In the course of tutoring we get asked all kinds of questions. We do our best to answer them based on what we’ve read, what we’ve heard from colleges, what we see offered at high schools, and what we hear back from our students. We’re asked to comment on the creativeness of a prom invite. Or club fundraisers. Or how to handle fights with a teammate. Among academic questions, one frequently-asked question sounds roughly like this: “Is it better to get a B in an AP class or an A in a regular class?”
They never like my answer, which is: “It’s better to get an A in an AP class.” AP students are already in the most competitive bracket in the nation. They are routinely among the best, top-ranked students not just at their high schools, but entering as college freshmen. So, the very act of taking an AP class is both an act of bravery and (perhaps) an act of braggadocio. You’re taking the class because you think you belong with the best. And you very well might.
For some students – we all know them – APs aren’t an issue. They sail through the classes seemingly almost without effort. Studying might be optional for them, not just for these classes, but in general. They have the highest grades in the class. They may even be among the nicest people you know. I’m not writing this article for them.
I’m writing it for the student who has to work hard for that A. He/she studies all the time, takes excellent notes, arranges group study sessions, makes flashcards, asks for extra time with the teacher, etc. At some point during the semester his/her stamina may begin to fade. All the activities and sports and “regular time to be a teenager for once” (a phrase one of my students used with me last week to refer to her few weeks in between shows – she’s in theater) may start to take a toll and you may start dipping into “B” territory.
Don’t panic. Do what you need to in order to raise your grades. If it means trimming back on a class that’s less difficult for you: do it. If it means seeking out a tutor – either student peer tutors offered at school or a private tutor – do it. If it means cross-checking with your teacher on what you need to get in order to guarantee an A: do it. The message is: get the A in the AP Class.
Why? I promise it’s not just because of my upbringing and competitive nature that I stress this. It’s because students who are in AP Classes are likelier to apply to elite schools. Elite schools look well on AP exams: and have expectations tied to them.
AP Classes are in themselves a bit of a taste of college. College Admissions counselors know that the amount of material covered, at the depth it is covered, among a competitive pool of students, is unlike most high school level classes. Therefore, if a student can not just survive, but thrive in such an environment, then just maybe he/she will perform well at a university level.
In later articles I will speak about changing attitudes towards AP especially in light of the new much-heralded International Baccalaureate program. But today I just wanted to stress: if you are in one of these classes and you’ve made efforts to improve and you’re in danger of a B – strongly consider – in consultation with your parents and your high school counselor – transferring to a non-AP version of the class. I’m not going to speak to the issues of “quitting” or “finishing what you’ve started,” etc. Examining the fine grains within each particular student and his/her motivations and personality is impossible to do when writing such an issue in a general manner. I’m only offering my advice as someone who has been helping students get into their first-choice schools since 2004: do whatever it takes (within the bounds of morality, of course) to get an A in an AP class.
Stephen Heiner is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.