Editorials and Opinions

AP: Absolute Pain

By Alice Lee and Reilly Nathans
Published: May 2009

It’s kind of nice to know that for all intents and purposes, our school year will be over as soon as we take our AP exams. With a month and a half left to the technical end of the school year on June 23, the tests mark the informal end to Advanced Placement classes, which make about half of our schedules.

AP students generally have nothing to worry about for the last month of school. That goes a long way towards ameliorating the rest of the year’s hectic misery. The first eight months consisted of teachers shoving difficult material down our throats and apparently not realizing that we do, in fact, take other classes. Hectic. Misery.
Now we’ve seen the library table of sweating upperclassmen frantically shouting facts as they cram for APs. We know “that kid who reserves an entire study room to himself because he needs to concentrate.

But, while we think that APs have been overhyped the same way that kids overhyped the difficulty of middle school when they were in fifth grade, we still consider the AP exams more important than finals and pretty much any other test. Not only is it a direct consideration in admissions decisions, but it’s the culmination of an entire year’s worth of studying.

Unlike standardized tests, the exams are the topper to a hellish two semesters’ worth of AP classes. A single exam lasts three hours and people still have trouble finishing. It is not a thing to take lightly.

Now, the reason that most students take AP classes is, as we’ve mentioned, for college. The primary purpose of the AP tests, after all, is to determine students’ academic qualifications, letting colleges decide whether or not to grant course credit based on the students’ exam scores.

However, it seems that colleges determine how they dish out credit with Magic Eight Balls and Ouija boards, seeing as their current system makes no sense and has no consistency whatsoever. Some colleges only award credit for 5s; some give credit for both 5s and 4s; some don’t give credit for anything, but let you skip the intro course for 4s or more; some just give no credit at all and require the intro course anyway; etc, etc.

To add insult to injury, colleges have different policies for each separate exam. Figuring out what a college’s policy is for crediting AP U.S. History reveals nothing about their policies for Literature or Biology. We, along with everyone else in AP classes, have dealt with this problem by ignoring it.

So here’s the lowdown on Advanced Placement that you won’t find in Princeton Review, Kaplan, or Barron’s. The classes are infernal, though you finish them a month before the school year ends, the exam is a huge deal, and colleges are inconsistent about giving credit for it. And we’re doing it all over again this time next year.

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