Teach, Don’t Prep; Learn, Don’t Study

Issue 15, Volume 112

By The Editorial Board 

Classes continue to go on as students pile into the library and gym, and calculate how to fit themselves into the desks that the school provides for them to take their AP exams. Students sweat as they bend over to fill in multiple choice bubbles and write essays in less than an hour. Some exams take five hours to administer instead of the projected three. The experience of taking an AP is a grueling and difficult process, and you might wonder why you spent the entire year preparing (or final few days cramming) for just this one test. What is the value of a class that focuses almost entirely on preparing for the AP?

A class curriculum that is not centered around an exam allows for a more rewarding learning experience. Not adhering to the strict, regimented course description created by the CollegeBoard influences the class environment, since there is more freedom in class discussions, topics, and projects. Since conversations aren’t directly geared toward an AP exam, students and teachers alike can talk about subjects that they are genuinely interested in, which fosters better attitudes in the classroom. It presents the opportunity for the students to form more intimate connections with their teacher; in the classroom, people can exhibit passion and authenticity on a looser topic with a broader scope.

Avoiding gearing the class around preparing for a test also establishes a greater sense of academic independence as students have to take responsibility for their own learning and studying experience. In college, students are expected to prepare for exams on their own terms, guided by professors who tend to focus on teaching tangible content. Focusing on content that extends beyond the AP curriculum and inspiring relevant discussions increases the chances that students will carry over this knowledge to college. While teachers placing the majority of the burden of preparing for the AP exam on students may seem like a negative, it allows students to develop their own work ethic and skills that are essential to their future.

Teaching to the test reduces students’ motivation to learn because it puts the class into the context of the test instead of the test being in the context of the class. Think of it this way: a student may have been excited to take an AP class to learn about the subject, but then question their decision to take it once they realize how AP-exam centric the course is. The emphasis placed on the exam causes students to view completing the exam as a final learning milestone, creating a short-term cycle of learning that becomes ineffective in motivating students to explore that subject in the future. Once the exam finishes, students no longer see the need to retain the information they learned and it becomes forgotten. This is the result of a lack of understanding of the significance of what is being taught.

Without a sense of purpose in their classes, students quickly lose passion for their studies and end up chasing a means to an end. Notorious classes like AP Chemistry and AP Physics leave students burnt out as they struggle to prepare for the rigorous exam, oftentimes losing interest in a subject they thought they had liked. Learning is not enjoyable because hard topics are not perceived as rewarding—classes need to be approached like pieces in a larger puzzle, not as a series of sprints. The beauty of the learning process is destroyed if there is no priority in the process.

So do we just ditch the exam? Truthfully, the AP exam itself is a decent metric of the student’s knowledge on the subject, so it doesn’t need to be abandoned completely—but it should not be the most significant part of taking the class either. Not doing well on an AP exam but feeling like you took away something important from the class is ultimately better than scoring a five but having felt miserable for the whole year.