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Biology: College Credit for AP Exam Grades

Excerpts from the AP Biology Teachers' Discussion Group

Question: "I am curious about the response from students in other schools about the use of AP Biology credit toward exemption from freshman biology at the college of their choice. Several of my AP Biology students surprised me on Friday with the announcement that even if they earn a 4 or 5 on the exam... they still intend to take biology both semesters. They feel it will reinforce their understanding of fundamental concepts, not to mention boost their college GPA, which is really more important than their high school GPA. Does anyone have this sort of discussion in their classrooms?"

Answer 1: "WITHOUT EXCEPTION, past AP students who were forced to take college freshman biology after earning 4's and 5's on the AP Biology Exam told me (a) that, for the most part, they were bored in the course (except for filling a topic or two that we either did not get to or that we covered only superficially) and (b) that the college course went into much less detail than did their course with me in high school. In fact, an alum who is a sophomore at Middlebury College just stopped by the lab this past week. He had earned a 5 on the exam, but Middlebury made him repeat it. Well into the course he told his professor that he had learned just about everything that had been covered so far in his AP Biology course. He earned a high grade in the course without working very hard. He is now a TA as a second-year student -- impressive, I think. Moreover, he told me that he had heard Middlebury was reconsidering its policy. I hope that he had something to do with it. And his story is typical of what my good students who return to visit tell me. Students who took AP Biology and did well in my course and who go to colleges/universities that offer placement tests to their incoming freshmen usually tell me that they placed out of the entire course or, in some cases, two out of three semesters or one out of two semesters of the course."
-- Barbara Beitch, Hamden Hall Country Day School, Hamden, Connecticut. 5/22/99

Answer 2: "I have not been teaching AP long enough to have a big batch of students return to tell me about college, but the students who did score 4's last year and chose to take freshmen college biology (at Rice and UT Austin) said they were bored stiff and didn't learn anything new. Maybe they were just trying to flatter me!"
-- Marcia Sloan, Cleburne High School, Cleburne, Texas. 3/6/00

Answer 3: "Several of my students have also informed me that they plan to take intro biology even if they get credit from the AP Exam. Some of them say that their college of choice will require them to retake the intro biology if they major in biology. At least one of my students (very gifted) plans on getting the credit and going on to the advanced classes immediately. I have told them that in each class, such as genetics, the professor will cover the introductory information anyway (in my experience)."
-- Julie Smiley, Winchester Community High School, Winchester, Indiana. 3/6/00

Answer 4: "I think too often high school science teachers underrate their abilities, myself included. I've had former students (who scored 2's) return who said they did very well in their university class. They just didn't prepare very well for the national test. One of my students who ended up at Brown University said she could have taught the class her freshman year. Someone mentioned this before here: High school students score better than university students on the AP Exam."
-- Dale Morejon, Gilroy High School, Gilroy, California. 3/6/00

Answer 5: "... My long-term experience has been that the great majority of my four or five APB students who were required to take introductory biology in college were bored to tears. Those who were allowed to take 200-level courses without the introductory course were highly successful. Secondly, the College Board did a study a couple of years ago comparing AP Exam-taking students in upper-level college courses with their classmates who had not taken AP classes, but the college's intro course. The AP students did as well and more often did better than the 'homegrown' students in these courses."
-- Fred Brown, Hall High School, retired, West Hartford, Connecticut. 10/16/00

Question: "How many of you all also offer AP Biology for concurrent enrollment with your local college/university? I suspect that the students who sign up for concurrent enrollment may not be as serious about the AP Exam...."

Answer 1: "We have a local state university offering concurrent enrollment for most AP courses. The cost is the same for any college undergraduate enrolled in a three-hour course. Here, it would be about $285 for the tuition alone. While the kids are saving all the extra costs they would incur for being officially enrolled in the university, it is still expensive. They do have credit guaranteed, but it depends upon acceptance into the university. From my perspective, it really depends upon the student as to how seriously they would prepare for the AP Exam. Without concurrent enrollment, they gamble on whether or not their college of choice will accept the course for credit, or for advanced placement in their curriculum. However, with concurrent enrollment, they are gambling mom and dad's money. I guess it depends upon where the greatest source of pressure is -- home or school. In the final analysis, I view it from a sort of 'purist' perspective in that a challenge provided by an AP course will be meaningful for any student, even without an exam score of 4 or 5. What other opportunity offers a taste of the demands of college and a rigorous curriculum some of the less fortunate kids may not ever experience again? A recent study of 15 colleges cooperating with the AP Program compared test scores of college freshmen taking the AP Biology Exam after completing a semester of beginning biology to high school students taking the exam after completing the AP curriculum. The high school kids scored impressively higher than the college freshmen. One of the take-home messages was that you don't have to score a 4 or 5 on the exam to know as much biology as a college freshman completing the first semester of college biology. Obviously, I'm omitting many of the details, but you get my point. I know the emphasized goal is to prepare the kids for the exam in May, however, I hope there is room for emphasis on a first-rate learning experience, as well."
-- Anne Brewer, Mooresville High School, Mooresville, Indiana. 9/29/99

Answer 2: "Dual credit kills AP courses!! In Iowa we have that dual credit stuff and it raises havoc with our AP enrollments. Kids take all sorts of non-AP courses at local colleges and community colleges and get dual credit -- high school as well as college credit -- for it. It has decreased the number of kids taking our AP courses and has virtually killed some of them. One of the high schools in our town doesn't offer AP Biology any longer because of it. The four-year schools around here are now rethinking this thing and some of them are no longer accepting the courses from the community colleges because they simply are not rigorous enough and the kids are not well prepared."
-- Doug Herman, East High School, Sioux City, Iowa. 9/30/99

Question: "Doesn't the College Board sell a software program that is supposed to include this information for most colleges/universities, for most AP courses (what they accept, what they don't)?"

Answer 1: "Yes it does: The College Handbook with College Explorer CD-ROM. You can either call AP Order Services at (609) 771-7243 or order it online through the College Board Online Store."
-- ETS Staff, Princeton, New Jersey. 2/9/00

Answer 2: "We should keep in mind that each college or university sets their own rules and standards as to which course(s) they give credit for, and what AP score they require for that credit. I don't think there is any general rule across the country. Students (or teachers or counselors) should contact the specific college or university they plan to attend and find out what the rules are on that campus. For example, at Texas A&M University (College Station) we have a single two-semester sequence of introductory biology that is taken by everyone, i.e., we do not have separate 'majors' and 'non-majors' courses. An AP score of 4 or 5 earns the student eight hours of credit (includes both lecture and lab), representing that two-semester sequence. We give no credit for a score of 3 or below."
-- C. O. Patterson, Texas A & M University, College Station, Texas. 2/9/00

Question: "What do you say to students who have already been accepted to a college and have been told by the college that even if they get a 5 on the AP Exam they will still be required to take Biology 101 at the college?"

Answer 1: "I remind them that they signed a contract last spring to take the exam and that they are bound to that contract. My reason is that preparing for this exam is still a learning experience; moreover, that knowing that they will have to take it, they are more likely to put in consistent effort right through the course. From years of experience, I know this to be true. Here's my general contract for AP Biology:

I the undersigned acknowledge each of the following points:
  1. I have heard that AP Biology is a very demanding but enjoyable course.
  2. I am ready, willing, and able to meet these challenges.
  3. I understand that attendance is a very important factor in any successful AP course, and I plan to come to each and every class unless I am on death's door or have some other comparable reason.
  4. I know about the required summer reading and am looking forward to reading Jim Watson's The Double Helix. I understand that I will learn a lot about molecular genetics and also about how real science is carried out, 'behind the scenes.' I am aware that this book is included in the English Department's summer reading list.
  5. I have heard that there is a quiz on The Double Helix the first week of school, and I will be ready!
  6. I am aware that AP Biology students LOVE pizza, and I plan to attend as many of the dozen or so evening pizza sessions as possible.
  7. I know what AP is all about, in general, and I think that the idea is great. I also know that if I do well, colleges will be impressed and I will gain a head start in my freshman year. I know that everyone in the course must take the three-hour standardized AP Biology Exam in mid-May, and I am prepared to pay the fee for this exam in April 2000. I know that some colleges will even allow me to place out of first-year Biology, if I do well on the exam.
I require each student to sign the contract.
-- Barbara R. Beitch, Hamden Hall Country Day School, Hamden, Connecticut. 12/19/00

Answer 2: "Maybe I have always had highly motivated students who are serious about doing well on the AP Exam, but I have NEVER experienced students spending $76 to get out of taking my comprehensive final exam. My students go to some excellent colleges, including the Ivy League schools, and they want as many AP credits as possible. If anything, I've had students choose not to take the AP Exam in order to get an 'easy' A in their college biology course. To me, that is more frustrating."
-- Cheryl Hollinger, Central York High School, York, Pennsylvania. 12/27/00

Question: "One of my students came in today and told me that if she goes to a medical school, the medical school will not accept the AP Biology credit, even if it is a 5. The most they will accept is the lecture credit and not the lab credit, so she will have to repeat the class, just to get the lab credit. Does anyone know if this is true?"

Answer 1: "I can't imagine why a medical school is concerned with an introductory biology class, but I do know this. Some schools (undergraduate) will not give a student credit for the lab portion of the course (even if they got a 5 on the exam) unless they can demonstrate that they have in fact had a college-level laboratory experience. Because I knew this (from an AP seminar I attended some time ago), I make all my students write formal lab reports on ALL labs performed (these usually amount to 10+ pages, typed). But, when my students are asked to demonstrate a certain level of lab experience, they pull out the binder of their lab reports, and I have yet to have a student denied credit for the lab portion. Hope this information helps."
-- Linda Wichers, Birmingham Seaholm High School, Birmingham, Michigan. 4/19/01

Answer 2: "It seems to me that there are at least two variables here. One, it is questionable what your student's source of information is. Two, I have never heard of a medical school questioning the validity of a bachelor's degree. It seems that it would be up to the undergraduate institution to decide if undergraduate work is valid or not. Several of my relatives have applied/attended different medical schools, and the issue of individual courses taken as an undergraduate has never been questioned. However, I read recently that medical school enrollment is at an all-time high and the need for physicians is at an all-time low. Perhaps this is a trend to toughen the application process. It still seems unlikely that a medical school could discount the curriculum of any major university, or what it validates. Again, I would check your student's source of information."
-- Anne Brewer, Mooresville High School, Mooresville, Indiana. 4/19/01

Answer 3: "Over the past 15 years I have had over 60 former students go on to medical school. Virtually all of these students used AP to place out of freshman biology and never missed a beat, either in their undergraduate studies or in the medical school application/acceptance process. Hope this reassures you."
-- Robert Dennison, Jersey Village High School, Houston, Texas. 4/20/01

Answer 4: "Did she actually take any more upper-level biology courses? If she did, it would not make sense to go back and take the freshman biology class. That would be just jumping through the proverbial hoops as it were. My guess is there should be an exception if she has upper-level lab classes. Is her undergraduate adviser telling her this or is it specified by a particular medical school she has already been accepted to or is applying to? Having been through the process myself I know advisers in undergraduate admission counseling tend to over do it in terms of requirements. In their defense, they are simply trying to assure the greatest success rate in placing students in medical school. I guess my point is this needs some follow up. I cannot answer your question but can tell you my wife had to go back and take a freshman physics class to go to medical school, although, in her case, she had never taken physics in college, nor had she taken AP courses."
-- Rad Mayfield, East Rutherford High School, Forest City, North Carolina. 4/20/01

Answer 5: "I have heard of several schools and medical schools that do not honor AP Biology or AP Chemistry credit for the course and/ or just give the lecture credit but not lab credit. I am not sure why they do not award lab credit. I think some of the college biologists should visit some of AP courses and see the labs many of us do. I have had many students say to me after returning from college that the labs they did in college did not even compare to the depth and rigor we make them go through in the AP curriculum. If that is really the case I would really like to know what they are looking for in a college lab credit class."
-- Doug Herman, Iowa City West High School, Iowa City, Iowa. 4/25/01

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