More Illinois students take AP exams, look to get college credit

Jessica Floum

Illinois high school students set a new record in Advanced Placement exams last year, doubling the number of students who took exams in 2001. Almost 30 percent of high school seniors in the class of 2011 took at least one AP test.

“It’s getting more competitive,” McCormick freshman Brad Winters said. “Kids are realizing that in order to get into college, you have to show that you’re ready for the next level of course work.”

Winters attended high school in Naperville, Ill., and took two AP tests. He estimated half of his graduating class took at least one AP exam.

Illinois also saw a 7.5 percent increase in the number of students who passed exams. Although passing an exam does not mean placing out of a class in college, scores of 3 or higher on the exam’s 5-point scale can often provide students with such an opportunity.

“For the student, it means that you could be saving money,” Winters said.

Using AP scores for college credit gives students a chance to take upper-level classes sooner and even graduate early. But such chances proved stressful to McCormick sophomore Blake Alexander, whose AP credit placed him out of seven classes. Alexander said he took many of his AP courses on a whim.

“I was just good at math and science, so I figured, ‘Why not?'” he said.

Now students think they must take APs to be competitive college applicants, Alexander and Winters both said.

“What started out as a way to get ahead in college has now become necessary because of all the competition of getting into colleges,” Alexander said.

Alexander entered Northwestern with an undecided engineering major. Though most engineers wait until sophomore year to pick a specialization, he felt pressure while choosing classes for Spring Quarter of freshman year, he said.

“Even though these classes were electives, I was unsure of whether they would count as electives or toward the specialization that I chose later,” Alexander said.

Weinberg sophomore Chloe Woodhouse did not find such luck exchanging AP scores for course credits. Though she scored a 5 on her AP biology exam, she did not place out of biology at NU.

“It’s frustrating that for some APs, you can get credit, but it doesn’t really mean anything because you can’t get out of a class,” Woodhouse said.

Richard Weimer, Weinberg assistant dean for academic standing, said the departments determine individually what is necessary to receive credit.

Woodhouse said not placing out of classes was not as bad as she expected.

“At the end of the day, it’s nice that they didn’t transfer because it gave me the opportunity to take some college classes that I didn’t have in high school,” Woodhouse said.

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