Advanced Thinking

Kids who take Advanced Placement exams learn how to take Advanced Placement exams, not the material that is supposedly being tested in the fill-in-the-bubble multiple choice sections. The Advanced Placement program, once an indication of college-level academic achievement, has evolved into a near-meaningless series of tests that students across the country and at Phillips Academy have learned how to manipulate. It seems that more and more students take the exams – whether or not they have taken the AP course to prepare – to have more test scores to show to colleges. While fewer and fewer institutions offer course credit for high grades on the exams, many still do consider the taking the tests an indication of a certain level of academic challenge in a student’s high school career. But instead, many students “earn” their grades just as much by purchasing the Princeton Review, Kaplan or Cliff’s Notes version of the material covered on each AP and boning up in the days before. This process of studying with guidebooks in hand is one that makes ample use of testing strategies, such as “POE” (process of elimination) and thinking like the test-taker. These books are designed to help kids score well, without having to put in the work, and, to a large degree, they are effective. We aren’t sure how to stop this cycle of the poor redistribution of our efforts – putting more effort into beating the test, and less into learning the material – but it seems that this issue is just one of many symptoms of the overemphasis on college at Andover. The fact that students are excused from class for the tests and that The Phillipian did not go to press during AP week implies that the exams take precedence over many aspects of our lives. Frankly, we think the time might have been better spent in the newsroom and the classroom. At least in these two places, we know exactly the value of what we’re learning. And, in our classes, “test prep” means preparing for exams that will test our knowledge and analytical thinking, not the number of hours spent poring over Princeton Review books or memorizing test-taking strategies.