by Linda Gessesse
“I think it’s more whine, than cry,” said AP Government and Politics: Seminar teacher, Mr. Franklin Hood.
To expand access to higher education among high school students, the Advanced Placement Program (AP) offers courses to academically prepare any and all high school students with college-level coursework.
The program consists of more than 30 courses across a myriad of subjects. The course finally culminates in a standardized assessment in May where students have the opportunity to optionally partake to gain college credit.
AP courses are for all students who are willing to participate and are academically prepared to take on a challenge. As a college course, this is a rigorous class with many opportunities for failure and defeat.
Usually, there is a perception where there is no room for a blind spot or any hints of mistakes. But this is wrong. Being successful in AP is not a straight path, students sometimes need to fall in order to rise, many times for that matter. Either way, the benefits provided by AP far outweigh the challenges many students face.
AP courses can be anxiety inducing, awful, agonizing, ambitious, alluring, and those are just the adjectives starting with “A.” It takes demanding work and will to persevere. The AP program is not for the faint of heart. Students will sweat. Students will have tears, and sometimes they will fall. Nonetheless, they must remember motives. Why are they here? Why are they taking this course? This is college level content; they can either give it their all or nothing at all.
Of the many benefits of AP courses, the most prominent is the college credit. As an introductory college course, earning that college credit in high school means students have the opportunity to skip the introductory course while in college and also save a large amount of money. Although there is always a catch, students have to be smart about the classes they take.
For example, if an individual takes an AP Government class and decides to major in health sciences/medicine in college, not only will taking AP Government in high school be harder than the standard or honors level course, it shows how much a course does not always correlate with the desired career path, so the college benefit may not be apparent. So, to save money and time, the AP course a student takes should correlate with the career that they are pursuing.
AP Government & Politics
Since 2005, Hood has been the AP Government Seminar teacher. He says a misconception students have about AP is that “It should be easy, it’s like any other class.” In reality, “[It’s] much harder in terms of the amount of homework, the rigor is going to be higher, the depth that we go into content or materials is going to be different.”
Unlike standard or honors courses, AP is a college-like course, in terms of pacing, content, and coursework.
Although the challenges may seem to overwhelm the benefits, “[AP] should challenge you,” Hood said. “I think a lot of times people avoid challenges and the fact that they get a challenge in the AP curriculum is a great thing. It takes them out of their comfort zone.”
Stepping out of one’s comfort zone is challenging and may even be inconvenient. Yet, AP courses are designed to take students out of their comfort zone to prepare them for more challenging courses to come.
“There [are] going to be times where things get a little harder and you just got to preserve,” he said. “There [are] going to be times there is going to be a crunch on time, you just have to keep working, you can’t give up. If you give up, you’re going to fall behind further and further.”
It is essential that students do not fall behind for trivial reasons: a missing homework or an incomplete assignment. Students must “stay on track, do everything on time,” Hood said.
AP World History
Mr. Larry Kramer has been teaching AP World History for four years. Skills used in the course include answering Document Based Questions (DBQ), sourcing, evaluating primary source, building arguments and contextualizing.
“All those things you’ve learned in school so far, you’ll sort of implement that in the course as it goes on,” Kramer said. “I think the biggest issue is the fact that [students] can actually do well on the course, as long as they put the effort and energy into it. There are a lot of writing requirements because 45 percent of the test is writing. And I think some students would do a lot better, they fear the writing part. But once they learn the material and the content, 45 percent, you’re going to be writing the facts down, they give you a lot of the information, it’s like DBQ based essays, I think they will do fine, but I think they fear that a little bit.”
More than half of the AP exam for the course is writing based.
“I think you have to sort of buy into the course a little bit,” Kramer said. “You have to do some of the busy work which is the reading, the reading questions. The writing piece is a lot of practice like documents and samples. So if you take them seriously, and you are really trying, even if you don’t do well on them, you’re going to do well on the course.”
Essay writing in college is basically an everyday practice, so research projects should not be a surprise to college students or high school students who want to attend college.
“AP World I think is going to help you with the research, the document-based essays are going to help you in the long run,” Kramer said. “So, if you take a college course in history, or if you have knowledge on how to analyze a document, you’re going to write a research paper at some point in your college career. So, if you don’t work on those strategies before you get to college, you’re going to have to re-learn those on your own or you have to take a basic writing course. So, I think the writing piece of [AP] World is really helpful.”
In addition to writing, reading is one of the primary skills students can develop in AP World. Especially primary source reading.
Kramer says the biggest mistake students can make with the reading-based content in the course is “not reading the required reading.”
“I don’t over require reading but I do require pieces of the reading in the units,” Kramer said. “I require them to do some reading but don’t make them read the book front to back. Some students read that and they do really well and some students don’t do the required reading and they try to like, skip by and you can only do that for so long.”
Although memorization is key to any course, AP or not, this course gives some students some wiggle room if they have difficulties with memorization.
“You still memorize stuff because you will remember pieces of it but you’re not going to remember everything, no one expects you to,” Kramer said. “Everyone has strengths and a weakness, but you’ll sort of start to remember this stuff because we constantly drill it into you.”
While an AP course is the best opportunity to earn college credit and boost your GPA, taking the AP test is what matters in the end. It will be the test, for some, that will make or break you.
“If you’re in the course, my recommendation is, if you’re taking an AP course, I highly recommend taking the test whether you do well on it or not because let’s say you do well on it, you can use it for college credit,” Kramer said. “Taking the course, you should take the test. Don’t just take the course to get that extra boost to your GPA, unless you are taking an overwhelming amount of APs. But if you are just taking one AP, you should take the test. It will make you more motivated in the course.”
To Ms. Emily Cieslinski, who has been teaching the course off and on since 2009, AP Chemistry is a passion and a love. AP Chemistry has a reputation for being a challenging course.
“I think AP Chemistry is probably one of the hardest APs in the school,” Cieslinski said.
While few students sign up to take the class, an optional elective that can count as a the third science class required for graduation, AP Chemistry students are known to be determined and ambitious.
While other AP science courses are available, such as AP Environmental Science and AP Biology for example, they differ greatly from AP Chemistry.
“It’s a radically different type of student,” Cieslinksi said. “I feel like people come into AP Chem [knowing] it’s going to be hard, and they expect it to be hard.”
Cieslinski said a misconception she gets from students is “labs are fun.”
“The labs in AP are so much work because you usually have to do so many calculations and then you’ll also have to be able to evaluate errors,” she said. “[It’s] really being able to pinpoint the errors.”
Most students taking AP Chemistry have careers that follow the course’s route, often including biochemistry, biology, chemical engineering and astrophysics.
“You’ll have to want to do sciences otherwise the class is kind of useless,” Cieslinski said. “Secondly, going into sciences, most people are choosing life science majors which would steer them more towards AP Environmental Science or AP Biology. So, the people in AP Chem are interested in engineering or specific medical fields where they know chemistry would be important. If you’re going to major in any field of chemistry, the university you go to isn’t going to accept an AP credit in AP Chemistry. So, you would have to take their course and so that makes AP Chem a good prep course but, the AP part of it is not [as] useful. You’re not actually going to get college credit for it, they’re going to make you take a college course.”
Even though many colleges don’t take students’ high school AP Chemistry scores for college credits, Cieslinski points out the positives for taking the course.
“You’re a step ahead by the time you get to college,” she said. “It makes your freshman year a little bit easier. A lot of the people in my class, they’re taking the AP exam, but they’re doing it for the experience more than they’re doing it for the college credit.
“They are extremely dedicated,” she said. “One of the things I really love about the class that I have now to, is that they’re motivated to help other people. A lot of them are in the Science National Honors Society as well and I need chemistry tutors all the time. They are so excited when I say I need a tutor; these are people who are in it because they love science. They’re in it for the love of the class. They’re hard workers because they love the chemistry. That seems to be the uniting factor for all of them. I don’t feel like I have a lot of students just taking it for the AP credit or for the prestige, it’s for the chemistry, for the love of science.”
AP Psychology teacher Mr. Jonathan Hawk, also a former AP Comparative Government teacher, is in his fourth year of teaching the course. AP Psychology covers a wide range of psychological concepts.
“I would say the biggest misconception that people have about AP psychology, or just the subject of psychology in general is that the majority of the class is going to be about mental illness and mental health,” Hawk said. “That is a part of the class, for sure but a lot of the class is about social science, the way human beings interact in groups, the different influences on our behavior and even some actual hard science, talking about the structure of the brain, neuroscience.”
Therefore, mental illness is only a small part of the course which includes, psychological theories, behavior, mental processes, memory, intelligence, personality, psychological disorders (clinical psychology) and social psychology.
Just like any other AP course, psychology has its own challenges.
“I would say one of the two biggest challenges students have in an AP class, especially if it’s the first time they’ve taken it, is to keep up with the reading,” Hawk said. “I think unfortunately, in the 21st century, especially after the pandemic, a lot of adolescents don’t have the reading stamina that they once did due to technology and not being in school for so long; ways to effectively study; there’s a lot of information.
“Fortunately, even if you try your best, there’s some stuff you’re not going to cover in class, there is some stuff you’ll have to study on your own,” he said. “There’s a lot of vocabulary, so I think that I would say that figuring out effective ways to study is another major challenge.”
Like any other AP course, the benefits outweigh the difficulties.
“I almost think that psychology should be a required course in high school because it’s really interdisciplinary,” Hawk said. “It’s a science class and a social studies class, it’s a class that teaches critical thinking, it’s a class that teaches us about the ways in which we behave irrationally, what we can do about that irrational behavior. It teaches us about why we interact with people. It teaches us the origins of things like prejudice and discrimination, it teaches us the origin of romantic love. I almost think that, maybe not AP Psychology but psychology, should be a high school class for everyone.”
Psychology is important, not only as an academic career but for personal gain. He continued, “Learning about psychology since I’ve started teaching the class has helped me understand human beings better, especially coupled with the lens of history.”
AP courses available to Arundel students
Thinking about adding an AP course next year? Here is a list of AP courses available to Arundel students, either in person or through an online option, listed by subject area.
- English Language
- English Literature
- US History
- US Government
- World History
- Human Geography
- Macro Economics
- Micro Economics
- Comparative Governments
- European History
- Physics 1
- Environmental Science
- Calculus AB
- Calculus BC
- Calculus AB/BC Combo
- Spanish Language
- Spanish Literature
- French Language
- Computer Science Principles
- Computer Science A
Art & Music
- Studio Art Drawing
- Studio 3D
- Art History
- Music Theory