A New AP Style: The College Board Looks at Ways to Revamp Advanced Placement

The College Board’s Advanced Placement (AP) exams, often preceded by AP courses, have a reputation for spitting out an overwhelming amount of information, but that is about to change. The nonprofit, which also administers the SATs, says it will revamp the biology and U.S. history tests to give students the opportunity to learn the materials, rather than cram for the exam.

The College Board has AP exams in 30 subjects, with 1.8 million students taking 3.2 million tests. While the program is recognized for giving students the opportunity to get an early start on more challenging, university-level work, some exams require too much study—material that, in turn, deters students from learning “big concepts.” The biology and U.S. history exams are two of AP’s biggest culprits with their ever-expanding laundry list of “ought-to-knows.”

The new focus of the AP exams in these two subject areas will allow more time for the “big picture,” the College Board says, and eliminate the need to squeeze in extraneous information that generally isn’t absorbed.

High scores on an AP exam can get students college credit. Compared to college courses, whose prices range from the hundreds or even thousands of dollars, the $87 AP exam is a worthwhile investment for any high school student looking save some money and/or get the most out of their college years. For some, entering college with AP credit can leave room for extracurricular courses, an earlier graduation date or a double major.

But as students are burdened by the challenges of advanced coursework earlier and earlier, and colleges come to expect AP scores on transcripts, some educators have had enough. Indeed, AP courses and exams emerge among the key villains in the film “Race to Nowhere.”  The documentary argues the “push to achieve has created a generation of high-strung students constrained in a one-size-fits-all’ system.”

The new focus of AP tests will change lesson plans and study techniques for hundreds of thousands of educators and students in New England over the next couple of years. In fact, in 2008, nearly 80,000 New England students took more than 135,000 AP exams, with the both biology and U.S. history being among the five most popular exams. And since 2004, the number of exam-takers in New England has increased by 31%. Click here for a PDF of facts and figures about AP exams in New England.


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