Teachers should not just teach College-Board-approved AP skills

January 13, 2020 — by Neeti Badve

As we all know, many students here cram their schedules with as many APs as possible, often with the goal of impressing college admissions officers but also passing College Board’s dreaded AP exams in May. Naturally, it’s the job of teachers to prepare students as much as possible to pass these exams. 

But the AP curricula, though comprehensive, is geared too heavily toward test-taking and answering strategy. AP skills like short-answer and essay crafting take away from learning actual content and inevitably create less engaged and knowledgeable students. 

Teachers who follow the AP curriculum should refrain from focusing only on AP test-taking skills. 

Classes like AP U.S. History feature course work straight out of AP-approved textbooks, with students doing assigned readings for homework and then focusing on exam elements like long essays and document-based questions in class. Rather than diving deeper into what the textbook has taught the students, the class is filled with annotating historical documents and creating theses.

By doing this, the class forces students to merely read, write, test and repeat, instead of creating passionate, well-rounded students. It creates uninspired test takers who only have one way of thinking about history. 

In AP Spanish, students spend class time doing practice multiple choice questions, presentations, more essay writing and have readings and comprehension exercises to complete at home. Though this improves the students’ comfort levels with the language and the overall Spanish culture, basic speaking skills like verb conjugation or vocabulary are weakened because students choose to use words they already know and are comfortable with.

Instead of blindly following on exactly what College Board is testing students on, teachers should step outside of these boundaries. 

For example in AP U.S. History, if a student was really interested in military history, they would not be able to learn or focus on it because it is barely covered in most College Board approved textbooks. The same goes with foreign language classes like Spanish, where more cultural and grammar-focused lessons could be integrated so that students actually learn more Spanish instead of sticking their comfort zones. 

Science classes in general seem to be really good about finding a balance between preparing for the AP exam and incorporating more unique lesson plans and materials. The tests in AP science classes follow the AP-style format with a section of multiple choice followed by a section of free response questions, but lessons tend to teach beyond the AP material. 

This way, students are able to approach new topics without an intense fear of failure because they know they will not be graded on these questions and can afford to take risks and think critically. The apprehension that may otherwise inhibit the process of learning allows for a more holistic education system while also preparing students adequately.

Sure, writing essays and using analysis are great tools for the future, but they should not be the only tools that students come away with after taking an AP class. Sadly, for many current students, that is the case.

Teaching AP testing skills often comes at the expense of teaching real content, and the skills that are taught can be far removed from the students’ actual needs. In order to avoid this, teachers should incorporate more lessons and topics not necessarily included in the curriculum so that students can be more engaged and benefited from these college-level classes.