SHERIDAN — Throughout this week and next, students at Sheridan High School are taking Advanced Placement tests, hoping to gain some college credits and save some time and money in their college career.
“AP is kind of a hyper-version of the regular government class,” AP American government teacher Tyson Emborg said. “It goes into more issues and items related to the study of government, so you get much more in-depth.”
AP courses range from French to English and biology to calculus. Students study at an accelerated rate and subjects are thoroughly covered. At the end of the school year, students take a final exam to determine if they have learned enough to receive college credit for the course.
The tests are taken by AP students across the country on the same day, at the same time. Teachers do not know the contents of the test, but have general ideas of what their students need to learn to prepare for the test. For example, the teacher may know that 15 percent of the questions will be related to one subject area and 20 percent related to another subject area. The tests are timed, usually two to three hours in length, with some questions being multiple choice and some being essay-type questions requiring long, detailed answers.
Rather than a pass or fail grade, students receive a score of one to five, with five being the highest. Colleges then look at the score and decide how many college credits it will award for the work. Each college differs in how it awards credit. For instance, Rhonda Bell, AP chemistry teacher, said one college in Bozeman, Mont., awards nine credit hours to students who receive a three on the AP test. However, the University of Wyoming will award no credits for a score of three. Students must score at least a four to begin accumulating college credits.
Many students take not just one AP class, but several, and their reasons for taking the more difficult courses are varied.
“Some may want to get the college credit, some may want to be valedictorian or get into an Ivy League school,” Bell said.
Others just like a challenge.
“It was one of the hardest classes in the school,” junior Morgan Brenneman said about why she wanted to take AP chemistry. “I am also taking AP Spanish and psychology and I have more next year. Sometimes it gets really stressful, but I’ve been able to deal with it.”
“I think most of the students take it for the challenge and to do something different,” Emborg added. “Obviously the college credit factors in, but they are mainly taking it because they enjoy a particular topic and want to be around students with similar interests.”
Emborg said students who want the challenge of advanced classes do not face any prerequisites and can simply sign up for the courses they want to take.
“Our philosophy in the social studies department at the high school level is if you want take it upon yourself to take on the challenge, you are welcome to enroll,” Emborg said. “There is no pre-eligibility requirement. If you would like to take advantage of that free public opportunity you are more than welcome to do it. We encourage all students, that if you are thinking about going to college, take at least one AP class to see what the college class might be like.”
Emborg said in addition to learning more in-depth about subjects, students taking AP courses generally develop the work ethic and study habits that will be critical in college.
Bell echoed this, noting that studies have shown that students who take at least one AP exam in high school are more likely to get a bachelor’s degree.
“I prepare my Chemistry I students so they are ready for AP,” Bell said. “It is pretty intense. It is definitely an upper level thinking process.”
Bell’s 11 students had their AP chemistry test Monday. They will find out in July how they scored.
“It was really difficult but we have done a lot of practices so I knew what we were expecting,” junior Gretchen Dougherty said about the test. “I feel I was as prepared as I could be. It was still hard.”
“You learn a lot about time management and I wanted to take it to fulfill a (college) course,” she added, about why she took the advanced class. “I’m also in three other AP classes. It has been a fun year!”