Are Advanced Placement Tests a Scam?

Jessica FlohrStaff Writer 
The month of May can be a chaotic time. As the end of school approaches, teachers load on quizzes and tests and projects while students count down the days until summer. However, May is more than just a month of regular school work. For many juniors and seniors, May is also chock full of Advanced Placement (AP) testing.
So, what is the purpose of these standardized tests that many in the Latin community choose to take? According to the College Board, the AP exams are a chance for students to “challenge themselves, explore their interests, and earn college credit and placements.” Many colleges and universities across the United States accept Advanced Placement testing as a method for passing out of classes or getting placed into a more advanced course level. One might assume, therefore, that AP classes are the best preparation for college, yet Latin does not offer AP classes in some subjects, including English. One must ask then, why does Latin choose not to offer certain AP classes or even exams?
With regards to AP courses, it is necessary to teach certain curricula since AP classes are essentially preparing students to take a cumulative exam. In other words, AP classes “teach to the test.” One criticism of AP courses is that they may be less discussion-based, which is a possible reason Latin chooses not to offer English AP courses. Most public schools across Chicago offer many AP classes, and some schools even encourage students to take all AP classes. But, part of what makes Latin unique from other schools is the emphasis on discussion-based learning and a curriculum with a plethora of course offerings in all subject areas. Additionally, Latin is moving towards Standards Based Learning, which emphasizes not just learning to do well on a test, but understanding the material conceptually. Therefore, what is important at Latin doesn’t necessarily meld with the guidelines of AP classes. And, although Latin does not offer AP English courses, students still have the opportunity to take the exams at school in May. Ms. Vela, who works in the College Counseling Office, shared that “certain classes in the upper school will prepare students” to take AP exams in subjects where the courses are not offered. English and History are just two examples. With a little extra preparation, students in Honors United States History or American Civilization typically do very well on the AP United States History test. And, it is the same for many who choose to take the AP English Language and Composition exam.
Although AP exams may seem like a positive way in which the College Board is trying to help students earn college credit, some seniors feel differently about the College Board’s intentions. This year the College Board moved the AP registration deadline from March to November 15 after completing a study during the 2017-2018 school year that showed overall, students who registered in the fall performed better on their AP exams. Senior Isabel Coberly has a different opinion, however, about the new early deadline, saying that “the AP is more or less tricking seniors because most seniors won’t know what college they will be attending when they register in November,” meaning that “they wouldn’t know if they were going to go somewhere where they don’t accept the AP.” Isabel raises a good point in that some schools do not accept certain AP credits, which could result in a student signing up for an AP exam only to later find out that taking the exam would be unnecessary. That student then has one of two options: take a 3 hour AP exam despite it not counting towards anything, or paying a cancellation fee. And as senior Hannah Davis pointed out, the “AP cancellation fee has gone up from 15 dollars to 40.” Furthermore, with the AP registration deadline being earlier than in years past, anyone who signs up to take an exam after November 15th has to pay a $40 “late fee” on top of the fee to take the exam. 
In Hannah’s words, “the AP is corrupt.” And beyond that, “they are overlooking certain factors…maybe signing up earlier was indicative of a higher confidence level with the material,” but that in the end, “moving up the registration date won’t change confidence” of test takers. Especially since people’s confidence in their understanding of material may change between November and May. While the College Board may just be after more money, with new early registration dates and the imposed cancellation and late fees, this “corrupt culture” of AP testing hasn’t stopped most students from wanting to take the exams. The likely reason behind this? The hope that whatever college or university people end up at will accept credits from AP exams to jumpstart required credits.
To find out if a college or university you are interested in/have applied to offers AP exam credit for a specific test, visit the College Board guide here.