Jul 13, 2009

AP Prep

The other day the New York Times ran an article on an Advanced Placement (AP) summer prep program I found very interesting. In a nutshell, the Newark NJ school district received $300,000 in federal grant money to put on an intensive two-week class designed to prepare students for AP classes in the fall. The program joins several others across the country offering a head start on demanding AP curricula.

OK. I can already see eyes rolling and jaws clenching. If you happen to be in the group that strongly disagrees with Jay Mathews on the subject of AP classes and would like nothing better than to take him out to the woodshed for a good thrashing, you’re not going to like what I have to say. If you’re a high school student thinking, “Please don’t do another thing to ruin my summer,” I understand. But, hear me out.

For better or worse, AP is here to stay. In fact, colleges are shifting from using AP scores as de facto admissions criteria (yes they typically sneak a peek) to allowing these scores to be substituted for the usual main attraction from the College Board. For example, NYU now allows specific AP test scores to substitute for the SAT Reasoning Test and/or the two SAT Subject tests previously required for admission. Bryn Mawr College, Hamilton College, Furman University and a growing number of other schools are taking similar steps by adopting “test flexible” policies using AP scores in place of SAT’s or ACT’s.

So, if you’ve signed up for an AP class (particularly as an underclassman) and you know it’s going to be freakin’ hard, why not take a little time to get ahead and prepare during the summer? Why wait until midway through the first quarter to hire an AP Calculus tutor after you’ve flunked the first quiz and you’re totally stressed, when you could start working for an hour or two per week with the same tutor in the months before school starts? Get the book even. Or, why not get try to get course reading packets from school or from another student who took the class last year? So what if it changes a little. Reading source material—any source material—is good for you. If you can get your hands on your high school’s AP English Literature reading list, why not go ahead and start reading those books? Guess what. Some of them are pretty good. And here’s a tip for those who can’t talk anyone into handing over reading lists or other AP materials: the College Board provides course descriptions and sample syllabi. This is a sample AP English Literature reading list from which students might be requested to pick two novels:

Alias Grace, All the King’s Men, All the Pretty Horses, Angle of Repose, Animal Dreams, Atonement, Awakening, Beloved, Brave New World, Catch 22, Einstein’s Dreams, Ethan Frome, Frankenstein, The Grapes of Wrath, The Great Gatsby, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Kite Runner, Lord of the Flies, Montana 1948/Justice, 1984, Obasan, Player Piano, The Poisonwood Bible, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Snow Falling on Cedars, Stones from the River, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Looks great to me! Then again, I was an English major in the last century.

Here are journalists suggested for reading in the AP English Language course:

Roger Angell, Dave Barry, David Brooks, Maureen Dowd, Elizabeth Drew, Nora Ephron, M. F. K. Fisher, Frances Fitzgerald, Janet Flanner (GenĂȘt), Thomas L. Friedman, Ellen Goodman, David Halberstam, John Hersey, Paul Krugman, Alex Kuczynski, Andy Logan, John McPhee, H. L. Mencken, Jessica Mitford, Jan Morris, Donald M. Murray, Susan Orlean, Rick Reilly, David Remnick, Red Smith, Lincoln Steffens, Paul Theroux, Calvin Trillin, Cynthia Tucker, Tom Wolfe

Virtually every one of these writers has been published at one time or other in the New Yorker magazine. Remember what I have been saying about reading in preparation for the SAT?

Look, I know you want to unwind and relax during your summer vacation. But if you can read and get ahead on work in a less stressful mode with your toes in the sand, why not?

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