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Why Self Study at All?

medianstudentmedianstudent Registered User Posts: 36 New Member
edited January 2014 in AP Tests Preparation
I see that lots of people around here plan to study for AP exams. May I ask exactly why? The only two reasons that come to mind are:
1. to potentially earn credit for college
2. to potentially impress college admissions officers

I am just curious which factor is generally the prevailing one or if it is something else.

Also, I notice that naturally so, people intend to more often self study for the easier exams. For example, ones like Human Geography come up here more and more often. I also suspect that the vast majority of folks who do this sort of self-studying are ending up in our most elite universities, some of which may be less likely to award credit for some of these easier exams, and nothing short of a 5 when they do.

The only financial consideration that would make sense to me is someone who is very intelligent but is intending to go to their state school solely to save money (like a UC, a UT ...). Then I can imagine the APs getting accepted more readily and potentially securing sophomore standings upon entering.

From an admissions perspective, given that AP exam scores are self-reported in the college admissions process, do they hold much weight? And in particular, don't admissions officers know which exams are easier and thereby value them less?

I'm not trying to be a nay-sayer. I'm just curious what the rationale is. It strikes me like it could be a large time investment, potentially at the expense of studying for classes that make up your GPA, SAT and SAT subject tests, or substantial extracurricular involvement, any of which I'd imagine would hold notably more weight in the admissions process than a self-studied AP. Of course, if you've already nailed your standardized tests, are breezing through school, and are coasting through an Intel research project, for example.

I know the following path is rarely advocated, but I can imagine someone enrolled in honors US history or maybe honors biology self-studying for those exams because there might not be a substantial knowledge or skills gap. I don't have the sense though that is what people here are doing. It seems like on the other hand, people are saying why don't we just crack open Art History books from scratch to prepare for the Art History AP (or substitute another AP here for which the student is not enrolled in the honors level class and the AP is considered one of the easier exams).
Post edited by medianstudent on

Replies to: Why Self Study at All?

  • energizeenergize Registered User Posts: 964 Member
    I can really only answer for myself, while guessing at others' trains of thought.

    Background: I self-studied for eight AP exams (Bio, Calc BC, CS A, English Lang, Physics B and C, Psych) throughout my high school career and did OK on them.
    The only two reasons that come to mind are:
    1. to potentially earn credit for college
    2. to potentially impress college admissions officers

    I am just curious which factor is generally the prevailing one or if it is something else.

    Both were important to me; there was also the possibility of showing interest in a subject by going beyond your classes to study it. (Personally, I got tired of waiting to take physics and calculus, so I studied them on my own.)
    Also, I notice that naturally so, people intend to more often self study for the easier exams. For example, ones like Human Geography come up here more and more often. I also suspect that the vast majority of folks who do this sort of self-studying are ending up in our most elite universities, some of which may be less likely to award credit for some of these easier exams, and nothing short of a 5 when they do.

    The only financial consideration that would make sense to me is someone who is very intelligent but is intending to go to their state school solely to save money (like a UC, a UT ...). Then I can imagine the APs getting accepted more readily and potentially securing sophomore standings upon entering.

    From an admissions perspective, given that AP exam scores are self-reported in the college admissions process, do they hold much weight? And in particular, don't admissions officers know which exams are easier and thereby value them less?

    I agree for the most part. It's rather silly to self-study for an AP exam if you're not particularly interested, you probably won't get credit, and it's not regarded as one of the more... "solid" exams (all three of which are likely to apply to Human Geo, for example). Even if some of these conditions don't hold, it's still probably a better use of your time to focus more deeply on something rather than just trying to take the AP exam for it (e.g. study for the physics olympiad rather than just for the AP exam), or get more involved in some other extracurricular activity.

    However, the financial and time investment may be small enough (if, say, your school pays for AP exams and/or it's an easier exam) that taking it might seem like a better idea than not doing so -- anything to boost your chances, right? This line of reasoning seems plausible. Alas, the benefit is probably miniscule for AP exams that meet the conditions above.
    I know the following path is rarely advocated, but I can imagine someone enrolled in honors US history or maybe honors biology self-studying for those exams because there might not be a substantial knowledge or skills gap. I don't have the sense though that is what people here are doing. It seems like on the other hand, people are saying why don't we just crack open Art History books from scratch to prepare for the Art History AP (or substitute another AP here for which the student is not enrolled in the honors level class and the AP is considered one of the easier exams).

    AP classes are common enough (as opposed to honors classes that cover similar material) that the above probably doesn't happen as much as a result. But along the lines of what you suggested, there are a nontrivial number of cases around here where people study for Calc BC while taking AB or Physics C while taking B, and that sort of thing.

    (I thought Art History was supposed to be one of the harder AP exams, though I didn't take it...)
  • davenmamedavenmame Registered User Posts: 376 Member
    My son has self-studied several AP classes for yet another reason. He is homeschooled and an AP score gives validity to a grade that I give him for a course. That being said, courses like AP chemistry he took online and would never have done as well as he did had he self studied for that course.

    Another reason self studying for some courses you touched on a little bit, but I want to extend that thought. Self studying when going to a state school has another advantage. At our state school, first choice for housing and course registering is determined by how many credits a student has. Freshman coming into the school with lots of AP credits get first choice of housing AND of the better teachers.
  • IxnayBobIxnayBob Registered User Posts: 4,371 Senior Member
    A third benefit is to place out of intro courses. Why take a class if you already know the subject matter, regardless of credit?
  • medianstudentmedianstudent Registered User Posts: 36 New Member
    Thank you everybody for your responses! IxnayBob: I meant the same thing when I said college credit, my apologies. Either placement or credit: college curriculum advancement one way or the other.

    Davenmame: yes home-schooling is an excellent reason. In general, a situation in which a student does not have direct access to any or most AP classes at their school, that would make sense, and particularly home schooling for the reasons you list. Yes, I do concede that there can be many benefits at state schools like some of the ones you described.

    energize thank you so much for your perspective. My situation might be somewhat similar to yours. Basically, my school offers many AP classes, but the two that I'd want to take AP Latin and AP Economics are not offered. I will be taking my school's last year of Latin as a junior this year and it only offers a non-AP economics class. I am also kind of kicking myself in the head (is that the saying?) for not taking AP US this year while I'm studying for the SAT 2 subject test in it.

    Basically my priority is that I want to get good SAT and SAT subject test scores so that is my current priority for self-study. I also want to keep my grades up. And lastly, I will also likely work on a research project for next year's Intel competition. I'm not sure if it's realistic for me to self-study for an AP exam until next May, my senior year, after which point I'd already be admitted into college.

    I just didn't know if I should really push myself to try and do either US, Econ, or Latin this year when I'm not sure it's realistic for me. Or, whether I should try and plan something with my school for next year to see if I can get some sort of independent study credits simply because they offer like every other AP class under the sun except Econ and Latin and those are the 2 that interest me the most.

    But if colleges are really impressed I was thinking maybe I could push myself for this year? I don't know. I just didn't know if I'd be doing it entirely for my self-edification and college placement/credits, or whether it might actually boost me in admissions, which I shamelessly see as a valid additional source of motivation.

    Of course I cannot predict college admissions, but I'm not terribly concerned about the financial benefits of an AP exam. I know I should not say that type of thing. I am also planning on applying almost exclusively to private schools, and am ok if I don't place out of much. Latin is my best and favorite subject in school so I'm kinda bummed out that I can't take it next year. And I wish I could take AP econ and so something a bit more hard core there. But also I don't really want to push myself too much if it won't make a difference in college admissions because I don't want it to come at the expense of SAT studying, GPA studying, or Intel time.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
  • Almondjoy7Almondjoy7 Registered User Posts: 323 Member
    Giving this a bump, because I'm pretty curious as well. For those of you are that are self-studying: why? Is it because your school doesn't offer APs? Or is it the financial benefit? My school offers a good amount of APs, but not all of them, so I'm curious if I should self-study for any.

    Thoughts?
This discussion has been closed.