What should students know before choosing their AP classes?
February 24, 2022
As we dive further into the second semester, most students are beginning to choose which classes they’re taking next year. For some, this includes choosing AP classes.
AP stands for “Advanced Placement,” a program run by College Board. AP classes are designed to be similar to an intro-level college class, and each class should prepare students to take their designated AP exam administered in May.
Long story short, AP classes are a serious matter, so you probably shouldn’t treat choosing AP classes like throwing darts blindfolded. Gain advice from people. You can talk to your counselors, your current teachers, and the AP teachers to see if you would be a good fit. Additionally, speaking to students who have taken the class before can give you a better scope on whether you will be able to handle the class or not.
Fortunately, Rosary also provides an honors class for many subjects in addition to an AP class. Opting for the honors option could be a good way to challenge yourself without taking on the often massive requirement of an AP class. This is helpful if you’re a busy student who will not be able to dedicate the time to an AP class.
To provide some information, I’ve talked to the AP teachers, asking them to give me insight into their respective AP classes.
AP English Language & Composition (Grade Level: 11)
AP Lang focuses on rhetoric and the fundamentals of argument. This class requires a lot of writing, and it would definitely be less of a struggle if you are currently a solid writer with very strong grammar and mechanics skills. You have to write numerous timed in-class essays in preparation for the AP Lang exam in May.
Ms. Barclay ’94, who currently teaches AP Lang, said, “I would recommend AP Lang to a student who really enjoys writing. We write A LOT in this class, so you have to like writing. We also do a heavy amount of timed writing, so your mentality needs to be flexible and resilient.
“I’d also want to make sure a student understands this is not a literature class. If a junior wants to read lit and talk fiction, she should definitely take the Honors English III or English IIII class. AP Lang is mostly a nonfiction class focusing on analysis and argument. We talk politics, philosophy, pop culture, science, etc. It’s really fun, but if debate and analysis aren’t your thing, it can be a long year.”
AP English Literature & Composition (Grade Level: 12)
In AP Lit, students analyze poetry, drama, and fiction in order to hone their critical thinking and writing skills. This is another course that requires you to be adept at writing. If you’re a SparkNotes junkie and haven’t touched a book in years, then this class might be a bit of a struggle for you.
Additionally, understand that AP Lang and AP Lit have significant differences. If you loved AP Lang, that does not necessarily mean you will love AP Lit. While AP Lang focuses more on analyzing the rhetoric of nonfictional works, AP Lit focuses only on analyzing fictional works. Thus, the two require different skill sets.
Mr. Bevins, who started teaching AP Lit during this 2021-2022 school year, said, “AP Lit is for people that genuinely and honestly enjoy reading literature and want to be pushed to write to the highest academic standards. I don’t think the workload in AP Lit is overwhelming, but when it is put together with other classes, it can become a lot.
“Take the class if using literature to map a timeline of human thought and philosophy from ancient Greece to modern-day is interesting to you. Take the class if you enjoy trying to understand why humans think and feel the way they do. Take the class if you want to better understand how important works of literature have influenced modern ideas. Take the class if you want to be pushed to consistently write at a high level. Take the class if you want to be challenged as a reader and a writer.
“I would like kids to know that the point of the class is not to pass an AP exam. The point of the class is to read, discuss, and enjoy as much college-level literature as possible. As a part of this process, we will sharpen our skills of analysis, interpretation, and writing. Passing the AP Lit test at the end of senior year (often when college acceptance has already happened) is a matter of pride and the result of a year of hard work.”
GRAPHIC & VISUAL ARTS DEPARTMENT
AP Studio Art: Drawing and AP Studio Art: 3D Design (Grade Level: 11, 12)
AP Studio Art is a college-level course for students who are seriously interested in the practical experience of art as a medium for investigation and communication. Home assignments, sketchbooks, and work beyond the class period are required throughout the school year. AP Studio Art is not based on a written exam; instead, students submit portfolios. (The two AP courses have different portfolio requirements.) All students are required to participate in the AP Portfolio Assessment in May.
Ms. Christensen, who teaches both these AP classes, said, “Functionally, I treat AP Studio Art: Drawing and AP Studio Art: 3D Design as the same class. The only difference between the two classes is that one involves flat artwork and the other does 3D artwork.
“The student for these classes already has good technical skills: she draws and paints well or has a good understanding of form, volume, and how to deal with gravity. Both classes are about the creative process of exploring an idea like mining a rich gold vein; documenting practice, experimentation, and revision; connecting materials and techniques to ideas; and finally, drawing skills or 3D design skills. An AP Studio Art student wants to show you her process and her workshop, not just the perfect finished work in the gallery.
“The two areas that are most difficult for students are running out of ideas and falling behind on projects. You need to have something to say and be in love with that idea from August until May. The pace is rigorous: a project is due every two weeks for a total of fifteen original works grounded in your guiding idea. An incomplete portfolio can’t be submitted, so you must consider how extracurriculars will affect your time management. You have to love what you’re doing and be on fire to get it all done.”
AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC (Grade Level: 11, 12)
Functions, graphs, limits and continuity, differentiation and applications of the derivative, anti-differentiation, definite integrals and their applications, and the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus are all things you will learn in AP Calc AB. During this course, you will be assigned numerous assignments, homework, projects, quizzes, and tests. It’s definitely not an easy math class, and I would only recommend it to students that are proficient in math and are willing to do the work.
AP Calc BC is roughly equivalent to both first and second semester college calculus courses. It extends the content learned in AB to different types of equations and introduces the topic of sequences and series. The AP course covers topics in differential and integral calculus, including concepts and skills of limits, derivatives, definite integrals, the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus, and series.
Mrs. Davidson, who teaches AP Calc AB and BC, said, “AP Calculus is a class for students who are interested in a career from one of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields. A college major in one of these areas will require Calculus, so it is good preparation for college to take it in high school. To be successful in Calculus, a student would need to be unafraid to ask questions and be willing to spend extra time studying and preparing. Just ask some of the current Calculus students how much extra work they are putting into the class!
“It also helps to be consistently accurate with anything related to Algebra. Most of the mistakes I see aren’t because the students don’t know how to do the Calculus, but because they don’t know an Algebra skill like factoring or identifying a transformation. One other area that I see students struggle with is how theorems are used. You have to really understand what the conditions are and all the implications of what the theorem means to be able to use it appropriately and in the context of the problem.
“When it comes to deciding whether or not to take an AP Calculus class, I would like for the students to spend some time of open honesty with themselves and their Pre-Calculus teacher. Does their Pre-Calculus teacher believe they can be successful in AP Calculus? Do you truly enjoy math and like it when the class gets difficult? Do you see yourself going to college as a STEM major? Then taking AP Calculus is a good recommendation.
“However, if the only reason for taking AP Calculus is because it will look good on college applications and the student isn’t sure what their college major would be, then perhaps they should consider a different class. I have heard from several students that AP Calculus is the next class so they had to take it, but that is not correct. Rosary has several options, including a Calculus class that is not AP, as well as Statistics classes (both AP and not AP) that could be a much better fit as a fourth year math class.”
AP Statistics (Grade Level: 11, 12)
AP Stats includes exploring data, describing patterns, sampling, experimentation, probability, and statistical inference. AP Statistics is an activity-based course in which students are engaged in constructing their own knowledge.
Mrs. Rocha, our AP Stats teacher, said, “If you are a student who has ever thought ‘When am I going to use this?’ AP Statistics may be the class for you! It is a very application-heavy course, but it is brimming with examples from the real world. Statistics is used by more people than any other field of math as it pertains to a variety of other courses.
“If you are not a fan of reading and explaining your thought process, this may not be the class for you. At times the class can feel like another English course with the amount of reading comprehension and written explanation that is required. Many of the questions are formatted like a word problem with a set procedure that is required to solve it. The ‘math’ involves a lot of algebra skills, but we do use our graphing calculator and have to navigate reading some large data tables throughout the course as well. Additionally, each chapter is only two to three sections, so we move rather quickly through the content during the year.
“The course is very demanding in regards to the workload. We take quizzes after every section modeled after free-response questions, and tests are in the same format as the exam with 50% of the score being multiple choice and 50% of the score for the free-response. With that being said, we try to get as much practice as possible so that we feel ready to handle the time constraints on solving these problems. Additionally, students complete case studies for each of the chapters to practice putting their knowledge to the test in a new setting.
“The class is a full-year course for something that is typically covered in one semester in college, so there is a lot more time to ask questions and work to understand the concepts. You will be very prepared for taking or even helping your friends with statistics when you reach college. It may also broaden your horizons on how powerful mathematics can be. By the end of the year, you’ll be constructing confidence intervals and performing significance tests, which provide great insight into a number of interesting questions we may have about the world around us.
“Statistics allows students to learn about collecting, analyzing and drawing conclusions from data. If you are interested in seeing how math connects to applications of marketing, agriculture, criminal justice, environmental studies, and so much more, this could be the class for you–just be prepared to put in the work!”
AP Computer Science Principles (Grade Level: 10, 11, 12)
In AP Comp Sci, you learn the basics of coding. AP Comp Sci provides a broad, inspiring overview of computer science and programming logic. Computational thinking is an increasingly important part of all fields of study. Students in AP Comp Sci explore the global effects of “big data” and learn the logic and methods used in standard programming languages. By the end of this course, students are able to identify ways to responsibly apply computer technology and create applications.
Mr. Gangler, our current AP Comp Sci teacher, offered insight into the class: “AP Computer Science Principles is a good introductory class for students that are interested in working with computers, but it also provides a useful exposure to technology for students that are entering other fields like business, science, or the arts. Computers are used daily in just about every job today, and it is very valuable to have some insight into how computers think and speak.
“There is a lot of problem-solving involved with the coding, and even though we have fun with it, it can be a little overwhelming for some students. The biggest struggle is for students to persevere through coding issues and avoid giving up if something is not working the way they had intended.”
AP Biology (Grade Level: 10, 11, 12)
AP Bio is an introductory college-level biology course. Students explore topics like evolution, energetics, information storage and transfer, and system interactions. In this class, it’s definitely important to pay attention to your lectures.
Mrs. Hunt, who is the Science Department Chair and the AP Bio teacher, gave advice on taking AP science level courses in general: “First, I would say to look at taking an AP level science course if you are interested in science! It makes the course much more enjoyable and easier if you have a good interest in the subject! All AP science courses are taught following the college board curriculum and are very advanced courses for those interested in science!”
She continued on to speak about AP Bio, saying, “AP Biology is a rigorous college level Biology course that is more conceptual than fact-based (translation… not as much memorizing as the first time around in Honors Biology). It brings together everything you learned in Honors Biology and shows how the many concepts you learned work together to support the many themes of Biology (such as “energy transfers” and “form fits function”). It has a good amount of reading and writing involved. We read a lot of upper level science articles in our case studies. We do a fair amount of labs to demonstrate and apply concepts we’ve learned in order to understand them more completely. I like to say it is a year of difficult fun!”
AP Chemistry (Grade Level: 11, 12)
AP Chem is a college-level chemistry course. It covers a vast amount of material. Students undertake a thorough study of a college level chemistry textbook, conduct numerous laboratory experiments, prepare written laboratory reports, and write brief papers summarizing scientific articles. The course covers structure and states of matter, reactions, including equilibrium, kinetics, and thermodynamics. The course also includes descriptive chemistry and introductory organic chemistry.
Mrs. Hunt, who also teaches AP Chem, said, “AP Chemistry is also a rigorous college level Chemistry course. It is an extension of Honors Chemistry in that we revisit a lot of the information learned at that level and continue to add more new concepts as we go along. It is a physical science, so it is more math based than reading and writing, but there are free response questions in the course, and you will need to be able to express your thoughts in words as well as math to back them up. There is lots of fun to be had if you enjoy Chemistry, and the labs are at a college level as well… we aim to get about 18-20 labs done during the course of the year!”
AP Physics I (Grade Level: 11, 12)
AP Physics is an algebra-based, introductory college-level physics course that explores topics of classical physics. Topics include kinematics, dynamics, Newton’s Laws, circular motion, Universal Law of Gravitation, simple harmonic motion, linear momentum, work energy, conservation of energy, rotational motion, electric charge, electric force, circuits, and mechanical waves. Being heavily math-oriented and conceptual, AP Physics is probably one of the harder AP classes. The AP Physics exam tends to have a low pass rate nationally, so you have to be prepared to put the work in if you want to exceed. AP Physics is no joke, and it’s definitely a step up from Honors Physics.
Mr. Guerrero, our new AP Physics teacher, said, “I would recommend AP Physics to a student who is planning on majoring in a STEM field. The biggest struggle in AP Physics is the application of the concepts to different types of problems. I would like students to know that they need strong math skills in order to be successful in the class. Students should take the class if they are curious about how nature works and they want an academic challenge.”
AP Environmental Science (Grade Level: 11, 12)
The goal of the AP Environmental Science (APES) course is to provide students with the scientific principles, concepts, and methodologies required to understand the interrelationships of the natural world, to identify and analyze environmental problems both natural and human-made, to evaluate the relative risks associated with these problems, and to examine alternative solutions for resolving and/or preventing them.
Mrs. Gallegos, who teaches APES, said, “I would recommend AP Environmental Science for students who have an interest in learning about the various ways we contribute to our global footprint both at the level of the individual and as a country, and for those who wish to learn new ways to lessen their impact on the environment. As students learn about our influence on ecosystems and other global commons, they will have the opportunity to present alternative solutions to the traditional processes that detrimentally affect the environment (ex: farming, mining, use of combustion-based machinery.)
“Lastly, I would also recommend this course to those who have an interest in taking on an applied science course. You do not be a scientist to apply the information and skills learned in this course! You could apply many of the concepts learned in this course in your everyday life.
“I wouldn’t recommend the course to any student who avoids reading, doesn’t put the effort into their writing, and refuses to attempt applied math-based word problems. But more importantly, I wouldn’t recommend the course to anyone who has no interest in identifying factors that contribute to our global footprint and potential solutions to lessen it.
“One of the biggest challenges of the course is receiving an A/B on exams… Unfortunately, many students believe because the content in the lessons may not be difficult to understand, the exams will reflect the same rigor. This has been a general understanding among APES students across the country, which may explain why the passing rate of the official AP Environmental Science exam is so low. The exams I give in this course require students to think critically, make connections between multiple concepts, and analyze graphs and data sets quickly. The content covered in the course is mostly new information not taught in prior courses and requires students to remember many details. In addition, environmental science is interdisciplinary, which includes learning about chemistry, physics, biology, geology, mathematics, ethics, sociology, and more.
“Beyond challenging themselves by taking an advanced placement science course, students should consider taking the AP Environmental Science course to become aware of how past generations and those from today impact the environment, and how we could address these issues so that we may all continue to benefit from the support systems and services the environment offers for years to come.”
SOCIAL STUDIES DEPARTMENT
AP US History (Grade Level: 11)
This is a college-level course in American History that allows students to investigate significant events, individuals, developments, and processes across nine historical periods from approximately 1491 to the present. Students develop and use the same skills and methods employed by historians: analyzing primary and secondary sources; developing historical arguments; making historical connections; and utilizing reasoning about comparison, causation, and continuity and change—skills important to successful college study.
Mrs. Jenkins, our APUSH teacher, said, “AP U.S. History is recommended for students who have a heightened level of interest in U.S. History and are motivated to learn college-level historical thinking skills. Since this is a face-paced, reading-intensive course, students who wish to join the class should be accustomed to close reading of lengthy chapters.
“People should take the class if they enjoy history and also want to be challenged. People shouldn’t take the class if they are used to skimming when reading, or if they are used to using resources that do reading for them like Sparknotes, etc.”
AP US Government & Politics (Grade Level: 12)
This course is designed to provide students with a critical perspective on politics and government in the United States. This is a relatively enlightening class; you learn more about our government and the history of how the US government even came to be. The class also discusses various Supreme Court cases from the past and touches on relevant political issues.
Mrs. Ward, the AP Gov teacher, said, “Application of content is the most difficult skill for AP Government. For AP Government I would recommend it to students who are interested in spending more time learning about the government and how it works.”
AP European History (Grade Level: 10, 11, 12)
The study of European history since 1450 introduces students to cultural, economic, political, and social developments that played a fundamental role in shaping the world in which they live. In addition to providing a basic narrative of events and movements, the goals of AP European History are to develop (a) an understanding of some of the principal themes in modern European history, (b) an ability to analyze historical evidence and historical interpretation, and (c) an ability to express historical understanding in writing. AP Euro tends to be one of the first AP classes that most students take.
Dr. Villaseñor (Dr. V), the AP Euro teacher, stated, “For AP Euro, I would recommend it to anyone who has a passion for history and just learning, in general. It is typically sophomores that take the class, so it is most students’ first AP class. I think it’s a good transition into AP-level classes because the workload is steady, but not excessive, in my opinion.
“Even though the textbook edition is specifically for AP students, it can be a bit dense at times. So you do need to put the time in doing the reading and taking notes. The AP Euro exam also involves a lot of writing, including short answer questions and essays, so be prepared to write a lot; however, the style of writing is completely different than what students have previously learned in their English classes. It’s much more about getting to the point and spitting facts.
“We do lots of fun interactive group activities, so it’s definitely not all lecture and sitting still. The goal is for students to enjoy learning and retain the info for longer than just the school year and, hopefully, see connections across time periods and within our contemporary society as well.”
AP Psychology (Grade Level: 10, 11, 12)
AP Psych studies the general field of psychology and its application to real-life situations. It is a very interesting course; As you learn more about psychological motivations, you learn more about why humans do what they do, and maybe even why you do what do. However, although the material is interesting, the tests can be difficult because the questions test you on application of concepts rather than pure memorization.
Mrs. Ward, who teaches AP Gov and AP Psych, said, “I would recommend AP Psychology to students who have a genuine interest in learning about the human mind and how the brain impacts behavior. I would caution them that it is a huge commitment in terms of reading and studying. Application of content is the most difficult skill for AP Psychology.”
AP Art History (Grade Level: 11, 12)
AP Art History is an intense study of global art, its forms, and interpretations that attempts to place artistic works in historical and cultural contexts. Students investigate a cannon of 250 works of art that span diverse artistic traditions from prehistory to the present, developing a holistic understanding of the history of art from a global perspective.
Ms. Christensen, the current AP Art History teacher, stated, “AP Art History is global in scope and stretches from 25,500 BCE to 2011 CE. We visually analyze the artworks, learn about their purpose, what they communicate to viewers, and the cultural context that they represent.
“I recommend APAH to a student who is intensely curious about the world and the different ways people have lived, thought, and perceived the world in which they lived. A student who writes well and can clearly articulate her ideas and support them with specific facts is a good candidate for the class. I wouldn’t recommend the class to someone who struggles with connecting ideas, or who is tempted to rely on lectures over reading. You really have to want to know more and go find it!”
WORLD LANGUAGES DEPARTMENT
AP Spanish Language (Grade Level: 11, 12)
AP Spanish Language is an advanced Spanish course with emphasis on composition as well as vocabulary building and linguistic accuracy. Students improve their proficiency through a variety of means, including exclusive use of Spanish in the classroom, listening comprehension activities, and grammar review. The history and culture of Spain, as well as Hispanic literature, provide the basis for discussion and original compositions.
Señora Kam, the AP Spanish teacher, shared, “There are many choices to be able to continue and study Spanish without having to take the AP class. A lot of it is weighing your class load and seeing what other classes you have, so I would recommend this class to students who can manage their time well. You must also be a good critical reader with good analytical skills.
“If you are not a good student, I do not recommend this class because it is very demanding. The biggest struggle for heritage learners, which are those who have been speaking Spanish in any way in their households, is writing. The non-native speakers, however, typically struggle in listening and speaking. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from taking the class, but because of the workload, you would have to work hard to get a good grade.
“The biggest struggle depends on the student, really. This class has a heavy workload, so keeping up with the work and being diligent could be a struggle, just like in any advanced class. The work is also time-consuming and demanding, so commitment would also be difficult.
“Spanish is such an advantage in the workplace. If you know Spanish, you would have an advantage over other candidates in a job application. Many people also want to learn Spanish so that they can speak to their family members, so there are also personal reasons, which are all good reasons to take AP Spanish.”
“This class is very challenging, but it’s worth the effort. When you learn another language, it opens up worlds to you that you wouldn’t have, and I think that’s really valuable.”
AP French Language (Grade Level: 11, 12)
AP French Language is an advanced French course with emphasis on composition as well as vocabulary building and linguistic accuracy. Students improve their proficiency through a variety of means, including exclusive use of French in the classroom, listening comprehension activities, and grammar review. Cultural and literary readings provide the basis for discussion and original compositions.
Dr. V, who teaches both AP Euro and AP French, said, “For AP French, it is open to any student that took Honors French 3 and wants to keep learning. It’s a different textbook than levels 1-3 and involves much more speaking, writing, listening, and cultural activities. There’s no new grammar–it is review from the previous three years. The class has a heavier homework load than levels 1-3, but there are many more cultural activities and not just ‘drill and kill’ grammar/vocabulary repetition.
“Students learn about French/Francophone fashion, architecture, art, etc. The French AP exam is no joke, but the students prepare all year for it, and hopefully go in feeling pretty confident. I would say that you should take the class if you are passionate about French and Francophone culture and/or want to study abroad in college and/or want to continue taking French in college. If you have a hard time meeting deadlines and completing your work on time, then it might be a challenge for you. There is a steady flow of homework and, if you fall behind, it can be a bit daunting to catch up. Self-pacing and time management are very important for this class.”
And that was a little more on the 19 AP classes that Rosary currently offers. Hopefully, this article offered a little help on choosing which AP classes are right for you! If you’re still unsure, talk more with your teachers and upperclassmen. And feel free to go to your counselors for help!