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AP stands for “a problem”

Staff Illustrator Claire ’23

I have always disliked the idea of Advanced Placement (AP) classes. 

Organized and implemented by the College Board, the Advanced Placement Program allows students nationwide to take the same final exam for designated classes and, depending on their score, potentially receive course credit when they attend university. Though it varies from school to school, the content of these classes covers similar material that is curated to improve chances of success on the AP exam. My central critique of AP classes lies in the system, which I believe encourages classes to rush through important material and rewards students for learning information solely to succeed on an examination rather than developing a true understanding of what is being taught. 

Before I expand on these points, I want to clarify that my aversion to AP classes is not a complete disavowment of the courses offered at Marlborough. My favorite classes at school have been AP classes, and I believe this school has done an amazing job of creating enriching, educational classes within the restrictions  and limitations of the AP program. My criticism is instead directed toward the system of APs itself. 

My main criticism can be summed up in a single phrase: “teaching to the test.” In order to adequately prepare students for the AP exam, teachers inevitably end up moving more quickly through important information, which I believe can prevent classes from acquiring a deeper understanding of the material they are studying. Topics that could be covered over the course of weeks are reduced to single class periods, creating an educational environment that rewards memorization and regurgitation rather than a thorough, nuanced comprehension of the material. 

Even when complexity is promoted by the College Board, understanding nuances within educational material becomes another point students should strive to achieve rather than being framed as a learning experience. When the AP curriculum requires classes to rush through subjects as significant as genocides throughout history, students are forced to reduce topics that should be discussed in depth to mere bullet points in their study guides. I believe the existence of the AP exam at the end of the year encourages students to place more value on academic performance instead of having a  genuine understanding and having processed the information they are learning. 

However, despite my critiques, I understand that phasing them out of Marlborough and other schools around the country will not be a very easy process. The system is deeply ingrained into school curriculums and the potentially negative implications of removing them could outweigh the benefits of doing so. Nonetheless, I want to encourage a discussion about how AP classes affect the learning experiences of students and how the AP program pushes students to perceive their education. 

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