AP Courses Approaching Freshmen
BY TINGHAN WANG '24
As the new school year rolls in, there’s nothing new about freshmen finding their way around a new school. However, at the same time, some of these freshmen are directly joining APES (AP Environmental Science) while groups of sophomores are walking into AP Biology without an introductory biology class. AB’s recent course de-leveling has faced mixed reactions; less discussed are the new policies which allow students to take AP courses in their first year.
APs, short for Advanced Placement exams and courses, offer a promising opportunity to work with college-level material in high school. Scoring high enough—usually, at least a three out of five—allows students to skip introductory courses at many U.S. colleges. At AB, there are 14 APs offered, ranging from English Literature to Physics (a complete list can be found in the Program of Studies). While the class selection offered at AB is smaller than that of many other high schools nationwide, it allows for consistently high pass rates. According to the Massachusetts Department of Education, 94% of Acton-Boxborough AP takers passed with a three or higher, placing the school third among Massachusetts public schools. Much of students’ proficiencies can be attributed to AB’s rigorous curriculum. Before 2022, APs were unavailable to freshmen or sophomores, since course prerequisites forced students to take introductory classes first. The 2022-23 school year was the first in which APES was offered for freshmen, a change to offset parental discontent with honors biology being a sophomore-year class. Despite initial concerns that teaching AP sciences as a first-year class would decrease the quality of education, results of the nationwide standardized test taken in May indicated otherwise.
In the May 2022 exam, before APES could be taken by freshmen, 96.3% of examinees from AB passed. While some feared a major dip in success rates in the May 2023 exam thanks to the introduction of freshman APES classes, the results showed otherwise. In fact, the freshmen seemed to outperform their older peers, with nearly 80% of them receiving a five, the highest score possible. The partitioning of APES by grade level allowed more flexibility for teachers to tailor their freshman classes; perhaps this explains the remarkable results.
AB has historically prized itself on its academic excellence. However, this competitive nature pushes more AP classes onto younger students. This school year, incoming sophomores can take AP Biology as a first-year class. Additionally, school administration plans to make AP Chemistry a first-year course for the 2024-25 school year. There is concern that class material might be compromised in an attempt to cover fundamentals because of the students’ missed introductory courses. These worries are particularly apparent for AB, with a short eight-month window to cover complex college material as well as introduce the basics of laboratory safety and the periodic table. Since the AP Chemistry exam is taken across the country on May 1st, the school start date factors heavily into how much time teachers have to prepare their students. In comparison to other public schools in the US, which start in early to mid-August, AB’s start date in late August puts AB students at an average three-week disadvantage.
In the past two years, there has been an increase in students who are self-studying for APs, meaning they teach themself the material in a non-classroom setting. They have been doing this in part because of the increasing price of higher education. Graduating early through substituted college credits is a sound investment. There are a few considerations before registering for exams, though. Not all universities accept AP credit, nor do AP exams factor heavily into admissions decisions. However, many students still benefit from self-studying for APs as it demonstrates their proficiency in these courses. These tests often require a lot of time and energy to self-study; starting earlier and keeping a schedule is critical for avoiding a last-minute cram session.
Students in CP/AE/H classes can also register for AP exams without taking the course in school. Teachers are typically willing to discuss the test material with students. This strategy cuts down the study time while preserving course flexibility. AP courses and exams are a great opportunity for students who are passionate about their respective subjects and seek to get a headstart on college credits. But since they are some of the most rigorous classes in the school, students should ruminate on their schedules and mental health when registering. As changes keep occurring with AB’s curriculum, it will be interesting to see how teachers and students alike adjust.