AP Classes: Stress or Education?

By Ian Dewey

The Tower (Grosse Pointe, Michigan)

As someone who has experienced both the joys of a regular classroom and an AP (Advanced Placement) one, it is hard to say whether one is particularly better than the other.  It is pretty much ensured that one will fulfill a decent liberal arts style education with either path taken. As one pays attention in class, said person will benefit from taking that class.

When taking an AP class, it still comes down to personal ability, however.  Not just that; it also comes down to willingness to put in the work.  For most people, the will to study and do the classwork is actually a much more important asset than the benefits of inherent intellect, but both can be important.

It is true that honors and AP classes burden the student with more work than in regular classrooms, but for someone who loves the subject that the class covers, nothing can beat the AP equivalent.  The fact of the matter is is that one tends to learn more in the AP equivalent, as there is more extrapolation on the subject than in the normal class.

When it comes down to it, AP and honors equivalent classes don’t require intelligence.  What they do require is a regimented schedule and good study habits/techniques.  Don’t let the dork who is taking five APs and has a genius IQ falter your spirit: a true passion in the subject is much more important than the computing ability your brain has.

That being said, what classes should one take?  Well, primarily, one should take the regular equivalent of classes that one is merely taking to fulfill graduation requirements.  It’s not worth the extra effort to take the AP versions of these, and if you get a lousy grade, the tarnish to your GPA is going to be a lot more potent than the embellishment of your transcript from taking said class.

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By Schplook

Many people will just want to take AP classes to embellish their transcript.  Although not recommended, it’s understandable; I’m probably doing this myself, although I have rationalized it.  And so from this follows some simple questions: what are the hardest AP classes, and what are the easiest?

As for which APs are harder and which are easier, you could probably ask any upperclassman that question and they’ll give you a good ballpark answer.  As the difficulty of these courses varies drastically from teacher to teacher, nothing besides a ballpark answer from someone who has taken the class is very dependable.

According to Prepscholar, though, a general answer to this question is given.  Generally speaking, the harder APs are as follows: Calculus, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, U.S. History and Literature.  Conversely, the easier ones are more social science based: Psychology and U.S. Government & Politics.  Additionally, Environmental Science is a part of this “easier” category.

From what I’ve heard at South, Chemistry certainly has a reputation for being hard, and same goes for Environmental Science having a reputation for being easy.  Of course, this is for most people, and unless you have a strong disdain for yourself and an unhealthy dose of modesty, you don’t consider yourself “most people”.

What I mean by that is that which classes you take should be APs and which should be regular is entirely up to your interests, strengths and weaknesses (most importantly your interests).  One who thinks that because they did well in AP Chemistry thinks that they would do well in AP Literature is severely misguided; sure, they’d probably be able to handle themselves, but unless they have an interest in literature they’ll probably burn out quick.

The reason many people want to know which AP classes are generally harder/easier than others is for the purposes of embellishing their high school transcripts.  By taking easier AP classes, hypothetically one could maintain a reasonably high GPA while simultaneously looking impressive with a multitude of APs and Honors classes stuffed in there.  This seems to be popular practice; many people I know, along with myself, are practicing this to some extent.

But keep in mind that many universities see through this trick: a student will bolster his transcript with a bunch of easy AP classes.  Though this will work in getting you into most universities, but I see a lot of people trying to get into U-M doing this, and for a big-ticket school like that, it probably won’t work.  The genuinely impassioned (or tryhard) student with a mixture of harder and easier courses that aligns with her interests is much more likely to get into a school like that before the other one does.

For instance, it’s better to be the person that is interested in science and has taken AP Environmental Science and AP Chemistry than the person who doesn’t really have any passions and has taken AP Environmental Science and AP Psychology.

Stress, when it comes down to it, is quite subjective.  What might be someone’s “stress” could be another person’s intellectual passion.  Take the hard classes in what you are interested in, take the easy classes in what you aren’t interested in, and you’ll be fine.

There are other factors here at work, though.  AP classes allow one to skip corresponding classes in university and earn credit for them, provided that person does sufficiently well on the exam.  This is an extremely useful tool for someone who already knows what their major is going to be, as they can pre-plan what AP courses to take so as to knock out as many college-freshman/sophomore requisites as possible.

Doing this method can take some time, however, as taking on multitudes of APs to knock out the first semester or two of university requires a lot of work and stress throughout the school year.  However, there is a better way, for the person who is able to learn effectively by studying themselves.

This method involves taking the exam, but not the class it corresponds to.  This is technically possible, as long as one pays the fee to take the test.  However, it is highly not recommended for those who want to study the subject in-depth, or learn it for learning’s sake.  This is purely to get credits so as to progress through the educational system quicker.

 For instance, if one wanted to study Economics in university, they should take the AP Micro/Macroeconomics classes, not just the exams.

Although doing this can ease on stress throughout the year, it won’t save on money (especially if you are not able to learn new things well on your own), and the cost due to failure is the fine you pay to take the test.  It is recommended to do this for exams that are renowned for their simplicity (Environmental Science, Psychology, etc.) and to only use this method to fulfill requirements for a major that aren’t directly related to the subject (for instance, taking the AP Economics tests to fulfill requirements for a mathematics major).

Despite the urge there may be to take an “easy” way out such as this one, it’s rarely worth it, as a couple months of stress studying for these tests each school year is probably a lot worse for your mental health than going through an extra year of university is.  Yes, stress overall may decrease throughout the school year by avoiding taking the classes, but for most a bit of work spread over a year is a lot better than a lot of stress concentrated within a span of a few months.

Ultimately, the path you decide for high school is extremely inconsequential: the most it may affect varying career paths is a difference in time spent trying to achieve a degree (usually only by a semester).

Photo Credit: Andy Simonds

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