They can take you to the heights of the scientific revolution in Europe and the depths of slavery in America. You may choose to examine regression analyses and derivatives. You may learn the intricate differences between the subjunctive and future perfect tenses. But that's not why most people take Advanced Placement (AP)* courses
, and although I'd like to say I'm just in it for the love of learning, there are many more practical reasons for being an AP student.
When it comes to getting into college, AP is the gold standard. The courses are supposed to be similar to introductory-level college courses in rigor and depth, and are characterized primarily by the year-end AP Exam that covers all material covered in the course. For college admissions officers, this is a strong indicator that you are willing to challenge yourself and will be prepared for the trials of college.
Then (at our high school, at least) there's the grade boost. While normal courses are weighted as A=4, B=3, C=2 in the calculation of the GPA, AP courses are weighted as A=5, B=4, C=3. This means that getting a B in an AP course counts the same as getting an A in a regular course. This is how people get GPAs above 4.0, and it's yet another advantage in getting into college.
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AP classes are useful beyond just getting a foot in the door. For most universities
, passing the AP exam for a particular course generally means that you will gain some sort of credit or placement. This is turning out to be a great advantage for me, because at UC Davis, six of the seven APs I've taken will get me credit. As I understand it, that means I'll be starting out with 32 quarter units already satisfied. In other words, I am not going to have to take several introductory, prerequisite classes; I can advance to more interesting and relevant material.
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In order to get any kind of credit or placement in college, however, one must pass the AP exam. The exam is usually a grueling three to four hours of multiple choice and free response questions. To score well, it takes a lot of note-taking, tons of reading outside of class, plenty of independent study, and the mental fortitude to last through the exam. The best advice I can give anyone who is taking an AP this fall is expect to do a lot of work.
I should also note that doing well in an AP class and doing well on an AP exam are about as similar as night and day. If you know how to work the system well enough, you will be able to scrape by with a B without doing to much work in the class, but that level of work will not suffice if you're planning to succeed on the exam.
On the whole, the AP program has been one of the highlights of my time in high school. It has given me classes with the brightest people at my school, a way to challenge myself and succeed, and the chance to put myself ahead when it comes to college
. Now I just have to get back to studying for those four big exams coming up so I can actually get some credit.
*AP® is a registered trademark of The College Board.