AP/Honors courses should be modeled more like college courses

January 22, 2016 — by Shreya Tumu

It was 2 a.m. on a Tuesday during my junior year when I was scrambling to finish my journal prompts for a “Hamlet” Socratic seminar. At the time, I couldn’t believe I was still up so late even after keeping up with my journals regularly. I didn’t even know if I could remember what I was writing, only that I was filling up the lines.

By the end of the year, my English composition notebook was so thick with pasted typed pages that the binding was close to tearing, yet I couldn’t recall even one sentence I wrote. I couldn’t help feeling overwhelmed from the degree of work needed to keep up.

English 11 Honors is just one example of a class where I ended up wondering whether all my effort had paid off in my actual understanding.

For example, I tried my best on my journals and analyzed the text thoroughly and diligently, yet when I took the unit tests for the novels I realized my own analysis wasn’t always synonymous with the correct analysis.

Personally the number of journal entries I was assigned to do felt daunting, especially because I like to spend a lot of time per question. I was overwhelmed even before I started and I couldn’t come up with original and creative analysis when my mind kept thinking about how much more work I had yet to complete in classes like AP Biology. By contrast,  whenever I had two to four journals entries to do instead of eight, I would end up writing more thoughtful responses to each and learning more.

Another course, AP Biology, had 4- to 8-page guided reading worksheets that didn’t prove useful to many students. Some students preferred to just read and interpret the text without them. As a result, those students found guided readings more of a hindrance than a help.

The multiple-choice section of AP exams require knowledge of specifically worded details from the textbook. When I did the guided readings, I worded the text in terms that I understood, which was counterproductive because when it came time to take the tests, I was unable to understand what the question was asking. Thus, the central ideas were lost in all the information I was trying to absorb.

The school should instead model its AP/Honors classes after college courses — little to no homework, with most of overall course grade being determined by the midterms and final exams. Students benefit from less, but higher quality homework. One of the greatest concerns of the school community this year is to lighten students' load and de-stress their lives. The alternative of having more qualitative not quantitative homework will work toward this goal and at the same time, allow students to learn significantly from their classes.

Another option is to have more grades come from long-term papers and group projects. This way, the students will have the chance to apply the information they learn in class to real-life situations. For example, a research paper on a particular biology subject would actually greater benefit the student in learning the subject matter because he or she would be exposed to real-life examples. In English classes, I think it would be enough for students to write one synthesized essay about a book or play instead of spending hours every night trying to complete five to eight journal entries.

A class structure modeled on college courses would benefit the students because it allow students to absorb the important information and apply this information. Much of the work in AP and Honors classes is 100 percent necessary, but I do believe that there is good amount of work that should be omitted from the course load.