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The College Conversation: After AP tests, students deserve a break

The Advanced Placement examination season is over for high school students and mid-May marks the start of “free time” in AP classes where, much to the chagrin of some parents, in-class movies and relaxed classroom chatter abounds.

Many AP teachers choose to reward their students’ hard work with a long overdue break in the workload and I, for one, support them wholeheartedly. These kids need a break.

Consider how many hours these students have spent arguing, debating, writing, memorizing and learning college-level curriculum, all the while balancing their life as high school teenagers. Actually, these students have put in three times the amount of seat time when compared to the college equivalent of the same courses. The average 3-credit college course amounts to 45 hours of class time spread over 15 weeks. A high school AP course amounts to almost 150 hours of class time in just more than 30 weeks. Really, as I see it, it’s only fair that these students deserve a break from the grind.

The AP curriculum is college-level. The testing is aligned to what is taught in class and a specific score on the culminating exam might actually earn students college credit.


Parents love this idea because it might save them money if the colleges accept the credits. Teachers may love the AP subject area, but they end up having to cover an enormous amount of material to improve their students’ the pass rate the AP exams.

Students love the idea of taking an AP class, often for no other reason than it will make them more competitive as college applicants. That means the AP classroom often leaves little time for student inquiry and serious reflection.

Meanwhile, in college, there is a designated finals week where students have an abbreviated schedule that allows for significant study time and respite between exams. Some colleges even provide a “dead day” or two where professors are on hand solely for review sessions and extra support before finals.

In our local high schools, students do not get the luxury of any of the above. They even have to miss other classes to take specific AP exams and are still expected to make up the work they’ve missed upon return.


Parents, do you remember what life was like after you put down the pencil and closed that last “blue book” in college? I certainly did not spend the entire weekend following finals with my nose in another textbook like our high school students must do. I think I actually burned my flashcards. So again, I applaud those AP teachers who let their students slide awhile.

While many high schools in other parts of the country are getting ready to close for the summer, our students have about five weeks left of class. I don’t blame the AP teacher who wants to give his students a break from the frantic pace. The unstructured curriculum might allow for more creativity, critical thinking and reflection as students play catch-up in their non-AP classes and get some much-needed rest.

So cut your own child a break. Demonstrate to them that downtime is OK and that you’re proud of the effort they put in their AP classes. Their brains have been on overload so they deserve some time to just goof off and be teenagers.

LISA McLAUGHLIN is the founder and executive director of EDvantage Consulting Inc., an independent college admission counseling firm in South Orange County. Her column runs Sundays. Please send college admissions questions to