I have heard this said for a few years and now my homeschool mom friends whose kids have just completed the AP US History class are saying it too: that AP classes are harder than the same content taught at college.
If you are one of the 99% who went to school yourself, take a second and
think back to how your teachers communicated to you.
They know the topic and know the test while they are teaching you.
They would say in their lectures that this would be on the test so be sure
to take careful notes.
If they didn't use the word test they would say "this is very
Sometimes they'd repeat it three times about the same tidbit (which annoyed
me to no end- was not once enough?).
When doing review for tests they would say with intonations "You may
want to take special note of this..." which was a key that it definitely
was on the test.
I even had some teachers that would say, "I will not tell you what is
on the test but you should know X, Y, and Z about this topic." Semantics!
Students would ask questions directly to inquire if X would be on the test.
Other students would see the teacher privately to ask if X would be on the
Sometimes when I was worried about not understanding something I'd ask for clarification
and would be told, "Don't worry it won't be on the test" and they
would not explain it to me. Conversation over.
The AP course scope and sequence is defined by the College Board. The AP
test is designed by the College Board. There is a huge span of information on
the test. The teachers whose courses are certified by the College Board to be
designated as an AP course covers so much information. The teachers do not see
the test. There is more than one version of the test and you don't know which
your student will receive. To teach a complete course seems to me to be a huge
task and to get through it in one full academic year seems a challenge. The
homeschool courses say 12-15 hours a week or 20 hours of homework a week must
be done to get through it all.
Some public schools have compressed their schedule to half-year. So, the AP
course would go from August to January only. These classes attempt to cover all
that material. That would mean 24-30-40 hours of homework a week for just one
class. A friend who is on a Board of Education recently rallied against this
schedule saying that the teacher's insistence that the teacher can get through
the material in the class time is one thing but the student's ability to do
double the amount of homework and do all that memorization of facts is
questionable. I would concur that the brain can only handle so much learning in
a 24 hour time span and to double the studying just may not work, especially
given that most of the schooled kid's day is spent in school and going to and
fro, and that they have other homework and still need some hours of sleep! Also
let's not forget the issue that some kids are taking the AP course in the fall
and not taking the AP test until June!
The challenge of an AP course, it seems to me, is both in the large amount
of material that must be covered as well as studying. AP courses also involve
analytical thinking and the ability to do analytical writing and to do that in
a timed high pressure setting. The hard part is that to teach or learn a
complete course to try to cover all the bases the student and teacher have to
work extra hard, harder than the college courses. Why?
The college course professor knows what is on the test. They can focus the
lectures and homework on what they feel is most important. There is an element
of control over content and assessment that the college teacher has which AP
course instructors do not have. College professors can and do give hints as to
what is most important to learn to help the student realize what is most important
to know and what is fluff or extraneous information. Some college professors
practically dictate what will be on the test which makes the student realize
their responsibility of what content to learn if finite which happens to also
make studying easier.
If you have taken a college course you know what I'm talking about: they
tell you to read the textbook chapter and then they lecture on what they feel
is most important plus give tips on what is vital. Anyone with smarts can
figure out how to streamline the studying and memorization. The untested
material was good to know but not essential for memorization. It can always be
looked up later if someone has a need to know.
Teachers of AP courses in school or in other settings (i.e. online classes
that homeschoolers use or at homeschool co-ops) do not have the luxury of
scaling back what is taught in the classroom and teaching to the test in a more
targeted way because they don't know exactly what will be on the test, they
know the course has a ton of information and they know that they have to
deliver it all and the student has to study it all. They know that the
information on the test is just a fraction of the large amount of material that
they were exposed to and there is nothing that they can do about it. Those
wishing to be the most prepared need a comprehensive course and they need to
put in the time and effort to study and to master analytical essay writing too.
Those taking history classes need to be able to read source documents and
digest the content and to form opinions.
If my kids ever take an AP course as part of their homeschool you can bet
I'll find the best courses out there which produce the highest scores on the
tests so we are not wasting our money or my kid's time with a sub-par course. I
don't feel I am in the position to custom create a course for my kids and I
know at least one of them lacks the personality to teach himself rigorous
content with self-discipline. For some kids and for some parents it really
would be best to outsource the taking of an AP class.
If pondering all this leaves you to question quitting homeschooling and
using public school so the AP courses can be accessed easier and for free there
are a couple of issues.
First, schools have differing policies to decide which
of the students are able to enroll for the class. (I heard in my former town
that it's political and that certain families are favored by administration
thus locking other kids out of other classes.) Enrollment is often limited and
administration has to choose who gets to take what class.
In some schools the students are tracked (even if they never use that word). If they fail to take certain classes by grade 8 they are locked out of certain classes for grade 9. If they do not enter the honors track in grade 9 they will never be allowed to enroll into an AP class in grades 12, 11, or 10. That is school policy in some schools.
AP courses also
sometimes are cut from public school budgets, something that tax-paying citizen
parents have little control over and the manner in which that happens is
sometimes sudden and makes any future change too late for your child to access.
A parent can advocate to reinstate an AP class at the school next year but it's
too late for their child to have taken the cut class this year.
Lastly, look at
the school's scores for the class and the test scores: you will see that
nationally the kids are scoring well in the class but too many bomb the AP
test. What does that say for the quality of the teaching and what the students
In contrast when homeschoolers take AP classes they have more
freedom of choice, parents pick the course to use. No one limits the students to taking a certain number per year either. Sometimes homseschoolers are allowed to take the classes earlier if the professor deems them truly ready.
Often the only challenge for homeschoolers accessing AP classes is having the money to pay the
class tuition and to pay for the textbook and other learning materials. Well,
that and staying on top of enrollment dates and rushing to get a spot in the
class before it's full.