AP courses: Has the teacher prepared your student for the exam? A guide for parents and teachers

15 Jan

AP, or advanced placement classes are a great way to challenge students academically and for them to earn college credit while in high school.  In order to get credit, the college must accept AP credit and the student must score high enough.

Question:  Why doesn’t my child’s school accept AP credit?  There can be many reasons but one reason is that the AP course is not rigorous enough to equal the college class at that college.  For example, Calculus BC does not go very deep in its curriculum and an engineering student relying only on what he or she learned in an AP class would be behind their peers who took the college class at a competitive engineering school.  Examples include AP Calc BC only has students do a few basic integration techniques and typical Calc 2 classes add more techniques and go deeper into the ones the AP Calculus teach, for instance,  the AP class just introduces like partial fractions while colleges goes into partial fractions in many different forms.

Even if the college a student is attending accepts the credit, a student may find that he or she has gaps that will have to be filled in even if he or she scored a 5.   However, most students in that situation would be capable of the self learning needed to fill in the gaps. However, I would be hesitant with a 3 or a 4 in such a situation.

As for the courses themselves, we want students to be successful.  There are many times where the course is not a prerequisite for future courses and getting that credit allows a student to take other classes instead or take a lighter load or even graduate early.  So, what do we look for in a teacher who is successfully preparing students to get strong AP scores.

First, we want them to be familiar with the curriculum and the test.  They need access to both the test questions and sample scoring.  They should have questions (both multiple choice and free response) that go with each unit so that as students work through a unit, they get practice with questions from old AP exams.  The teacher should be going over these questions with students and having students practice free response questions on their own.  The teacher should then have students award points as they pick through the things graders will be looking for to award points.  In English, essays should be graded and students should have class discussions on why certain scores were awarded and what was missing should be used as teaching examples.  In English, there are some great resources that show what essays deserve what level points and why, this should be part of the lesson.  In math and science, making sure the intermediate steps, units, significant digits, etc. are visible are important.

Each unit should be divided into time to learn the material and time to review and practice the material with an eye to how the test assesses you.  The exams for the student can then be all AP questions (mix of multiple choice and free response) or at least 50% AP questions and 50% teacher made questions that help students further retain important material (remember, testing can be a method of learning if done right, not just assessment).

I would make the same recommendation for the final to teachers. Choose a variety of years rather than the most recent test as students might just study that.

Parents, if your child is in an AP class and has not been consistently doing AP problems, i.e. the teacher is not using an optimal approach, you will need to take matters into your own hands.  Get a couple different prep books from the beginning of the course, have your child work problems that match what the teacher is covering, if they can’t, get a tutor.  Better to take care of things now then try and cram at the end when there is not enough time to change things.  Look online, there are many old tests available.  Three weeks before the AP exam, your child should be practicing full AP tests, correcting them, finding mistakes, and taking another.


Tom took AP chem at a school with a teacher who wasn’t the best.  He did do some practice problems from AP exams so his parents thought it would be ok as he was getting an A.  However, the teacher moved too slowly and only covered 3/5 of the curriculum and by the time his parents realized this and started sending him to a,tutor to learn the material he wasn’t going to get to, there wasn’t enough time.  He scored a 2 on the AP exam.

Sandy took AP Calc AB with a teacher who never taught it before.  Her teacher never had them do any practice AP problems and also got behind in teaching.  Sandy’s parents got her a tutor right away and kept her one step ahead of the class and had her practice AP and CLEP practice problems.  When her teacher ran out of time and skipped over all the importance applications that Sandy knew would be on the AP exam, she and her Mom decided to study for the CLEP test and switch to taking Calculus at the community college rather than continue taking AP Calc BC with this teacher.  Sandy feels that the kids who were in her class will not be prepared at all for the material on the AP exam.

Jeff took AP Physics 1 at his high school.  His school did not offer the Calculus based AP Physics C class but he decided to start with AP Physics 1.  Like Sandy’s teacher, Jeff’s teacher never once gave them an AP question.  She rarely gave them tests and instead assign projects, he didn’t even have labs.  He skipped class a lot since most of the time his teacher did nothing, despite this being an AP class.  He never even had homework.  He scored an A without an effort but saw no point in taking the AP Physics 1 exam, instead, Jeff bought two Physics books, a college text and an AP Physics C prep book.  He is spending his time learning to link and expand the physics he did learn in Physics 1 and the Calculus he knows and is planning on taking the AP Physics C test instead this spring.

Sam took AP computer science online.  His teacher had the write programs every day.  He had quizzes every week and the quizzes were AP computer science questions.  Each test was AP multiple choice questions and the midterm and final had both AP multiple choice and AP free response questions as well.  He also had a homework assignment with AP free response questions. So, when it came time for Sam to take the AP test, he had already had lots more of practice.  Sam scored a 4 on the AP exam and will get college credit.

Chris took AP environmental science, his teacher had them write answers to free response questions from old AP tests in class all the time. Her exams were also a mix of AP questions.  Before he took the exam, Chrismtoo, had a lot of practice and he scored a 4 on the exam.

Cara dexided to self study for AP English Composition.  She bought a prep book and studied all the literature terms and practiced the multiple choice.  She felt comfortable with her score there and focused more on her essays.  She learned about each type you have to write and read examples of good ones and why they were good and then looked at bad ones and why they were bad.  She would practice each type a couple of times with her parents offering feedback based on what other had written in her book.  It only too 3 weeks to a good handle on this t and she scored a 4 on the test.

No Comments

Posted in Personal


Leave a Reply