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  • Julia Lin and Alice Chen

The Cost of APs

With May approaching faster than we would all like, the dreaded A.P. exams loom closer and closer above our heads. By now, we have all paid or are about to pay our exam fees, and one glance at the check reveals the exact cost of taking these “Advanced Placement” classes.

While the classes themselves are free, all A.P. students must pay fees to take the exam, and the price of these exams may come as a shock to most. Ranging from $87 to $150, these exams aren’t exactly inexpensive, but exactly why are families spending hundreds of dollars on these exams? And where does this money go?

Although the price for these tests may seem unwarranted for at first glance, it may make more sense when one steps back to take a look at the bigger picture. The development of A.P. exams is a difficult and pricey process. Because many students take A.P. classes for college credit, the exam and rubric must be difficult enough to ensure that only the few truly qualified people score a 5, but not overly difficult at the same time. Thus, the questions must be tailored to the perfect difficulty level, while also being unambiguous and having one, and only one, answer.

Additionally, while the multiple choice questions can easily be graded by a scantron, A.P. tests have written portions that must be graded as well. Graders from all over the country must be trained to grade these written responses the exact same for every test to ensure fair grading for all test takers, and their travel expenses must be covered in the grading period. Schools may even charge extra fees to cover the proctoring and administration fees. Some A.P. classes, like the A.P. Capstone program, have an even higher fee, presumably due to the extra material, such as the presentations and research papers, to grade.

From another standpoint, students are ultimately paying to benefit themselves. A study released in 2014 by the College Board reported that the number of students taking Advanced Placement classes has doubled since 2003, but why? A.P. courses are advantageous in several ways. For example, the difficulty of the classes help prepare students for the courses they will take in college. Furthermore, college admissions officers see students who take A.P. classes as individuals who are willing to challenge themselves intellectually, and are therefore more ready to handle a college course load. A.P. classes also allow students to earn college credit, resulting in money saved as they skip introductory level courses. Because receiving college credit also permits students to graduate earlier, even more money may be saved on not only tuition but also living expenses. Additionally, college students who are able to skip the introductory courses have the flexibility to either take other classes they are truly interested in, or accelerate themselves even more.  

However, the cost of A.P.s are more than just monetary. Just like any other stressful scenario, A.P. classes have severe effects on students’ emotional and mental health. Labeled as “college-level”, heavier workloads and higher expectations are characteristic of A.P. classes. The transition from normal, high-school level classes to A.P.s is infamous for being brutal. Students must quickly adjust their studying and time management skills to their new schedules. This transition is even more difficult when schools do not allow any A.P.’s in certain grade levels, as ambitious students may feel pressured to pile on A.P.’s the year after taking none. Some students may feel pressured to maintain their perfect, A+ average from the easier classes of previous years. They push themselves to stay up longer and study harder, but just barely manage an A. Still, this doesn’t deter them from taking even more A.P. classes in the following years. In schools that offer many A.P.s, it’s almost looked down upon to take less than three A.P.s a year. High school is already a stressful experience, and A.P.s only add to the students’ worries.

A.P. exams are around $100 each. This money is used to develop, administer, and grade the tests that cause so much stress, yet provide many benefits to students. A.P. classes are characteristic of high schools all over the country. While students who attend schools that don’t offer as many A.P.s may be less stressed out and have more free time, they don’t get the chance to experience taking multiple college courses in a high school setting like many other students do.

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