“This course will prepare you for the AP Human Geography exam in May,” read the first line of my AP Human Geography syllabus from freshman year. We worked from an AP-approved textbook, completed worksheets from the AP website, and attempted practice AP tests. Everything revolved around that final test we would be taking in May.
While it seems logical to prep like this, this is the major flaw with Advanced Placement Courses. They claim to bring college-level classes to high school students, but they actually deliver a standardized test prep class. One standardized test cannot define an entire college course. Rather, a course should be a recursive learning experience that boosts one’s ability to think, not only recite abstract facts.
What students actually learn in these AP classes is then how to study for tests. AP students buy prep books and some even hire tutors—all for a single exam. Yes, this test could potentially help you save money in college, but what have you actually learned? Have you learned about the course? Or have you simply learned about the course’s AP test?
AP classes inevitably distort into this test-based preparation class. To many students, the entire purpose of an AP class is not to learn at a heightened level, but to impress colleges and to potentially reap college credit by earning acceptable test scores. When the course syllabus states that the purpose of a class is to prepare for an exam instead of thoroughly learning, the class plummets down that dark and dismal test-centric path.
At IMSA, we do not have normal AP courses available to us – the only two are Calculus and Statistics, which are taught in an IMSA style anyway – because they are too constricting. They hinder a truly creative learning experience. Without AP classes, students are free to actually learn for the purpose of enlightenment—not to pass a test. And teachers are free to inventively teach to their subject instead of to an AP curriculum. Though we have some classes that loosely tie into AP, like Advanced Chemistry or Physics: Calculus Based Mechanics, they do not concentrate on the AP test. Learning always comes first.
Nevertheless, IMSA students do take AP tests, and score very well, hence there and there is no reason they should stop. It is a great way to save money on college and display your academic skills. AP courses in their purest form—with a proper learning-based curriculum and experienced teachers—could be incredibly effective. They may not perfectly represent college classes, but I advise to take advantage of them as long as you remember to learn for yourself and not for a standardized test—an outstanding test score is just a side-effect.