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Big changes in store for AP®

AP is undergoing a comprehensive redesign.
AP is undergoing a comprehensive redesign.
Nancy Griesemer

While proposed changes for the SAT Reasoning Test have received lots of publicity and are being closely monitored by parents, advisers, test prep companies and college-bound students, the College Board’s overhaul of the Advanced Placement (AP) program hasn’t received nearly as much attention.

According to the College Board, “AP is undergoing a comprehensive redesign, revising several subjects per year.”

In fact, some of these revisions are fairly significant insofar as high schools have had to retrain teachers and reconfigure course offerings to conform to redesigned curricula and tests.

And this is no small undertaking. Committees of college faculty members and AP teachers collaborate to design AP courses and exams, approximately 4 million of which were administered to 2.2 million students representing more than 18,000 schools, in May 2013—the most recent numbers currently available.

On its website, the College Board outlines an ongoing five-year plan which began during the 2011-12 school year and will conclude in 2016.

Changes have already been made in most of the popular language offerings including AP French (2011), AP German (2011), AP Latin (2012), and AP Spanish (2012 and 2013). AP Biology (2012) and AP Chemistry (2013) have also undergone significant redesign, including major alterations in curriculum and testing.

But this year, the College Board is being more ambitious than ever. Major revisions are being made to AP Physics B as well as to AP U.S. History (APUSH). In addition, the first of two parts of the AP Capstone™ diploma program—designed to rival the IB diploma—is being phased in at schools in the U.S., Canada, and across the world.

For the record, here is how the College Board describes the important changes to the Advanced Placement program for 2014-15:

Fees. This year the fee for taking a single exam in the U.S., U.S. territories, and Canada will increase to $91 (various discounts are applied by different school districts). The fee will be $121 per exam for schools outside of these areas (with the exception of DodDS schools).

Computer Science A. The GridWorld case study will be replaced by a required lab component consisting of a minimum of 20 hours of hands-on lab experiences. Three new AP Computer Science A labs have been designed and will be offered to teachers for this purpose.

AP Seminar. This fall, AP Seminar will launch at more than 135 participating schools, including two in Maryland and one in Virginia, as part of the new AP Capstone™ program. Students will be asked to examine materials like news stories, research studies, and literary works to develop arguments based on facts and communicate them through the use of various media.

Physics 1: Algebra-Based. AP Physics B is being discontinued and will be replaced by two separate, full-year courses, the first of which is Physics 1. The course covers Newtonian mechanics; work, energy, and power; and mechanical waves and sound. It will also introduce electric circuits. Note that this class is separate from AP Physics C courses, which are meant to be taught as a second-year physics classes and require knowledge of calculus.

Physics 2: Algebra-Based. The second of two year-long replacements for Physics B, this course covers fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, electricity and magnetism, optics, and atomic and nuclear physics.

U.S. History. The new test is designed to relieve the pressure on memorizing dates and events by emphasizing “historical thinking skills.” Students will be asked to respond, in writing, to new short-answer, document-based, and essay questions. Newly designed multiple-choice questions will ask students to use knowledge of content to “analyze and interpret primary and secondary sources.”

Next year, the College Board will be redesigning the AP Art History and AP European History courses for launch in fall 2015.

In the meantime, the College Board currently offers 36 Advanced Placement courses and exams ranging from Art History to World History. More information may be found on the College Board website.