Wake Forest University

Are AP Exams a Scam?

Rethinking Admissions

Continuing the Conversation

Are AP Exams a Scam?

Former college professor and high school teacher, John Tierney sure thinks so.

Last week in a piece included on the Atlantic’s website, Tierney, an oft critic of the Advanced Placement program, outlined a series of issues he and colleagues deem to be in direct opposition to what the program is said to accomplish. At the center of his criticism is the assertion that AP courses do not, in the slightest way, resemble college-level courses. From his perspective, AP curricula is thought to be too jam-packed and rigid to cover the depth that most college courses cover, instead focusing too much on exams that await students at the end of the year. Many high schools employ an open-enrollment policy for its AP classes, often allowing ill-prepared students a path toward further academic frustration and insurmountable challenges that come along with trying to “pass” AP exams. Furthermore, schools that attempt to offer a variety of AP courses – an assortment that can include up to 39 different subjects – must then reserve the best teachers for these classes, leaving students in non-AP courses at a disadvantage. Who are these students? To a disparate degree, it’s minority students who are forgotten.

Then, take fact that the College Board – the non-profit managing organization for the Advanced Placement program – charges $89 a piece to administer AP exams to millions of test-takers, often several times over in a single year. In fact, College Board makes more than half of its revenue from the fees it charges for this set of exams alone.

At the end of the day, one must ask whether a system like the AP program does more good than harm. If AP courses are the best preparatory tool for college, shouldn’t we encourage students to invest in this process? However, if the purported objective of the program is not being realized, students may stand to lose a lot more than they might ever gain.

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