AP: Advanced Placement or Ascending Pressure?

Over the last couple years, there has been a rise in underclassmen self-studying for certain AP tests.
The increase in APs in Scarsdale could be bringing more harm than good.
The increase in APs in Scarsdale could be bringing more harm than good.
Maroon Staff

Scarsdale High School does not allow freshmen or sophomores to take AT (Advanced Topic) classes, however, over the last two years, there has been a rise in underclassmen self-studying for certain AP tests. “We’ve seen an increase in the number of ninth-grade students taking Biology, an increase in tenth-grade students taking Biology, Chemistry, World History (and other AP Exams),etc…” Director of Counseling Oren Iosepovici generalized.

Iosepovici believes that a few factors have contributed to this rise such as colleges becoming test-optional and an increased competitive culture surrounding colleges.

Students also agree with these feelings. “To a certain extent, college stress has to be a factor in taking AP exams. I’ve definitely had conversations with friends and peers about how competitive my grade is, especially over grades and college chances. It’s rarely malicious but there definitely can be a sense when you look at other super smart and capable classmates of ‘Oh wow am I doing enough?’” Kate Simpson ’26 shared.

Teachers also share this sentiment. “I think the culture of the college application process has become so much more demanding, stressful, and competitive that students feel incredibly pressured,” Chemistry teacher Anna Buonanno said.

Simpson is a sophomore who took the AP World History exam and the AP Chemistry exam this year. “I took similar classes alongside—Chemistry 513 and ninth and tenth-grade World History—but I definitely had to self-study alongside that. For example, for AP Chem, the 513 course covers maybe 60 percent of the content you need to know,” Simpson said.

AP exam schedule posted outside the library. (Maroon Staff)

Buoanno believes the increase has occurred based on the general decrease in the difficulty of AP exams. “It is much less rigorous and covers so little advanced material, that our 513 course does a pretty good job of preparing students for most of it. The older exam accurately reflected 2 semesters of college-level general chemistry and was much more difficult for students to take without having taken the advanced course,” Buonanno said.

The key requirements for self-studying are time commitment and management. “My advice is don’t procrastinate and try to spread the content out evenly,” Iris Wang ’26 shared. As for resources, the consensus seems to be that Khan Academy, YouTube videos, review books, and College Board materials including past FRQs are the most helpful.

Regarding the reasons behind students’ choice to take an AP exam, three main ones can be extracted. Firstly, many underclassmen choose to take the science AP exam that follows their current science class. “I am taking AP biology in 9th grade which relieves my stress in later years. I’d rather get it over with this year than later,” Eden Hoong ’27 said. Secondly, peer pressure is an influential factor as well. “Once the word gets out that some people are taking AP tests, it pressures others to take it too,” Hoong added. Lastly, college pressure plays a major role in this decision. “For some [APs], I’m taking them because I’m actually interested, but there’s also some that are just for college credit or college application later on,” Wang expressed.

Buonanno believes this rise has occurred with the end of the SAT 2. The SAT 2s were subject-specific standardized tests that students could take to distinguish themselves to colleges. These tests were discontinued in 2021. “The SAT 2 exam was an appropriate exam for students after their first year of a subject,” Buonanno explained.

The counseling department has mixed feelings about this increase in underclassmen taking AP tests. “There’s so much nuance to what makes sense for an individual student, because so many of these decisions are student specific,” Iosepovici shared.

Once the word gets out that some people are taking AP tests, it pressures others to take it too.

— Eden Hoong '27

The consensus among the counseling department is that APs are not necessarily worth the time and effort for most students. Although an AP test might provide value to the students applying to international schools, in most cases, the department does not promote taking extra AP exams. “Taking another AP Exam is not going to necessarily make you a more competitive applicant, especially in my sense that [students are] taking them for the most selective schools, and those students will likely already have demonstrated academic strengths through other parts of their transcript or standardized tests. For the majority of students, adding more standardized (AP) tests to the mix will not help to distinguish them,” Iosepovici shared.

Many students also attribute Scarsdales academic culture to their decisions. “I think Scarsdale is a pretty competitive community, so hearing that others are taking APs might encourage some people to take it as well, whether they like the subject or not,” Wang commented.

The counseling department also understands the effect of Scarsdale’s rigorous environment. “Once it’s out there, I think there’s just sort of like this, oh my goodness, somebody’s taking it, if they take a world history exam or a chemistry exam or a biology exam, they’re going to look better than I will, so I have to do that too,” Iosepovici shared.

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Zoe Winston
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Alina Yang, Feature Editor

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