Are AP students taught for the test or challenged to learn?

by Parviz Kanga ‘15

“Teaching for the test,” specifically the Advanced Placement tests, is a common expression that refers to those AP courses that are supposedly taught with a greater focus on receiving a five on the AP test than actually covering the subject with a desirable depth. Some students believe that the teachers of AP courses are  pressured to conform to the content of the AP tests, although the consequences of such behavior aren’t necessarily negative.

“With some exceptions, I think that teachers do teach to the AP test. But I think that it’s a comprehensive enough curriculum that it doesn’t exclude other material we need in any meaningful way,” said Andrew Beddow ‘14, who took four AP classes and five exams this year.

The belief that Saint Ignatius teachers stick to the test doesn’t seem widely held among the faculty. While such course-teaching methodologies may exist at other schools, Saint Ignatius AP instructors themselves assert that most advanced-placement courses at St. Ignatius are not, in fact, “taught for the test.” On the contrary, an unrepresentative sample of AP teachers concluded that instructors in advanced classes are generally in favor of the AP tests and do not feel restricted.

Mr. Beach, AP English Language teacher, stated that he feels no such pressure to teach his students only what will appear on his class’s AP exam. Speaking on behalf of both AP Language and AP Literature he stated that both AP exams are, in fact, “skill tests.”

As a result, Beach feels that there are no unnecessary restrictions or guidelines that need to be followed. Rather, preparation throughout the year involves a simple, two-step process: analyze complicated texts and learn to articulate that analysis.

Mr. Sabol, the AP Calculus AB instructor at Saint Ignatius, also does not feel restricted. While there are certainly more specific topics that need to be covered in calculus than in AP Literature, Mr. Sabol sees both the AP Calculus AB and BC tests as accurate assessments of critical thinking, stating that “in every case there is an assessment in mind. It provides the class with a goal.”

In fact, Sabol sees the two AP Calculus exams as exemplary tests of their kind.

“We haven’t seen a standardized test better than this,” he said.

Mr. Howard, teacher of AP US Government, shared a view a little different from either Mr. Beach’s or Mr. Sabol’s. Mr. Howard is positive and believes that the AP US Government exam provides a much needed structure to the very extensive topic of US government. He does admit, however, that the AP exam provides him less time to teach certain topics, such as social welfare.

Meanwhile, Mr. Hawkins, AP Chemistry teacher, also felt that there was a slight lack in flexibility as well as time which kept him from covering topics such as organic chemistry and nuclear chemistry. Evidently lukewarm with respect to AP tests, he thinks that the AP exam is only “OK.”

Taken collectively, AP teachers at our school do not seem pressured by the AP exams and most do not feel that their courses are “taught for the test.” No matter the subject–English, math, science, or government–teachers have a positive attitude towards the exams.

While more extensive and far reaching subjects such as Chemistry and US Government may feel the pressures of time because of the AP exams, teachers conclude that those problems are inevitable and structure is needed to keep such classes on course.

AP student senior Bronson Hausmann, who took four AP classes and seven tests in 2014, said that his personal experience indicates that teachers are willing to include material not listed on the AP curriculum if they believe it necessary.

“I personally have had instances where non-curricular material was covered for the sake of understanding the subject,” Hausmann said. “This is most likely not always the case, however.”