Con: AP Classes increase pressure and worsen stress levels


As the reader may well know, many high schoolers find themselves very busy. Juggling an array of academic courses, sports, electives and extracurriculars, their routines are often delicately balanced.   

As students face pressure to challenge themselves academically, the issue of course selections becomes all the more important. Advanced Placement (AP) classes in particular are popular for students seeking to challenge themselves. These are among the most rigorous classes at Irvine High School (IHS), offering a college-level experience and the potential to fulfill college course requirements ahead of time. When choosing these classes, commitments must be made carefully, accounting for balance in life and scrutiny of all options. 

At present, high schoolers are more stressed than ever. A 2020 survey of American students by Yale researchers found that “seventy-five percent of the feelings students reported in their responses to open-ended questions were negative” with the three most frequently mentioned feelings being tiredness, stress and boredom. For students in hyper-competitive academic environments, a study from New York University notes that excessive stress “impedes their abilities to succeed academically, compromises their mental health functioning, and fosters risk behavior.” To avoid excessive stress, students must not overburden themselves.  

Indeed, the score distributions for AP tests suggest that many students are not prepared for their class choices. A score of three or higher is considered passing, and a significant amount of AP test-takers do not meet this threshold. In 2021, 52.8 percent of AP United States History tests received a one’s or two’s. 24.8 percent of AP Calculus BC’s scores were also below three, as were 57 percent of AP Physics 1’s scores. A discrepancy clearly exists between students and their AP class choices. Being in a mismatched class can add significant stress to students, and this must be avoided.  

In fact, there are many options available for each individual’s particular needs, as outlined in IHS’ counseling website. College Prep (CP) classes, fulfill the A-G course prerequisites for admission to University of California (UC) and the California State University (CSU) colleges. Honors courses provide more depth and move at an accelerated course. AP classes provide a college-level style of teaching and are the most challenging. Detailed information for each specific class can be found in Irvine High’s course catalog. Students should choose the courses which best suit their needs and align with their goals. 

The question of AP classes illustrates the importance of informed decision making. Decisions should challenge students healthily, cultivate their interests and contribute to balanced lifestyles. Decisions based on peer pressure or undue competitive pressure threaten to do more harm than good. They can overburden students and undermine their mental health. Ultimately, each course selection is an individual decision on the part of the student, a search for the option that best fits.