The Pressures of taking AP Classes

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

Grace Peyrat, Writer

According to the College Board, the average student takes three AP exams during their school career, with many students taking more than that. The promise of college credit is enticing to many students; however, for many, the workload can become overwhelming

Not only is the content challenging and fast-paced, but the assignments, projects and tests for each class can add up when taking multiple classes at a time. The average student has 17.5 hours of homework per week, and when taking honors or advanced courses, the level of difficulty increases and causes more time to be spent studying. 

AP classes, in particular, can have negative effects on students if they are not prepared for them, which include extreme stress over the exam and heightened academic pressure.

At the end of each AP course, it’s expected that students will take the AP Exam, which will give college credit for a passing score of 3, 4, or 5. Scores of 1 or 2 result in a failed exam with no college credit awarded. The idea is that students will take the exam after completing the corresponding class, although self-studying for an exam is also an option. 

It’s expected that the resulting score on an AP exam reflects on the performance of the student in the class; however, there are instances where a student could have a 4.0 in their AP class and get a 1 or 2 on the exam or have a 2.9 in the class and get a 5 on the exam. 

Additionally, each exam costs $100 to take, with many schools not offering to cover the financial cost. With the average student taking three exams over their high school career, that’s $300 spent on test fees. The deposit is non-refundable, so even if the exam is failed, such as the 46% of students who failed the AP US History exam in 2019, the $100 is wasted on a failed test. 

With such high-stakes testing, students are bound to be extremely stressed about the exams. Even if the student receives a passing score, this does not always guarantee credit for the equivalent college course. Only 58% of public colleges and 33% of private colleges accept a score of 3 as college credit, which means that even if the exam has a passing score, no college credit is awarded.

Some would argue that students choose to take these classes, and any stress that is caused by these classes is their own fault. However, for the 69.1% of high school graduates who will attend college in the upcoming fall, the need to take at least a couple of advanced classes is high. Colleges are looking for students who take the most challenging classes available to them, and for over 80% of high schools, AP classes are the most rigorous courses available. 

In order for students to stand out amongst their peers, students may feel obligated to take AP classes if they want to have a chance to be accepted into a university. In order to meet the increasing demands of college applications, many students may feel obligated to sign up for as many AP’s as their schedule allows, which causes overwhelming stress in students who are still, essentially, children.

Academic pressure is used to describe the feeling of competitiveness in students who need to be the best in their classes. As students get older, academic bragging rights transition from who’s able to read at a high school level in 3rd grade to who is able to take the most AP classes at once and who can achieve the highest grades and test scores among their peers. 

With multiple AP classes, extracurriculars, community service and part-time jobs, it is no surprise that 87 percent of students surveyed in 2019 said they had “felt overwhelmed at some point during the school year by everything they had to do.”

A study in 2015 showed that students in AP classes “face much higher levels of stress than their classmates while having fewer support mechanisms within the school.” Most of the time, students who have consistently high grades are not focused on as much compared to those who have consistently low grades, leaving them feeling overwhelmed and overworked. 

While there are many benefits to taking challenging classes, for many students the negatives often take a toll on their mental.