Taking AP Classes versus Passing AP Tests

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Parents and educators seem to ignore the vital difference between taking Advanced Placement classes versus passing Advanced Placement tests, Steve Sailer says:

The conventional wisdom assumes that the former more or less equates to the latter, so if we just get enough poor and minority students to take classes called “AP” then our problems our solved. But that’s clearly not true.

Huge numbers of kids take courses in high school each year labeled “AP” and then bomb the national AP test in May. In polar contrast, other kids pass AP tests without taking AP classes, or even any classes at all in the subject.

(My kid, for example, received 9 hours of college credit, more than half a semester, through AP testing for subjects he never even took in high school: World History and Comparative Government. He simply piggybacked off courses he did take, European History and US History and U.S. Government, with some home reading to fill in the gaps, such as memorizing the Chinese dynasties.)
One big example of the confusion between the value of taking AP classes and passing AP tests is that college admissions people tend to treat AP totally backward. At least in public discussions of how they weigh applications, they give more weight to you taking classes designated by your high school to be “AP” than to you getting good scores on the national AP tests.

In calculating high school GPA, they give an extra GPA point to any high class that claims to be AP (thus an “A” in Advanced Placement Psychology is worth a 5 instead of a 4), which is why, say, Berkeley students enter college with high school GPAs that sound hallucinatory (e.g., 4.47!) to older generations who didn’t benefit from this gimmick.

But, admissions offices are reluctant to publicly admit that they give much weight to actually passing the national AP exams, even though those are very good predictors of whether you have the smarts and self-discipline to do well in college. Unlike high school GPA, AP tests are both nationally standard and they are more challenging than the vast majority of high school classes. Unlike the SAT, you can’t be a smart slack-off and ace them. So, they function well as an acid test that this kid is college material.

Leave a Reply