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Hand completing a multiple choice exam. Credit: Bluestocking

High school students often feel pressured to take Advanced Placement courses in order to get into top colleges. However, Penn has been accepting fewer and fewer credits from such classes in recent years.

For students entering Penn in fall 2017, changes await for the Department of Chemistry’s and the Department of Biology’s credit acceptance policies. Chemistry 091 — which the department’s website describes as “generic ‘introductory chemistry’” — will no longer be awarded to students with an AP Chemistry score of 5. Likewise, Biology 091 will no longer be awarded to students with an AP Biology score of 5.

Executive Director for Education and Academic Planning Rob Nelson pointed out that such decisions are made on a departmental level.

“The academic departments or school actually decide how to evaluate a course or other experience taken outside of Penn,” he said. “So it’s up to the Department of Biology to decide what an AP course and a test is worth.”

The biology and chemistry credit acceptance reductions come a year after the Department of History made its own cuts. For the students who entered Penn in fall 2016, a 5 on the AP United States History exam would no longer give credit for History 042, and a 5 on the AP World History exam would no longer give credit for History 044.

Associate Dean of the College and Director of Academic Affairs Kent Peterman explained the rationale behind Penn’s decision of whether to accept AP test results for course credit.

“The departmental decision is based on their understanding of how students who receive credit by exam fare in subsequent courses in that discipline,” he said.

“So for instance, if a student gets AP credit for Calculus BC, that more or less maps onto Math 104 at Penn, so they get credit for Math 104, and then the question is ‘well okay, but is that really an indication that they’re prepared to go on to the next course, Math 114?’”

“And so, departments have to look at those kinds of outcomes and decide whether the external exam really is a good indicator of whether the student is ready to move on,” he added.

Departments like the Department of Mathematics, Department of Physics & Astronomy and languages have deemed that the AP exams offered for their respective subjects are equal to Penn courses, so they still award course credit for a score of 5 on the AP exam.

According to Peterman, The Committee of Undergraduate Education adopted a policy about a year ago where departments could only grant credit if they were willing to count the course within the major. Courses like Chemistry 091, for instance, used to be counted as a “free elective credit” but could not count toward the major.

Some departments don’t grant course credit but rather offer waivers out of introductory level classes. The Economics Department and the Department of Psychology, for example, both grant waivers if students receive a score of 5 on the AP exam for the respective subject.

Some students are encouraged by their academic advisors to use the waiver, but others are encouraged to retake the introductory level course.

“It depends on the quality of the course you took [in high school],” Peterman said.

College and Wharton freshman Arman Ramezani saw firsthand the pros and cons of using waivers. Ramezani had the AP scores necessary to skip Economics 001 and Economics 002 upon entering Penn, but only used one waiver.

“I decided to waive out of ECON 001 and took ECON 002 at Penn,” Ramezani said. “And I saw that the depth of what was covered in ECON 002 was much more than what the AP curriculum in my high school covered, so I was really glad that I took ECON 002 instead of waiving out.”

Ramezani understands that sometimes high school AP curricula are not as rigorous as Penn’s curriculum, but he wishes that more of his AP scores would be translated into Penn credits.

“One downside is that I know a lot of students, including myself, are trying to have multiple majors or minors or degrees,” he said. “So the fewer AP credits that are accepted means more credits that we have to take during the school year, which makes Penn – a stressful environment already — more stressful in general.”