AP CLASSES: THE UPS, DOWNS, AND IN-BETWEENS
October 20, 2022
Students have heard the term Advanced Placement (AP) ever since elementary school, and as kids move up through middle school and into highschool it becomes more dreaded and associated with agony, both from teacher and student perspectives. So what drives students to take them, teachers to teach them, and is it worth the stress and time these classes gobble up?
Estelle Ober, 11, chose not to take any AP classes this year. She mentions that she is focused on a lot of other things and wants to manage her time well. “I do sports year round and I’m also on the speech and debate team. I already have a lot of time commitments.”
Ober’s statement reflects what a lot of other students are thinking when considering AP courses: The time commitment is too great. However, Ober is not against AP classes.
She stated, “The harder curriculum was not something I thought of as a con, it was actually a pro for me. The benefits just did not outweigh the negatives personally. Once I find a class I really enjoy I would definitely consider AP classes.”
This statement entails that deciding to endure AP curriculums depends on interest and other activities in a student’s life. Some are more focused on academics, others on extracurriculars and sports. In fact, this is what much of the Westfield community seems to agree upon.
Harini Ramanathan, 11, stated, “Personally, the fact that others are taking a lot of AP classes has motivated me to join more AP classes, but I do not think I ever blindly took an AP simply because others are taking it. I made sure that I have the interest, desire, and ability to do well in a certain AP class, and that I was willing to put in the effort to work for that class.”
When asked why he signed up to take a certain AP course, John Paul D’Andrea, 11, said, “I was taking it to have a more chill AP, definitely not because other people were taking it.”
The general consensus from students seems to be that AP classes shouldn’t be taken for any other reason than for one’s personal interests and goals, not because others are taking it. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t added pressure to take AP classes though.
Sophie-Shaw Hamption, 11, mentioned, “I’ve wanted to take an AP class because if you do not, you seem less than or dumber than people who take AP classes.”
This classic form of stigma is certainly floating around the halls of Westfield, encroaching on the minds of students and teachers alike.
The idea mentioned here relates to a big misconception that Nikki Warren, AP Lang teacher at Westfield, feels is a problem: “The worst myth about AP classes is that they are for “smart” kids. I hate knowing that some students don’t take AP courses because they think they won’t be as intelligent as others in the room. Willingness to learn has little to do with natural intelligence! AP teachers welcome ALL students because what matters most are a student’s work ethic and genuine desire to learn.”
AP classes can be intimidating, but their goal isn’t to push students away. They teach everyone to become better learners and allow students to navigate their way through a course similar to those in college.
So, if AP classes are not really meant for a specific group of students, can be taken based on interest and focus, and have a plethora of benefits (GPA boost, possibility of college credit, etc), what other limiting factors cause students to truly dread these courses? The answer:
Workload, complexity, and stress. A lot of it, and not just for students. More rigorous material comes with the supplementary bonus of streniouse lesson preparation for teachers. How do both groups make it through each class? Warren once again shared her thoughts.
“College Board provides a variety of instructional tools we (teachers) can choose to use, so teaching an AP class can be as easy or difficult as a teacher chooses to make it.”
With good resources, AP teachers can help students succeed as well, according to Warren: “I have found that students are more intimidated by the “AP” part than the actual work we do, so I try to help them build confidence through some small, focused activities early in the year to establish a foundation for the harder work that comes later. We take things one day at a time and try not to worry about four steps ahead of where we are now.”
While there are exceptions, most teachers aren’t oblivious to the negative mental health affects AP classes can have on students.
Warren stated, “The mental health of my students in AP Lang is by far my greatest area of concern. They can – and will! – learn the curriculum; I see it as part of my job to help them do so without sinking into depression or suffering daily panic attacks.”
Although many staff members try to keep mental health in mind, course rigor and material doesn’t change to fit one’s specific needs. Students can stack up on AP classes as early as tenth grade and have to find their own way to deal with stress that comes with them.
Even if teachers aren’t mainly focused on grades in AP courses, a lot of kids are. Good grades are often seen as more important to people than truly learning.
Ober commented, “I’m a person that wants to get good grades and would put too much pressure on myself to do every assignment well. I would burn myself out.” Another reason why she decided to not take AP classes this year, her statement reflects how many other students feel.
However, instead of taking a step back many try to push themselves to their absolute limit, inviting a whole plethora of problems into their lives. It’s extremely important to balance out school and life, something that varies from person to person and is difficult to do with a thing called “life” that we are all experiencing right now.
Considering all the challenges AP courses bring about, are they worth it? Ramanathan thinks so. “Although AP classes are much more challenging, personally, I feel that the benefits outweigh the challenges because overall, taking more rigorous classes better prepares you for college and makes you a better and more hardworking student.”
Her comment reminds students and teachers that even if a person doesn’t necessarily pass the class or exam with flying colors, taking the class is still worth it.
Adam Nixon, chemistry teacher, said, “I think taking an AP class is worth it because it will give you an idea of what a college level course might be like and it could possibly save you some money on your tuition.”
His thoughts once again reinforce that although AP classes can give college credit, that’s not the only reason they are valuable.
So, when deciding what courses to take or even to teach, whether it be regular, honors, or AP, it’s important to remember the reasons you- and you alone- want to dive into them. Is it for interest? College credit? To be with friends? Your answers to these questions and others that have been discussed may very well change how you think about AP classes and change your mind about what you sign up for next.