, and other disciplines, that are designed by the College Board, the organization that also administers the SAT. There are now 34 AP classes, and some are in areas such as Chinese, Environmental Science, Art History, and Psychology.
Some elite private schools, including members of the Independent Curriculum Group, have dropped Advanced Placement or AP exams from their curricula. The Independent Curriculum Group, whose mission, in their words, is to "put students at the center of the education process," claims that AP courses, which grant college credit to students who score a 3 (or sometimes a 4, depending on the college's requirements) or above (out of 5), lead to restricting teachers' freedom in the classroom. The group also believes that teaching to the AP tests means that classes are often stilted and are not conducive to real learning because they favor teaching a large amount of material over the detailed study of specific topics.
Schools such as Fieldston in New York City have already decided to drop their AP classes, though 12 million students in the U.S. still take the AP classes each year. Most commonly, private schools no longer offer AP English classes, or never did, as they argue that all their English classes are taught at an advanced level. Here are some of the pros and cons of AP classes:
Cons of AP Classes
Critics of the AP have argued that many elite private schools already have close connections with top-notch colleges that make AP classes unnecessary. In other words, although AP classes are intended to show colleges that students have mastered college-level work, colleges already know that students at elite private schools can do this type of work. In addition, critics state that AP classes favor rote memorization and breadth of knowledge over critical thinking and depth of knowledge. They believe that teachers in AP classes must teach to the test, which hampers their creativity and excellence in pedagogy.
Pros of AP Classes
The AP offers exams, given in May of each academic year, that are scored from 1-5. High school students who earn a 3 or above can often petition their colleges to allow them to earn course credit for their high school AP classes, allowing them to graduate sooner or simply to pass out of entry-level classes. Not only do four-year colleges in the U.S. offer college credit or advanced placement in college for AP work, but so do colleges in 60 countries around the world. In addition, students applying from lesser-known schools can show colleges that they have taken difficult class work and are prepared for college, as colleges may not understand to what degree these lesser-known schools have prepared students for college. Having AP credit in college can also allow students to pursue other paths, such as taking on a double major or spending time abroad because students have more credits when they start college. Proponents of AP classes also argue that these classes allow students to develop their writing, critical thinking, and other skills-all of which are beneficial in college.
Should You Take AP Classes?
Many students feel compelled to take AP classes at their private or public schools, as these classes show that the students are capable of doing higher-level or college-level work. Students feel that these classes will add luster to their college applications. It is true that colleges look favorably on advanced coursework because it shows that students are capable of doing this work in college and that the students are motivated. However, students shouldn't take classes in which they may not do well or don't have any interest just to put AP classes on their transcript. In addition, there are other ways for students to show that they want to take advanced classes, such as independent studies, electives, or outside or summer classes.
If you decide to enroll in an AP class, be sure it's a class that really interests you, as you will have to spend a great deal of time preparing. Familiarize yourself with the AP exam format for your subject area, available on the AP website. You can take practice tests well in advance of the actual test date to be best prepared for the exam.