College Planning Specialists

July 21, 2007

A P Coursework Controversy: “Facts and Data vs Critical Thinking Skills”

Filed under: AP Courses,Colleges,High Schools,Preparing for College — deansguide @ 7:20 pm

In the article “A.P. Classes: Are These Courses as Important as Your Guidance Counselor Claims?”, I outlined some of the unforeseen detrimental effects upon a student’s ability to gain entrance into a top flight university. As a result of this report, I was challenged by some authorities for playing the “grades game” and not emphasizing the positive growth factor that A.P. courses bring to a student’s development.

As a follow up to this initial article, I found another perspective from a San Francisco based independent admissions adviser Joanne Levy-Prewitt. Joanne’s experiences and thoughts were outlined in her February 19, 2007 piece for Deseret News of Salt Lake City, Utah.

The questions about A.P. courses abound. Are AP courses “meant to replace college courses and provide college credit?” It seems that these courses are designed to move at a faster pace, cover more materials, and teach much tougher concepts and ideas. But Joanne asks a great question: “. . . is it the goal of advanced coursework to ask students to think deeper and more analytically about the subject?”

In my own experiences the answer to the last question is that students are asked to think deeper and more analytically about the coursework. On the other hand, Joanne’s experiences have been different and bare strong consideration:

“I’ve heard students and parents complain that college-level courses emphasize facts and data, and that ambitious syllabi leave little time to teach critical thinking skills such as reasoning, analyzing, comparing or critiquing. If that’s true, especially in light of Sadler and Tai’s research into AP science classes, other than impressing admissions offices, I wonder about the benefits of AP and IB classes.”

Consequently there are many variables and motivations for taking AP coursework. The positive effects have long been documented. Yet like most things in life, each individual student may have different results. Nothing is uniform. As Mathew L Tabor points out:

. . . any challenge is interpreted differently by each stakeholder in the educational process.”

If you have any questions beyond the comment area, please feel free to contact Dean Guadagni at Thank you!


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