Teaching to the Test: The AP Struggle

Teaching to the Test: The AP Struggle

As college admissions get more and more competitive, many students feel pressured to take more AP classes in order to remain competitive. According to the College Board, over the last 10 years, the number of U.S. public high school graduates who’ve taken an AP exam has increased by 65%.  

An AP or Advanced Placement class is the equivalent of a one semester college class. While there are a lot of advantages to taking these classes, for example possibly getting college credit, these classes also have downsides.

Since these classes have a similar workload to that of a college class, AP classes can be very assignment heavy and time consuming. According to the Fairfield Public Schools “Expected Time Outside of Class” document, college prep classes have 2-3 expected hours of work outside of class per week, while AP classes have 6-8 expected hours.

Loading up on multiple AP classes means having 10+ hours of homework a week. “It takes away some time I could be spending with friends or doing more fun things,” Jack Emra ‘25 shared. Despite that, he also noted that, “it’s worth it when you see good results.”

The standardization of these classes takes away the freedom of deep and more meaningful learning in important topics. “One of the disadvantages of AP classes is that teachers are bound to teaching by the College Board rubric and to the College Board test,” Campbell Treschuk ‘24 added.

This in turn makes classes rushed, doesn’t allow for an in class deep dive, and puts a lot of the learning independently on students. 

“The amount of material that you have to cover for the test can also be a disadvantage, because it limits the amount of time you can spend on each topic and can mess schedules up if a day gets canceled,” Treschuk noted.

Because of the standardization and the curriculum of AP classes, students are often taught how to succeed on the test, rather than learn the actual skills like synthesizing and actually understanding the material. Treschuk remarked that, for example, “teachers are often bound by the rubric into giving the points to bad writing that still hits all the requirements.”

This makes succeeding at these classes almost like a formula. Instead of learning proper synthesis and analysis skills, the AP class is more about winning at the test—thus forcing teachers to teach to the test.

“The tests involve rote memorization, more so than an understanding of the content,” Danielle Kanter ‘24 shared. 

Treschuk noted that oftentimes, “teachers fall into just teaching how to do well on the AP exam without actually encouraging introspection and learning among students.”

“Rather than trying to establish a foundation of content or teach different skills, every task we do and concept we learn is meant for the AP at the end of the year. Often, this means that we are missing key elements of a subject field,” Kanter emphasized.

Yet this isn’t true for all AP classes. For example, AP American Studies—a class that combines AP US History and AP Lang—makes an exception and doesn’t just teach to the test. 

“The beauty of American Studies is that there is no such thing as an AP American Studies exam, and that’s always served as a liberating force,” Mr. Parisi, one of the American Studies history teachers, remarked. 

Mr. Parisi emphasized that history must be taught on a cultural level that the AP format does not allow you to go into. “The roots [of US history]  are really deep and they’re really nuanced. It’s like weaving your subject matter that is always changing and always unfolding. We’re always revealing different elements of history, especially in today’s changing world,” he added.

More than just learning about the events, American Studies emphasizes learning deeply about American culture through both literature and history. It teaches, much more than a typical AP class, how to synthesize and conceptualize the information.

The beauty of American Studies is the deep analysis and rhetorical skills it provides. The AP test credit serves as a nice add on, but it shouldn’t be the end goal. In the end, it is most important to teach history through a cultural lens that teaches students how to analyze and understand the subject.

Although AP classes do provide a way to experience higher learning, they often leave students simply memorizing the content instead of providing the needed synthesis skills. 

Some students, often left lacking these important skills, want more than just simply memorizing the content. Kanter agreed with this assessment.  “I wish that they added skills that the AP doesn’t test,” she noted.

More to Discover