AP Courses Revamped To Better Reflect Exam

Priyunka Maheshwari, News Editor

“I think almost everyone enrolled in an AP class will tell you that it’s very demanding,” Denise Bui, an AP World History student, said. Bui is one of many students taking an Advanced Placement class – in other words, a college-level class in high school. The reward? College credit at many institutes of higher learning. But do AP classes accurately reflect college-level learning?

According to the New York Times, the College Board (the organization that administers AP exams) has decided that the answer is no. Beginning in the 2012-2013 school year, AP Biology and AP United States History will be revamped to involve more analysis and less memorization. This analysis will involve students answering the question why rather than just knowing dates or anatomy. Students will be asked more passage and graph based questions, as shown in sample questions released by College Board.

These transformations come in response to many schools dropping AP  courses in favor of other higher-level classes. Colleges have also tightened their rules regarding AP credit. Some colleges do not even accept AP tests as credit anymore as the classes focus too much on recall and not on reasoning.

The changes will include providing teachers with detailed standards and curriculum framework. This will eliminate the need for teachers to rush through textbook pages in case the College Board decides to include a date or fact on a test.

“Right now, our teachers do a great job of really going deep into the curriculum,” Mrs. Spradling, Transition Coordinator, said. Mrs. Spradling also works with the College and Career readiness program and has attended several AP conferences.

The changes will also affect the tools for learning. For example, a biology class in Massachusetts that previously used a 56 chapter textbook can now exclude part or all of 20 chapters. Students will be able to focus on higher level questions rather than rote memorization. The new AP US History will teach students to design historical arguments and will be divided into nine time periods to narrow down what students need to learn. The new biology program will include four overarching themes to connect what students learn. The first of these themes says that evolution “drives the diversity and unity of life”. The others focus on how living things interact in systematic ways, such the use of energy and molecular building blocks to develop and responses to information about progression.

The hope is that the new labs and concepts will provide students will real-life scenarios and problem solving. Many colleges felt that the previous AP exam did not teach students the skills needed in actual college assessments. Students who scored a 5 on the AP exam in high school were performing poorly in the college equivalent. This may be due to the fact that while college professors can pick and choose what to cover in their classes, the AP exam can test almost anything. Many juniors and seniors in AP classes are taking in more information than the average college freshmen.

“Reading 20 pages a night with really tiny font gets exhausting. But we kind of have to since we don’t know exactly what will be on the test,” Bui said.

With these changes, students in AP classes may find themselves facing more comprehension tests and less random facts. The new AP program has been tested in several schools and has received positive feedback. Of course, it won’t be until 2012 that Vandegrift students will know for sure. Because Vandegrift teachers cover all the information and try to provide analytical activities, the new changes may not affect Vandegrift as much as other schools, whose teachers may not hit on every topic at a steady pace.

“There may not be a big course impact because our courses are already in-depth,” Mrs. Spradling said. However, the test questions, which are also being changed to require reasoning and problem-solving, will better prepare students for college studies and the types of questions they may face in a real-life scenario.

“The changes are good because the purpose of AP is analysis not just facts. AP courses should promote higher-level thinking like in college, which equals success,” Mrs. Spradling said.