Previews for AP sciences should be required

May 12, 2017 — by Alexandra Li

With many students opting to focus on STEM throughout their high school career, their choice of science classes is crucial. Yet many are forced to choose a class without knowledge of the difficulty or content of the class, basing their decisions purely on what other students tell them.

In order to ensure students choose a class fit for their interests, teachers should offer previews to their classes that allow students to experience the content of their class.

Most students take both biology and chemistry during their first two years of high school, so they’re able to get a good sense of whether they have an interest in these subjects. However, the only information provided to students about the AP versions of these classes is that they all come with a “difficult” workload. Thus, the majority of students know very little about each and are unsure whether they’re worth spending a year studying.

In addition, for many sophomores, their most recent exposure to physics was in eighth grade — and even that was at a very basic level. The short amount of time spent on physics does not give students an idea of whether they are interested enough in the subject to pursue AP Physics, especially because at Saratoga High, the course combines two years of materials into two semesters.

The time spent on giving class previews may seem like a waste of time, but they have clearly been successful in other areas. AP European history and World History teacher Jerry Sheehy provides previews for his AP European history class. Hoping to draw students into the class, he chooses history classes with students ranging from freshman to junior year and takes five minutes out of each class to explain the difficulty level of the class along with the field trips, movies and activities to make it seem less intimidating.

Sheehy has noticed how the brief explanation of the class allows students to make an informed decision during the process of course selection.

In the mathematics department, choosing classes is approached differently. At the end of the year, each student receives a recommendation from the teacher on what class to take next year, but much of this is based solely on their grade in the class.

The sciences, however, cannot be approached in a similar fashion because of the wide differences between each AP class. Although science teachers may give sophomores their brief opinion on classes for the next school year, many agree with Chemistry honors teacher Janny Cahatol, who lets students decide for themselves, as the student should know their interests best.

It’s common for each AP class to be accompanied with a heavy workload, but without accurate information presented by teachers, students often end up in an unbearable learning situation.

For example, many sophomores hear from other students that AP Environmental Science (APES) is an “easy AP,” even when counselors warn them otherwise. Yet in truth, the class’s difficulty increases exponentially during second semester and has proven many students’ original beliefs to be false.

Class structure is also an important factor that students need to be aware of before they sign up for a class. For example, AP Chemistry students take approximately two quizzes a week in the first couple of weeks, APES students face constant, time-consuming projects and AP Biology students are often assigned up to 40 pages of textbook reading a week and constantly have to memorize definitions and terminology. But little of how each class runs is told to students, leading to a risk of them ending up in classes that they aren’t ready for yet or that do not fit for their learning style.

In hopes of fixing part of the problem, students are able to appeal for a schedule change within the first weeks of each semester. However, counselors deal with around 25 students a year hoping to switch out of a AP science; they find the classes they originally signed up for unmanageable due to a previous lack of knowledge of the class. These changes cause inconveniences to the students and the teachers, and could be more often avoided with information sessions.

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