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Why do so many people fail AP exams?

chaosakitachaosakita Posts: 1,439Registered User Senior Member
edited July 2012 in Parents Forum
Today I just took the AP Statistics exam, where you have to get about 60% of the total points in order to get a 5 on it. I thought that was very absurd that they set the bar that low, since the test turned out to be easier than any of the tests I took throughout the year. I also heard that AP Stat is one of the easier AP exams to study for. With a bar that low, I thought that everybody would be able to get a 5. But surprisingly, it turns out that only 12% of the people who took it last year did. On the other hand, over 40% of the people taking the test failed. I'm not sure how low you have to score to get a 1 or a 2, but I know it's definitely a very, very low number.

But it's not like AP Statistics is an anomaly. I think that Last year, over 900k high schoolers graduated taking at least one AP exam. Those would be about the top 25% of high school graduates. But about 40% of them did not score a 3 on a single one. That's about $2.5 million worth of tests right there.

Despite the fact that AP tests are supposed to be a mark of rigor, I personally have never found most of them to be exceptionally thought-provoking. I've been able to pass all seven I've taken, including physics, which I didn't feel like I knew anything about. I know my success definitely hasn't been from hard work - I've barely studied for any of them, and I think the general easiness of the AP tests have lulled me into a false sense of security and encouraged sloppy studying skills for me. '

I'm not blaming the students for having such a low passage rate. Not everyone is lucky enough to have good test taking skills and supportive teachers like me. But I think it is a bit worrisome that even the top students seem to lack what has seemed to me as basic academic capability. I know that tests can't measure perfectly, but I feel like if you get a 1 on the AP English Language exam, you would have some significant gaps in your reading and writing skills. And if you fail the US History exam, I'm not sure how you could survive a college course in that subject.

I know that not everyone has to be a scholar. But I don't think having low test scores is really positive for the country either, especially at a time when the world is becoming more competitive and it's just another thing reflecting on the poor state of education in the US as a whole. But whose fault is it when so many students feel the need to take a $80 test but end up getting nothing out of it?
Post edited by chaosakita on
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Replies to: Why do so many people fail AP exams?

  • MomofWildChildMomofWildChild Posts: 17,078Registered User Senior Member
    I think my son (Penn '10) got a 2 on the AP Stat exam. He had a horrible teacher and she didn't teach to the test. She was a first year teacher and didn't get hired back. His classmate (Penn '11) got a 1. They didn't really care since it didn't matter for anything.

    I think many students find the AP exams challenging and not every teacher teaches to the exam. Many schools refuse to do so, in fact, and it can be hard to be prepared for the particular exam even if you are pretty good at the subject matter.
  • xmsamuraixmsamurai Posts: 208Registered User Junior Member
    Kids my age suck.
    I worry about my generation, especially since those who take ap classes are supposed to be "the best and the brightest" /thread
  • HannaHanna Posts: 11,415Registered User Senior Member
    I think this is a great illustration of educational inequality in this country. You are learning exactly the right lesson from it: there are a lot of crummy schools in this country, there are a lot of crummy individual teachers even at good schools, and there are even good teachers with crummy preparation/support for teaching this AP subject. There are also parents who intentionally or unintentionally undermine/fail to support their kids' academic work.

    "I'm not blaming the students for having such a low passage rate."

    There are plenty of students who get low scores because of their own choices rather than poor preparation or bad guidance. Some don't want to put in the effort. For others, the timing of the test makes it feel futile. A lot of kids take AP stats senior year, and a huge number of college-bound seniors have already gotten into their school of choice by the time they're taking the AP test. (Remember, most college students go to an in-state public school with rolling admissions.)
  • War ChantWar Chant Posts: 2,341Registered User Senior Member
    I'd like to add that not everyone has to pay for their own exam, the district I came from paid for everyone's tests no matter the number. Chances are that if you have to pay $80 for a test you will take it more seriously than if you do not.
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Posts: 36,773Registered User Senior Member
    Could be self-selection, since AP statistics appears to be often the choice of students who are "not that good at math" but need or want to take another high school math course beyond algebra 2 "to show rigor in well rounded high school course work" but do not want to take something "hard" like precalculus or calculus. AP calculus BC is considered to be a much more rigorous course and test, but has a relatively high rate of 5 scores, presumably due to the opposite self-selection in that the top students in math tend to choose it.

    AP statistics is generally regarded as an "AP lite" course, since it is typically seen as being equivalent to a one semester basic introductory statistics course for social studies majors (as opposed to a more rigorous calculus-based course for statistics or engineering majors).
  • yoamogatosyoamogatos Posts: 297Registered User Junior Member
    The advanced STEM students at our school take AP Stats as sophomores. The timing is so that they can end up taking IB Math HL/Calc BC as seniors, since the IB program does not let juniors take HL exams.

    I think the teacher can make a big difference in this sort of class. A lot of regular math teachers aren't necessarily statistics wizzes. There was a great teacher who retired recently, and since then the AP scores for Stats dropped dramatically, even though it's the top 10-15% of students who take the course at our HS.
  • momofthreeboysmomofthreeboys Posts: 11,545Registered User Senior Member
    Teachers make a HUGE difference in K-12. Some kids will fail because they never had the horsepower or the foundation for the class to begin with but a chunk of kids fail because the class was not taught well to begin with. The goal of an AP class is to impart a certain prescribed amount of information and for the class to be able to apply or regurgitate the information. How you get kids to learn what they need to learn and coax them into applying that information is at the very core of teaching...and as a teacher you have to be adroit enough to be variable in your teaching methods dependent on the group you have. To me, teaching is most akin to coaching. It's interesting to see, but as my boys have progressed through our school system I've noticed that the very best teachers end up teaching the handful of AP classes offered. And the results are far above the national averages. They are generally the "older" teachers, also, who have years of experience teaching different groups of kids. The right kids in the right class with the right foundation and the right teacher can do amazing things.
  • toledotoledo Posts: 4,131Registered User Senior Member
    My son is sure he failed the AP Spanish test. To begin with, his teacher isn't the best. During the test, there were several students in the language lab listening to recordings. They were to respond to the recordings. He said the room was total chaos, with one kid singing into the microphone and everyone else laughing or trying to respond with funny phrases. What a waste of all their parents' money! The only good news is that I made him take the CLEP test, so he already has his 3 credits in Spanish.
  • IvygolferIvygolfer Posts: 528Registered User Member
    Well a good portion of the low scores may be seniors. Let's face it getting credits for APs these days is becoming close to impossible. So as a second semester senior they have little to no incentive to put forth their best effort.
  • HiimColeHiimCole Posts: 192Registered User Junior Member
    I lol'd so hard at this post.


    Not everybody cares as much about academics as you do. If you want proof, how many other AP students in your school would go on college confidential and type up several paragraphs talking about how AP classes are too easy?

    None? Weird.


    Also, they aren't going to let everyone pass. Even if everyone did get more than 60% of the answers correct, they would still split up the scores to fit into a bell type curve.
  • happymomof1happymomof1 Posts: 19,378Registered User Senior Member
    There are good instructors and bad instructors at every level from pre-school through PhD. There are well-motivated and not-so-well-motivated students at just about every level too.

    Please remember that the AP exam is designed to determine whether or not a student has mastered a subject at the level of some hypothetical standard first year college course in subject X. This is quite different from taking an actual college course in that subject matter at any one specific community college, four-year college, or university. The final grade in a real intro Stats class at College A may be based on a whole bunch of problem sets, group projects, and a couple of mid-term and partial exams, rather than on one single 2 1/2 hour final that covers all the topics from the whole year.

    Anyone who has taught a class (or just sat through a single course in curriculum and assessment) knows that some people are going to wipe-out on a 2 1/2 hour final because they didn't sleep well, or they didn't eat well, or they panicked, or yes, because they didn't prepare well. Easy to score? Yes. But this kind of exam definitely is not a fool-proof means of determining who does and doesn't know the material.
  • IthacaKidIthacaKid Posts: 324Registered User Junior Member
    Because the exams are scaled so there need to be a certain percentage of failures, 3s, 4s, and 5s. It's like asking why so many can't be in the top 10% of their class.
  • floridadad55floridadad55 Posts: 2,262Registered User Senior Member
    High schools are pushing kids who really aren't academically strong enough to take AP tests to take them anyway.

    These kids have little chance of passing. I think I just saw an article in the newspaper saying that in some school districts, zero kids pass particular AP tests.
  • momofthreeboysmomofthreeboys Posts: 11,545Registered User Senior Member
    High schools are pushing kids who really aren't academically strong enough to take AP tests to take them anyway.

    Yup remember this is the generation where everyone is above average and deserves to get an award.
  • saintfansaintfan Posts: 4,098Registered User Senior Member
    Several things:
    A percentage of seniors who know where they are attending and know that the score won't be accepted all but bail on some exams

    Some schools require that the test be taken to get the weighted grade or not take a separate final. Some of those kids take the test for a different end than the college credit.

    Some colleges only require a 3 for credit, so if you know you are attending one of those schools, the bar is lower and one could pace themselves on effort.

    As mentioned above, AP Stats is a class with a mix of kids who have already taken AP Calc and kids who are avoiding pre-calc or calc

    observation: AP exams are much easier than IB HL exams
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