In the spring of 2016, a total of 2,611,172 students in the United States took at least one Advanced Placement exam, and accumulatively 4,704,980 exams were administered varying from the 37 different subjects offered by the College Board.
According to the College Board website, the College Board is a mission-driven not-for-profit organization that connects students to college success and opportunity. However, over the years many college scholars are finding issues with AP classes and exams. According to writer Tamar Lewin of The New York Times, Dartmouth College, an Ivy League school, has announced that it will no longer give college credits for AP scores of 4-5 starting with the 2018 graduating classes.
The decision was made after an experiment on campus showed that AP courses are not really preparing students for college. “Of more than 100 students who had scored a 5 on the AP exam, 90 percent failed the Dartmouth test. The other 10 percent were given Dartmouth credit,” according to The New York Times. These results come as no surprise, considering that students are being tested on how efficiently they can memorize content rather than actually learning it.
“Before teaching in a high school, I taught for almost 25 years at the college level, and almost every one of those years my responsibilities included some equivalent of an introductory American government course. The high school AP course didn’t begin to hold a candle to any of my college courses,” John Tierney, writer for The Atlantic, said.
The fact that AP classes are not meeting the standards of college introductory courses is an issue for students who think they are going into college ready to move on to a higher level course. Instead of saving money by taking a class early, students face the risk of having to repeat the course they were not ready for, resulting in more time and money wasted.
Aside from being given a false sense of security, students also suffer from the stress of taking on more AP classes than they are ready for. For many, this leads to sleepless nights, weekends devoted to homework or studying and less social interaction than is healthy for teens.
For these reasons the AP program is detrimental to both the mental and physical health of students.
Despite all of this, students continue to take these classes, partly because of the constant pressure to get a GPA higher than 4.0, a genuine desire to learn at a higher level, and the hopes of impressing colleges with an outstanding application. Regardless of whether AP does or does not meet college standards, many colleges, like Dartmouth, are still turning their heads away from handing out credit for AP exams.
On College Board’s part, there is a desperate need for a revision of their AP curriculums, so there is not a gap between college introductory classes and their corresponding AP course. Tests should also be redesigned to better fit the style many colleges use, where students have time to work on a final paper instead of being tested on how efficiently they memorize data from review books on a timed multiple choice exam.
On students’ part, they need to remember what subjects they are genuinely interested in, and instead of stacking up AP classes, stack up classes that better reflect their future goals. This will give their college applications more authenticity, since it will be a more honest representation of the student themselves, as opposed to 6 random AP classes for a 4.3 GPA.
Due in part to the pressure of committing to AP classes, high school has now become a preparation for the “ideal” college application, rather than preparing students for success in college itself. However, students are not warned that these AP courses may not really be preparing them for college, leaving them without the right foundation for academic success. There needs to be clearer knowledge available to students on whether the AP classes they take will actually serve as a bridge into college courses, or if they’re better off taking courses they will enjoy and excel in.