Each year over 2 million high school students take over 4 million Advanced Placement (AP) tests in an attempt to earn college credit. The number of AP students in the United States is growing each year, but a new study from Utah Valley University questions the usefulness of AP courses for students who don't take AP tests.
"There seem to be no academic benefits to students taking AP classes, unless they prepare for and take the corresponding AP test," says Dr. Russell T. Warne, the leader of the research group. "Some people believe that all students would learn more if they took AP courses, but our study shows that merely sitting in an AP course does not help students academically."
The article, 'The Impact of Participation in the Advanced Placement Program on Students' College Admissions Test Scores' by Russell T. Warne, Ross Larsen, Braydon Anderson, and Alyce J. Odasso was part of Utah Valley University's engaged learning initiative to provide undergraduate students with learning experiences in their major. The Journal of Educational Research published the study, which is freely available online to anyone as an open access article.
The researchers divided high school students into four groups. One group of students had never taken an AP course. The other three groups were students enrolled in AP courses: students who had never taken their course's AP test, students who took the test but didn't pass it, and students who took the test and passed it. After controlling for over 70 variables, the researchers found that the non-AP students and the AP students who never took the AP test obtained equal scores on the ACT. Instead, students who took the AP tests earned higher ACT scores -- especially if they also passed their course's AP test. The ACT is a college admissions test like the SAT that measures what students learned in high school.
"Students who didn't pass the AP test scored about .25 to .50 points higher on the ACT than non-AP students. The students who passed the AP exam scored an additional 1 to 2.8 points higher," Warne explained. "That may not sound like a lot, but with a grading scale ranging from 1 to 36, a 1- or 2-point boost for some students can mean the difference between getting accepted by their dream college and attending somewhere else."
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