Studying for Advanced Placement Exams

Did you know that the number of Advanced Placement exam takers who are not from the US or Canada is increasing each year?

CollegeBoard recently released a new crop of data regarding the May 2017 Advanced Placement exams. While some of the revelations or similar to what we learned last year, there are some interesting trends worth noticing this year.

Two surprising findings

Firstly, the number of young students participating in the AP curriculum is growing. This year, the number of young exam takers increased nearly 9.3% over last year. Almost 7500 pre-secondary students took AP exams this year.

However, this is not the most surprising part: on average, they scored slightly higher than secondary school students in their final year. Research from CollegeBoard also shows that even if younger students do not do well on their first exams, they are not discouraged later in high school and often do better.

Secondly, CollegeBoard published information about how many AP exam scores universities received during the latest application cycle. This data does not tell us much, but it can reveal something about student ambitions.

Based on the data, it appears that almost all students who apply to Stanford or other private universities submitted at least one AP score (in addition to their SAT Subject Tests). Large research universities, however, received a far greater number of scores from applicants overall, but this is more than likely because they are much larger institutions than schools such as Princeton or Yale. Stanford University is the outlier in this case: this university receives four times more scores than they have available freshman slots, and from twice as many students.

Highest and lowest number of high scores

The exams with the highest and lowest percentages of “5” scores are nearly the same as last year, even though most saw more students taking each one. Many of the more difficult exams (such as Calculus and advanced language exams) saw more students scoring 5s, while the lower-level exams (namely Biology, Physics 1, and history exams) had the fewest.

A lot of the theories attempting to explain why this is say that older students have just had more time to develop study skills and work with teachers and tutors one-on-one. However, many students also make the mistake of taking a specific AP class simply because they think it is easy. Many of them fall into the habit of not studying, which leads to lower scores.

Considering that most AP students take between one and three exams in a given year, it is also likely that students prioritize the subjects they perceive as more difficult over the others.

Participation in newer AP programs

Most notable in this year’s AP data is the enormous enrollment increase in two of the AP curriculum’s newest offerings: AP Research and AP Seminar. These two courses, introduced in 2014, are the two components of the Advanced Placement Capstone Diploma (ACPD). This program is offered by many international schools, such as the Anglo-American school in St. Petersburg.

According to CollegeBoard:

“AP Capstone is a College Board program that equips students with the independent research, collaborative teamwork, and communication skills that are increasingly valued by colleges. It cultivates curious, independent, and collaborative scholars and prepares them to make logical, evidence-based decisions.” (CollegeBoard)

This intensive two-year program is an excellent way to prepare students for the types of research required when they enter university. This year, participation in AP Research and AP Seminar increased by 104% and 62%, respectively. This growth will slow down as the program ages, but such numbers show promise for this new program.