GA Girl’s Opinions: Are APs Really Worth it?

The students of GA strive for academic validation, but is this validation really worth it?

GA Girl’s Opinions: Are APs Really Worth it?

At an overachiever filled place like GA, it is natural to offer many different kinds of APs in all different subjects. But as many may have experienced, advanced placement and pressure come hand and hand. This increased pressure level has become the new normal at GA, whether to our benefit or detriment. I wanted to explore different students’ points of view on if the pressure of excelling in these advanced classes is worth the reward of taking them. 

One of the most infamous APs is AP US history, or more commonly known as APUSH. APUSH is a course that requires lots of reading and analytical writing. One student described the curriculum as, “a rounded perspective of all points of views on specific moments in history.” This same student went on to tell me how she was “able to form her own opinions on events in history after taking the class.” When confronted with the question: “Was taking the class worth it?”, she answered “yes” without hesitation. She said that the APUSH exam was stressful to study for as the class covered a lot of content, but she felt as if the GA teachers gave her all the tools to do well on the exam. My final question to this student was: “Will you continue to take AP’s at GA?” She responded “yes”, she plans on continuing her progression through GA’s AP offerings by taking two next year. 

After talking to this student, I found another student who took the same class. She had something different to say. This student described the APUSH curriculum to be solely based on passing tests, and less about inducing interest on the topic at hand. When I asked this student: was it all worth it? She replied that she doesn’t know yet. She described the emotional strain of the class and how it affected her learning. She talked to me about staying up all hours of the night to get work for the class done, and how emotionally taxing taking the tests was. Then she went on to share that if she performs well on the exam, then yes it will all be worth it. I then focused more on the exam. She described the exam as covering a lot of content, and consumed most of her total exam study time. Although the preparation was strenuous, she agreed with the first girl that I spoke to: because of GA teachers, she felt like she had all the resources she needed to take the exam. Finally, when I asked this student if she plans to continue to take AP’s in the future she replied “yes”,  but only for the grades, not to endure the same intense emotions she was faced with this year. 

To broaden my perspective on the AP experience at GA, I spoke with two AP art students. AP art at GA consists of choosing a theme to center your pieces on for the rest of the year, and then creating twenty pieces demonstrating that theme in eight months. Going into these interviews, both of the students I talked to warned me of the popular opinion that anyone can do well in an AP art, regardless of your art knowledge. Both artists said that this opinion deeply offends them, as AP art is nonetheless an AP, and takes the same level of skill and emotional strain as any other AP in the school does. The first student I spoke to described the curriculum as “a good ratio of discipline and pleasure.” She told me that her art skills improved and she had more space for creativity in the class. I then asked her: Was it worth taking the class? She answered: “my experience in the class was rewarding and insightful, so I would say yes.” We went on to talk about the portfolio process. We talked about the time crunch and how it affected the quality of her pieces, and also how she felt about the class. She told me that she felt the pressure of time while making her art, which was not ideal, but she also said that there is not going to be a time in life when one is not under pressure, so it was a good learning experience. She told her how her teacher made sure that all of her art was acceptable to submit to the college board and made her feel confident in her abilities. Lastly, I talked to her about continuing her AP art progression through high school and she said: “I will continue taking AP art at GA and pursuing my passion for art outside of school.” 

After talking to this student, I found another who took the same class. Before we even started to focus on the course she took, she actually brought up the  “Anyone can take AP art” controversy before I did. We had a long conversation on what it takes to be in this class. She told me that artists must display advanced techniques and have specific creative mindsets to thrive in the class. Someone who just randomly checked “yes” next to AP art without having any prior knowledge in the discipline would not be able to keep up with their peers. After this insightful conversation, we got into a course content discussion. She described the curriculum as: “independent, but with some guidance.” When I asked her to touch more on that, she told me that keeping up in the class is solely up to each individual artist, and the teacher could only do so much for them. Then, I dropped the big question: Was it worth it? She replied, “The experience I got from taking the class was worth the stress it also brought on.”  I asked her how she handled completing her portfolio under a time crunch. She told me: “Some of my work felt rushed, but I did manage to get all of it in, which I call an accomplishment in and of its own.” After she said that, I asked her to elaborate how she felt it was an accomplishment. She explained to me how all the kids in her class were stressed out to get their work done because the task of making twenty perfect pieces in the span of eight months was next to impossible. She told me how even completing twenty pieces in eight months no matter the skill level of each artist is impressive, and her whole class was able “to complete this daunting task with grace.” Shifting back to my final question of continuing APs in high school, she told me that she has already signed up to take another AP art and will also be taking AP sciences. 

After talking to all of these students I fought with the idea “Are AP’s worth taking?” myself. The added pressure on our already stressful lives that these classes produce is a risk, but the accomplishment of taking the test or submitting the portfolio is also an incredible reward. The social norms of GA encourage students to complete these hard tasks and take as many difficult courses as possible. It’s a nearly impossible balancing act, and high school students can only take so much. It’s a risk and reward game that solely depends on how much each student is willing to gamble.