Advanced Placement Hurts Just As Much As It Helps

By Mohammad Samra

Morton East High School student Sheila Sanchez discusses her feelings towards the AP program 

Sheila Sanchez, 18, sat in the second-floor gymnasium of Morton East High School as she prepared to take one of her five AP exams for the school year. Classes at Morton East begin at 8 a.m., but Sanchez had to be in the exam room by seven. As she took her seat in one of the cramped desks, she was greeted by the presence of nervousness and tension. She got a healthy amount of sleep the night before, but most of the other students in the gym were sleep-deprived heading into an exam with college credits and a year’s worth of time at stake. After spending an entire school year covering material that’ll be on the exam, students should be able to confidently knock their exams out of the park. So why are passing rates so low?

“I think that some students underperform,” AP United States History teacher Brian White said. “As compared to their performence their entire year of school and then their performence on a three-hour exam, the results don’t exactly correlate.”

White, who’s taught AP for roughly 25 years, witnessed both students who’ve thrived in multiple AP classes and students who have burnt out by the time of AP exams due to the constant struggle to keep up with the workload throughout the year.

“I think it (College Board) tries to accomplish too much and tries to cover too much content, some of which isn’t particularly relevant to the kids so we find ourselves having to cover, cover, cover material rather than have the time to really go in depth,” White said. “If I were in the College Board, I’d go ‘less is more’…I’d cut things out of the curriculum and allow us to go more in depth on fewer items.”

In 2018, 48.2% of AP students who took the AP U.S. History exam failed to earn a three or higher, according to the College Board. About 30% of the students in Mr. White’s classes at Morton East pass the exam with a three or higher, according to White.

2018 exam statistics according to the College Board. A “3” or higher qualifies a student for college credit. Browse the full list of exams and score distributions here.

Edwin Leon, a 20-year-old nursing major at Morton College, dropped out of high school two months before his graduation in 2017. He was introduced to the AP program during his sophomore year when he took AP English as his only AP course.

“I loved AP English…It really challenged me but that one course was the AP course I had so it was very manageable,” Leon said. “It was a lot of work but at the same time it wasn’t too stressful.”

Leon then took an AP Mathematics course and AP Chemistry during his Junior year, and by his Senior year all of his courses were AP courses.

“It was a lot of work, very stressful,” Leon said. “I kind of stopped having a social life after taking so many AP courses…I think the straw that broke the camel’s back was that my grandmother died, and after that I couldn’t follow through with the program anymore.”

After about a year, Leon returned to school obtain his GED. He began courses at Morton College and quickly realized the differences between college courses and AP courses.


Leon has adjusted to a college workload since his return to school, but his experience in AP courses years ago still leaves an implanted fear of failure and paranoia in Leon’s mind that he still carries with him today.


Passing AP exams are extremely helpful both financially and academically for high school students looking to take their education to the next level. Acuminating college credits while in high school through the AP program is extremely valuable, but it is not the only way to save money on tuition or flourish at a college or university.

Jobs that are accessible to college students at companies such as UPS, Bank of America, and Chipotle offer up to $5,250 per calendar year and $25,000 lifetime in tuition assistance. There are also a large amount of different grants and scholarships that can be found and applied for on websites such as Colleges and universities also award grants and scholarships and filing for FAFSA also helps cover costs.

A majority of students are unaware of the different options they have, and since most of their school time is devoted to learning the AP material, it creates a “do or die” scenario and adds loads of pressure to students who are taking already difficult classes or who come from lower level classes due to pressure from a councilor.

“It happens to a lot of my friends,” Sanchez, an Elementary-Education major, said. “Some of them came from Core classes and then all of a sudden they’re put into AP English or AP Lit. and they’re really struggling and they get a “D” in the class and it happens a lot.

Sanchez also notes a difference between teachers who teach Core courses and those who teach AP, claiming that ‘the expectations are different.’

“It depends on the teacher,” Sanchez said. “Today for Senior Ditch Day my AP Literature teacher who has AP for the first two hours said she expected us to be there obviously because we’re AP kids but made a comment saying ‘I don’t expect my Core kids to be here.’…She doesn’t expect her Core kids to care about their education.”

Sanchez trudged through the heavy maroon doors of the gymnasium and out into the annex shortly after noon. Relief and hopelessness rushed over her as she had one less exam to worry about. A weight remained on her shoulders as she has to wait at least a month before knowing if she did well enough to qualify for more college credits.

Sanchez exited the annex and began walking towards her fifth period classroom. Although she was finished with her exam, she still had classes to attend. Drained of energy and deprived of motivation, Sanchez opened up her notes and half-heartedly attempted to study for her next AP exam before the bell rung for her class to begin.

“You can feel the nervousness of other students…sometimes I just give up…I’m very rarely motivated to do a test…It’s really tough handling all of it…I’ve been procrastinating a lot lately so I handle it by crying a lot.” Sanchez said. “Whenever I have free time in school I do some of the work…I just try my best to finish it.”




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