On High School and College Preparedness Part I

During my time at Caesar Rodney High School, I took eleven Advanced Placement (AP) classes. No one forced me to take them. Instead, I chose them as a way to pursue my interests at a higher level and to prepare myself for college. Although I was confident in my intentions with respect to the former, I was unsure about the latter. Would AP classes actually help me to prepare for college? Fortunately for you, a current high school student, I can provide some insight. For this article, I will be commenting on AP Physics 1 &C, AP Calculus AB, and AP Spanish Language and Culture, as these subjects are reflected in my current classes.

College Board states that, “AP courses are rigorous, college-level classes in a variety of subjects.” From my current experiences, I would agree with the second claim but not the first. AP classes cover college-level material. I would not, however, say that they are as rigorous as a college-level class. That being said, I should warrant that Princeton’s classes are more difficult than those of the standard college, such as the University of Delaware or THE Ohio State University (I always make fun of the fact that it has “The” in its official name). While it is true that “calculus is still calculus” wherever one goes, the way in which professors test one’s skills of it varies from institution to institution. Now, I will comment on each class.

Physics– View midterm. I believe that the AP class prepared me adequately for the college equivalent. The college class is much more algebra-based than AP but stronger problem solving skills are needed. I have very little difficulty with this class thanks to AP. Occasionally, the professor will put a very difficult problem on the test. Quizzes consist of two multi-step problems that have to be completed within 30 minutes. They often feel like a sprint. All of the topics covered by the class are essentially the same. The current physics teachers at CR will have you fully prepared for college physics by the time that you graduate, assuming that you study and don’t fall asleep in class.

Calculus– View midterm. My AP classes mostly prepared me for college in this area, however there were a few deficiencies. In general, I learned all of the mathematical theory behind calculus fairly well. AP failed me in learning problem-solving skills. I found that the class often focused on memorizing methods to solve hackneyed problems and situations that undoubtedly would appear on the exam. I will admit, as my RCA has confirmed, that Princeton’s math and science classes are more theoretical than the classes of other universities. My math professor regularly gives the class very challenging problems to test our intuition. I feel that AP could be improved by focusing on these problem-solving skills rather than memorization.

Spanish– Paper. Of the three AP classes that I mentioned, this one prepared me the best for college. I did not take a Spanish class during my senior year (because my school did not offer anything beyond Lang & Cult), so it was difficult starting the class in September. Fortunately, my experience in Ecuador had helped. This class effectively increases a student’s ability to speak Spanish proficiently at a 200 level or higher. A word of warning: learn grammar. AP focuses strongly on proficiency. Your native Spanish-speaking professors will take note of your grammatical mistakes and will probably deduct points on your assignments for them.

Geosciences– View midterm. There is not an AP class for this, however it has demonstrated the importance of extracurriculars in high school. Many of the skills that I learned from taking competitive astronomy and geology exams in Science Olympiad have helped me with this class.

AP classes should help you receive college credit for classes at certain institutions. Let’s face it, colleges are greedy. Some will deny your AP credit and make you take an introductory course just so that you have to pay for it. Others will make their requirements for gaining AP credit so high that it is unrealistic. It’s not fair, but that’s life. Princeton does not offer AP credit. Instead, it uses a student’s scores to place them into a different level for a class. For example, I started at the 200 level for earning a 5 on the AP Spanish exam.

Overall, AP classes are worth the investment. College Board may be an evil corporation in the education industrial complex that kills high schoolers’ free time with arbitrary standardized exams on esoteric subjects and has a CEO that is overcompensated waaaaaaaaaaay too much for a nonprofit organization of its size, but at least it prepares you well enough for a university education.


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