BY: Nic Hogan
My experience with the AP programs at the school has been a positive one for the most part. I think that often APs are misunderstood, or remain unconsidered by many students because they have wrongfully heard that IB is inherently a better option. As with all programs, AP classes have advantages and disadvantages, and it is up to students to decide whether or not the classes are suited for their learning style.
When considering advantages, it is important to know that, like IB higher-level classes, AP classes tend to be incredibly difficult. They are the equivalent of first year college courses, so someone who is unfamiliar with a subject should avoid its AP level. That being said, if someone wants to get the highest level of education in a specific subject and be able to progress to a more comprehensive study of that subject at university, AP classes are a great option. Because AP classes correspond to first-year classes at college, many schools allow students to receive a college credit when they excel on an AP test, and therefore test out of that class at university and immediately move on to a the next level of that course. If this seems confusing, think about it this way; because of my score on the AP biology test, I will be able to skip first year biology at college and immediately begin the second year course, leaving my schedule more open and malleable to work towards my desired focus.
Aside from thinking ahead to the future, AP classes provide an immediate advantage in their focused and rigorous nature. As a college level course, they are essentially the most advanced classes that you can take while in high-school. The specific concentration of the curriculum can be an advantage for students with keen interest in specific areas. For someone interested in engineering, advanced courses in calculus would prove enormously useful later on. And being able to choose between United States history, European history, art history, and world history, knowing that each will provide an amazingly in-depth and challenging course, allows anybody looking for something specific to make the most out of their high-school experience.
The most obvious disadvantage of AP classes is that many of them (especially in science and mathematics) prove too difficult for students who are not committed to the subject. For example, if you do not truly enjoy reading and analyzing literature, AP English literature will prove too difficult for you. The classes are designed for people who have an affinity for a subject. If that affinity is nonexistent, then the course will be immense amounts of work for very little reward. Aside from their inherent difficulty, AP course grades are determined almost entirely by tests, presentations, and large projects. Going into any of these without complete mastery of the subject is incredibly detrimental to your grade. Because of this, you have to work at a much faster pace than other classes require, studying , reviewing, and gaining a comprehensive understanding of each chapter before the class moves on to the next one. Along with this, tests often cover multiple chapters, so you must retain information in your memory and be able to recall it in a pinch.
This recollection of data also becomes important in the final AP tests. While the AP test does not factor into the class grade as the mock exams do, they decide whether or not you can receive credit at university for the class. As the tests cover all of the material taught in the class, reviewing previous material and knowing how it applies becomes a necessity. You need to know more than a vague outline of each chapter, the tests require you to recall and apply specific details. That application of detail is essential to AP classes. Each AP test has an essay section (short answer in the case of calculus) which requires you to connect concepts from all across the course and the outside world. AP classes and tests will prove difficult for any student with trouble connecting diverse concepts, anybody not deeply engaged with the subject, and passive students who avoid discussion. These attributes are the foundation of creative and analytical thinking that characterizes AP classes.
Another more interesting disadvantage of AP classes is their reputation here at ZIS. Many AP students and teachers feel as though the program is not only underrepresented, but often wrongfully discouraged. Students choosing courses often hear about all of the IAs, IOCs, the EE, CAS, and various other acronyms associated with the IB and immediately assume that these extra assignments mean that IB students are doing more work and therefore gaining a better education than AP students. However, this myth is based on the misconception that extra assignments are synonymous with doing more work. This year, AP US history students have averaged one test every ten days, each test covering three to four chapters, each chapter being forty to fifty pages. So while AP students are not called to an assembly every time they are given an assignment, they still receive them frequently. On top of this, many AP students take four, five, or six AP classes, whereas IB students rarely take more than four higher-level classes. Having this many advanced classes usually leads to students electing to take one or two free periods, which in turn leads to the misconception that AP students always have free periods. In truth, these frees are generally taken up by flexes and when they aren’t they are a necessity to balance the load of course work. I do not wish to spread the false information that AP students work harder than IB students because again this is not true, I only wish to dispel a misconception that has harmed the AP program at ZIS.
In my opinion, any program that restricts you should be avoided. Therefore I feel like it is healthy to approach the AP and the IB with an open mind, knowing that you can take classes from both programs. As of now, ZIS does not offer an AP diploma (although they do exist), and truthfully I think this is helpful for many students. Of course a specific diploma has its advantages, but they seem superficial in comparison to the freedom of taking whatever classes you want. For many people, AP calculus will be more appealing than IB higher-level math, but maybe those same students will find the IB languages more immersive than their AP equivalents. While there may not be a specific program perfectly tailored for each person, each individual class does appeal to a certain person, and being open to taking both AP and IB classes is the best approach to high-school. In the end, the way to make the most out of your high-school education is to explore the subject matters of both AP and IB classes, and then take a variety of both.