OPINION: AP classes are overly exam-centered and unduly focused on memorization


Maya Dagdag

The College Board sucks the soul (and cash) out of AP students.

The College Board’s Advanced Placement program is becoming increasingly ubiquitous among high school students who wish to pursue a post-secondary education. 

Many agree that the AP program helps enrich students’ high school experience, narrow their achievement gaps and give them advantages in college overall; however, some underestimate the stress the classes create. Despite its reputation, AP classes are so test-centered that they pose major problems for students, hindering their success in the future. 

Much of the AP curriculum is memorization-based. According to Inside Higher Ed, “A large percentage of AP assessments are ‘very heavy on memorization and content and less focused on skill acquisition.’” 

Solely recalling information is not an effective way of studying for an AP exam because the exam requires problem-solving skills that go beyond simply memorizing facts. Some courses may need an in-depth analysis of a scenario to assess what students have learned from broader discussion.

College Board senior vice president Trevor Packer acknowledges the fact that a student cannot develop fundamental skills by simple recall. Students need to understand the relevance of the concepts to apply the acquired knowledge to actual situations. Without filling in the gap between basic and real-world knowledge, AP classes are rendered useless.

Additionally, when underrepresented student enrollment soars, AP exam passing rates drop. A report of 2019 AP exam scores from an Inside Higher Ed article suggests that there are less underrepresented students who scored a 3 or above than white students, indicating that some students have unfair advantages over others, which can be due to socioeconomic status. The lack of advanced opportunities negatively affects disadvantaged students’ educational outcomes.

Educator bias and a lack of diverse teachers poses a big problem in school. For instance, teachers and counselors have the authority to recommend or not recommend a student to an AP class, which serves as a significant educational barrier for students. 

AP classes can also cover too much material at a pace too quick for students to understand. According to The Atlantic, “AP courses are a forced march through a preordained subject, leaving no time for a high-school teacher to take her or his students down some path of mutual interest.” 

For example, some high schools rush students into AP science classes without putting them through high school level biology and chemistry classes, causing a high volume of low scores. Without knowing the necessary prerequisites, students will have a difficult time catching up. Falling behind in an AP class is a common concern among many students due to possible stress, anxiety and depression when pressured by high expectations and peer influence to take on rigorous workloads.

Some may argue that AP classes are not to blame for the emphasis on testing, and instead, the school’s education system is at fault. Schools need to carefully implement the curriculum for students and teachers to follow, providing helpful resources that they can utilize.

There are contributing factors to a student’s overall performance and they depend heavily on how both the students and their teachers approach the class. Students must be passionate about the subject and intrinsically motivated to study it so they have a reason to persevere in the face of pressure. Meanwhile teachers need to come up with a method of presenting material in a way that is engaging.

AP classes should be more than just the exam. The curriculum puts too much emphasis on tests to the point where students receive little benefit from the AP experience since they are not prepared for the future. These issues should be put into consideration when deciding to take an AP class.