Advanced Placement Test Preferences: Asians and Whites

I just finished my AP US History survey course, and a glorious time it was. But I will save the specifics of my three to four hour lectures, and whether or not this is a good way to teach history for another post. I will also, hopefully, weigh in some time on what value add I think I bring to history. (If you’re curious, in public school I taught history of Elizabethan theater and a truly awesome 50s science fiction film course, in which students were to analyze the movie’s foreign policy approach by Walter Russell Mead’s paradigm.)

I always end my AP class by discussing the students’ course selections for next year. APUSH is a junior course, and I have about ten kids in this particular class, and the conversation is always the same.

“What are you taking?”

“Calc BC, AP Physics C, AP Bio, AP Gov.”


“AP Chem, AP Stats, AP Psych,…”

“So you’ve already taken BC?”

“Yeah, just took the test. Piece of cake. I’m taking intro to MVC.”

“What about AP English?”

All the heads shake. “God, no. Way too hard.”

One kid says “I’m taking AP Gov, I heard it’s easy.”

“I’m taking Macro Econ, one of our teachers has all the info you need to pass the tests.”

I laugh. “Jesus. Embrace the stereotype.”

They all get it and laugh, shamefacedly.

“Who’s taking AP English this year?” Two hands rose. “AP English next year?” No hands.

“So here’s what I don’t understand. You are all trying to get into college, and the reason you are taking these tough classes is to make yourself look good for colleges.”


“And I see only Chinese, Korean, and Indian Americans in front of me, all either FOB or citizens with parents who lived most of their lives in China, Korea, or India. Moreover, as I imagine you’ve heard, and certainly your parents have heard, universities often engage in some form of discrimination against Asians.”

“Wow,” one of the students laugh-gasped. “I never thought I’d hear an American admit that.”

“An American, or a white person?”

“They aren’t the same?”

“You born here?” Pause, as I see that datapoint register. Yes. She’s an American. (We’ll leave aside the fact that they don’t consider blacks and Hispanics American, either. I’ve written about this before; it’s still weird to see.)

“Anyway. All of you avoid classes that involve reading literature or written analysis because they would be too difficult.”

“Well, yeah.”

“So the stereotype is all wrong.”

“What, the stereotype that says we’re good at science and math?”

“No, the stereotype that says you work hard, that you take on challenges.”

“Oooooh, SNAP.”

I smiled, too. “Look, there’s a serious point here. You’re a college admissions officer, reading through approximately 16 billion Asian resumes that all read exactly the same: 4.2 GPA, BC calculus as a sophomore ( with the occasional underachiever waiting until junior year), several AP science courses, APUSH for those of you who can string a sentence together, AP Chinese for those of you lucky enough to win the language lottery, and so on. What’s going to stand out? Not one more STEM course.”

“Yeah, but I hate reading.”

“You think the universities don’t know that? Oh, look, one more Asian kid who’s a machine at math and can memorize all the facts in AP Bio but uses Cliff notes for Hamlet. College admissions is a numbers game anyway, and I’m not pretending anything is going to make a huge difference,, but…”

“My dad says colleges are reducing Asians born here…American Asians [score!] for Chinese and Koreans.”

“Your dad’s right. So given all the work you’re putting in clearly to just get that last inch of consideration, may I suggest that the path to differentiation lies in showing the admissions reviewer that you take on challenges in all subjects, as opposed to taking classes you know you’ll get an A in.”


I was going to just post this little anecdote, but then I got to wondering just how prevalent the behavior is—it is exclusive to my little corner of the country, or are the recent Asian immigrants showing up in national data?

One of the problems with AP data is that you simply can’t make too many assumptions. For example, much has been written about the fact that the mode AP score for blacks is 1. Not only do most blacks fail the AP test, people wail, but they fail it completely! Twice as many blacks get a failing score as get a passing score! Our teachers are failing black children!

Yeah, no. The black AP population is a combination of at least three different groups. First, the group of genuinely qualified, academically prepared black students. Small group, I know, but each year hundreds of African American students take and pass the BC Calculus test, many with a score of 5 (however, 1 is still the mode for BC Calc). Second, the group of average or higher ability blacks with relatively little interest in academic success, who have nonetheless been put in AP classes by desperate suburban school officians who are under fire from the feds for their “opportunity gap” numbers. These are kids who could, with good teaching, achieve a respectable “3” on a number of tests, and probably do.

The problem, alas, is that a teacher can focus on getting middle achievers over the hump, or on challenging a bunch of smart kids. Can’t do both in the same room, not easily and probably not at all. Thus bringing in more marginal black students and coaxing them to a three occasionally has a depressing effect on suburban AP scores, as the top white kids aren’t being taught at the top of their ability. But I digress.

The third group, and it’s huge, are low income urban and charter schools gaming the GPA and Jay Mathews Challenge Index. These are kids who are barely literate, often aren’t even taught the course material, but boy, by golly if they get the butts in the seats they’ll show up on Jay’s list somewhere. All at taxpayer expense.

While the AP tests results disaggregate Mexicans and Puerto Ricans from the rest of Hispanics, Mexican performance has the same conflation of three groups as black results do, and are equally useless. The Hispanic mode score is also one.

Asian scores aren’t disaggregated, but the Big Three (Chinese, Koreans, and Indians) dominate.

So are Asians showing a preference for science and math over the humanities AP tests?

AP testing populations by race–mostly. It would have been a huge hassle to add up all the URM categories, so I just subtracted whites and Asians from the total. So “Decline to state” is categorized as a URM, when it’s probably mostly white. I checked a couple values, it wasn’t a big difference. These are the top 20 tests by popularity, in order from left to right1.


The visual display is useful—look for big green, little blue, or a relatively high number of URMs, fewer Asians. See? Asians live the stereotype. Don’t assume that blacks and Hispanics are drawn to the Humanities courses—it’s just easier for schools to shove unprepared kids into English, Geography, and History classes than it is to science and math courses. Fewer prerequisites.

Here’s the same data in table form. I added one column, Asians as a percentage of the Asian/white total, to clear away the URM noise. Then I highlighted the tests for each column that were more than one average deviation away from the mean, both higher and lower (I used average deviation because I don’t want outliers emphasized. Just wanted to show spread.) I bolded any values that were more than two average deviations away from mean.

Whites are the most tightly clustered, URMs next. Asians tilt strongly towards and against.

There’s a lot more to explore here, and I hope to do that soon. But for now, I wanted to stay focused on Asian vs. white preferences. So I next compared the top 20 Asian test preferences to those of whites. (Actually, I did 22 for Asians because I thought #22 was revealing.)

AP totals include many multiple testers, so I took the number of testers for any given test as a percentage of the total for that race. This is not a perfect measure, for obvious reasons. Or maybe not so obvious. Say, for example, that an entirely different group of Asians take the English Lit test than take the Calc AB test, but the white students have a significant overlap. In that case, the percentage of testers would be saying something entirely different about each group than if both Asians and whites had overlapping testers.

However, in either case, it would be revealing. If more whites than Asians took both math and English tests, or if one group of Asians took math tests and another group took English (or the same case of whites), the percentages are still showing a preference. I think. I’m sure there’s a way to describe this more technically, but it’s late, the school year’s almost over, so put the correct text in comments and I’ll change it.




And here it is graphically, ranked again by test popularity. The blue and green columns are the percentage of white or Asian testers taking that test. The graph above was percent of each test population that was white/Asian/URM. These columns show the percent of white or Asian population taking that particular test (the blue column “% of total” in the tables immediately above). The line graph is the percent of each group that scored a 5 on that test.


(You notice something weird? Spanish is the tenth most popular test–but it barely makes the top 20 for either whites or Asians. How could that be? Who on earth is taking all those Spanish tests?)

So again, I want to write more about these results but I thought I’d put them out there and let people chew on them. Here’s a few preliminary observations:

  • Whites appear to be the utility players, good in a number of subjects and not expressing huge preferences. They are stretching more into STEM than Asians stretch into writing.
  • Asians appear to be avoiding writing-intensive tests relative to whites, no matter how you interpret the data.
  • Asians tend to choose tests that are more likely to yield high scores, and avoid tests that give out fewer 5s. Until recently, AP Bio doled out 5 scores like candy; they clearly changed scoring in some significant way this year (without announcing it, I guess). Environmental Science, which has a deservedly crappy rep, is actually pretty hard to get a high score on, so Asians avoid.
  • The real difference between Asians and whites in both preferences and scores is in the science tests, not math. Asians have higher scores in all tests—and while that’s probably a reflection of cognitive ability, you really can’t understand the difference in preparation and grinding until you see it—but the real gaps are in the sciences. AP Science courses are, in my opinion, pretty horrible to begin with. Yes. It’s the subject I don’t teach. Bias alert.

TL, DR: Asians across the land reflect the same biases. They may or may not be working hard, but they appear to be avoiding subjects that are more difficult for them, and don’t yield as high a score. This may also be why they avoid the ACT. Or not.

More on this later. Let me know what you think and of course, point out any errors.

1I actually did this work from the bottom up. So in the first chart, which was actually the last one I did, there are only 19 tests. Guess which one I left off, and why. The other charts all have 20 tests.

About educationrealist

54 responses to “Advanced Placement Test Preferences: Asians and Whites

  • anonymousskimmer

    I almost think you might have to adjust for the mean total number of tests taken by each group, because this would directly affect skew in the “% of total” column, and would have an indirect effect on participation ratio.

    I think.

    It looks like the mean and/or mode number of tests taken skews upward by 1 or 2 for Asians compared to Europeans. And/or that Europeans tend to have one or two general clusters of tests they take while Asians tend to have 3 or 4 general clusters of tests they take. And that the clusters may be firmer for Asians than for Europeans, unless this is just the skew from Europeans who take only one test (likely in a passion subject).

    It would be most informative to break out the tests taken by multiple test takers from the tests taken by single test takers, for each group, as otherwise the two data sets complicate each other significantly (I doubt they’re in any way similar). These two populations are divided by absolute talent, subject-specific encouragement, and by availability of classes and training. Too bad the people who put out the AP tests don’t do this.

    To complicate matters further, given the existence of Asian-majority schools, and European exclusive schools (thinking rural, though how many of those offer AP classes?), It’d probably be important to factor in the effect of which AP classes and exams are readily available at the schools (if only in the form of knowledgeable tutors/instructors). Though this may be a chicken and egg issue if there are truly cultural preferences.

    Wow. I didn’t think there was any room for improvement in your analysis until reading your ultimate sentence and thinking about it.

    I understand that factoring in these parameters is a far more difficult, and even impossible task.

    If someone is taking mostly AP classes, don’t they belong in college or dual enrollment, or independently studying on their own with the occasional help of a mentor?

    I guess it’s kind of a college-within-a-school system. I wonder whether it provides better outcomes (variables held equal) with genuine early college enrollment.

    • educationrealist

      I would be happy to do all those things. I just don’t think they are possible with the available data. But remember, reporters and analysts do all sorts of nonsense with these tests that blatantly ignore the selection bias. So all I’m trying to do is read the tea leaves that we’re left with.

      For example, you’ll often see releases of new AP data with statements like, “the average black score was 1.9” or “Asians had higher average AP scores than any other group”. So in that context, my analysis is reasonably valid.

      “If someone is taking mostly AP classes, don’t they belong in college or dual enrollment, or independently studying on their own with the occasional help of a mentor?”

      It’s pretty normal for kids to be taking mostly AP classes in the top tier.

      • Roger Sweeny

        It’s kind of ironic. Lots of people in education don’t like tracking. But they like AP. Even though it is tracking by another name.

      • anonymousskimmer

        Oh yes, I think it likely your conclusions are valid (you have a much better knowledge base of what actually goes on to draw from).

      • educationrealist

        As I mentioned, people are drawing large conclusions from them all the time. I just figured hey, as long as people are doing so, let’s look at some other things they say.

    • Carl G.

      The data and math are sloppy.
      There are 19 AP subjects, not the 20. You are missing #10. Whether this is a misnumbering issue or an omission, I don’t know.
      More disturbing, you are using the arithmetic mean of the deviation when you should use the St.Dev.

      You claim, “Asians across the land reflect the same biases.”
      Without more detail, there is nothing here that supports this broad conclusion. It might be true, but the data doesn’t say. There is no breakdown by public/private, state, socioeconomic class, etc.
      Are 2nd-generation Asians more apt to take the English AP exams than 1st or 1.5-generation Asians? And so on.

      You note that Asians are more likely to take AP exams that give out high scores, but what other factors might be involved here?
      I would argue strongly that the typical student gets much more value from earning AP credit in courses like calc, bio, chem than from environmental science, psych, geography, etc., both in terms of admissions and useful college credits. Since Asian culture places greater esteem on science-based careers over those in the humanities, one would expect to see these biases reflected in the data as well. I’m not saying you are unaware of these other motivations, but it is puzzling that one of your main takeaways from the data was the Asian proclivity to take exams with higher score distributions.

      There are reputable studies that show strong and interesting correlations between SAT M scores and success in difficult and rigorous college disciplines like pure math and physics v. humanities/social sciences. Have you taken a look at those?

      • educationrealist

        Wouldn’t std deviation assume they have a normal distribution? I don’t want that. I just wanted something to show how far the numbers were spread out. I’m not a mathematician. The numbers are interesting for what they are. As I said several times, don’t read too much into them.

        Actually, they all have 20 except the first one. I left one off. Figure out which one. And then why.

        As for the rest of your comment, hi, have you met me? You’re way too earnest, and I know more about this than you do.

      • Carl G.

        No, standard deviation is distribution independent. St.Dev is something that would be covered in the 2nd week of any college INTRO stats class. You cannot get any more basic than that.
        As for the subject you skipped, you should make some mention of it somewhere (as a footnote on the table) or renumber the system. Once again, a basic practice.

        I’m ‘earnest’ because I don’t want to be rude.

      • educationrealist

        Well, you’re rude anyway, incredibly so, so don’t be boring. I didn’t take college stats–degreed in English. I read up on both std deviation and average deviation from mean and, given the nature of the topic, chose average deviation. I clearly said that I did, didn’t try to hide it.l

        I did just footnote it, and explained why I’d missed it. I actually did the later charts first, and was working on the top 20. Then, when I got the idea of doing the grouping by race, I originally had Spanish in and realized it was distorting everything. So I dropped it.

      • Roger Sweeny

        Standard deviation doesn’t assume anything about the underlying distribution. However, because calculating standard deviation involves squaring the deviations from the mean, it gives a greater importance to outliers.

      • educationrealist

        Thanks that’s where I got the notion it was about normal distributions. I don’t teach stats, so anything I learn about stats I acquire painstakingly for a project and then forget. (See, it’s not just Asians that do that!)

        When you say “greater importance”, do you mean that it emphasizes outliers or de-emphasizes outliers? Here’s what I was trying to achieve: I don’t want to read too much into the outliers. I just wanted to give an idea of how far out they were spread. So if one population had stark preferences in one direction or the other, it would show up. Std deviation seemed a bit too…clinical, too hey, this is a serious study with scrubbed data that doesn’t have any bias. I can go back and change it to standard deviation. I tried both, and was worried that that someone like Carl would come along and squawk because I’d used it.

      • Roger Sweeny

        Standard deviation emphasizes outliers.

        If you had seven fives, one one, and one nine, the mean would be 5, the total deviation would be 8 and the arithmetic mean of the deviation would be 8/8 = 1.

        To calculate standard deviation, you have to square the deviations from the mean and then add them together, so (5-1) squared plus (9-1) squared = 16 + 16 = 32. You then divide by the number of deviations and take the square root. So the square root of 32/8 = 2.

        In this case, the standard deviation is twice as large as the arithmetic mean of the deviation.

        If you had seven fives, one four, and one six, the arithmetic mean of the deviation would be 0.25 and the standard deviation would also be 0.25.

        If you had seven fives, one four, and one twenty-eight, the arithmetic mean of the deviation would be 3 and the standard deviation would be about 8.14.

      • educationrealist

        So the standard deviation has fewer outliers than the average deviation does?

      • Mark Roulo

        “… standard deviation is distribution independent…”


        “Standard deviation doesn’t assume anything about the underlying distribution…”

        but some distributions don’t have a standard deviation at all. An example is the Pareto-Levy distribution (which *might* be the underlying distribution for stock market returns … in which case lots of modern portfolio theory is bunk). You can always calculate a standard deviation for a set of numbers, but if the underlying distribution doesn’t have a standard deviation, the calculation will be bogus.

        In this case, I have no idea what the correct thing to do is. My bias would be to assume that there was a standard deviation to the underlying reality …

      • educationrealist

        but some distributions don’t have a standard deviation at all. … but if the underlying distribution doesn’t have a standard deviation, the calculation will be bogus.

        Ah. This is what I was confused about. It’s not “standard deviations are only for normal distributions” but “some distributions don’t have a standard deviation”. Okay.

        This is definitely what I was concerned about. I didn’t want to assert a standard deviation if one didn’t exist (even if I was wrong about the reason) and so I looked for something that would just indicate the degree of spread. Thanks. I feel better!

      • Roger Sweeny

        The standard deviation and the arithmetic mean of the deviation both have the same number of outliers. But since you square the deviation to get the s.d., outliers get emphasized more. Outliers have a large deviation from the mean, and if you square a big number, you get an even bigger number.

        My bias is the same as Mark’s (“My bias would be to assume that there was a standard deviation to the underlying reality …”) but the existence of a standard deviation doesn’t mean you have to use it.

      • surfer

        On the content, last chart seems to show that Asians have a nice gap of more 5s in Eng Lit versus whites. This actually further supports your view that they should take it. It’s not just that they should challenge themselves but that they will outperform whites (AP Government not so). Who cares if you get a 5 per se. What matters is getting a 5 given the difficulty of the test.

        I know you did a lot of work (kudos). Is still a little hard to interpret in places:

        *The three color column charts would just be easier if you showed Asians only (hard to evaluate middle columns in stacked column charts).

        *For the second chart, just sort it on the column of most interest (the last one). This will allow evaluating the key point easily (bolding and colors and all is confusing.) If you are not big in using the data filters sorting capability in Excel, I strongly urge to learn it. It is so super powerful. Not just the sort command, but where you have the little filters on the top and can play with which column to sort by.

        *For the third chart, I couldn’t tell what you were trying to do (just didn’t understand the text explanation and the graphic).

        *The last chart is very clear.

        I would use the standard deviation, not the average. Average deviation is a little strange and you should really have some justification for it. And I have to stop and think about how it changes things. Whether some theoretical distribution has a standard deviation is irrelevant: you have a data set. It has a standard deviation, just as it has a mean and a mode and a range and all that.

  • vijay

    There is another issue in the APs; as a father of two teenagers going through the AP hell (both sciences and liberal arts), I notice that the sciences and math AP courses are systematic. Calculus starts at limits and continuity, progress through differentiation, integration and then a little bit of diff equation. Computer sciences start at basics, functions, and then classes and objects.

    However, the AP history classes are scattershot; at least the US history has a linear progression. World history, human geography and lang are just complete mishmash. After completing a world history calls, the children seem to lack basic knowledge of world wars, Russian revolution, etc. This is not a criticism of teachers, but the subject as a one year course, and the ability of teachers and students to interpret this. Sciences and math lead to cataloguing and easy steps which appear to get harder by progression, but students actually get better. After doing kinematics and dynamics, my son found optics, Electricity and magnetism very easy, even if they are actually not. History, geography or literature does not lead to this formulation. Joyce or Faulkner is no easier to comprehend just because you read the Merchant of Venice. They also made the bio exam less like science and more like vomiting out keywords.

    The point in this little rant is that quite contrary to commonplace thinking, the US history/world history/language/composiion is not amenable to AP treatment. Actually, the sciences which are stepwise linear progression are more amenable to an AP exam treatment. At the end you have a solid body of knowledge which I feel is not being gained by AP liberal arts.

  • vijay

    I forgot to add one thing; a look at the graph (bar and line chart) indicate the two racial groups to be mirror images of each other. Is the red line Asian or white?

    Based on my experiences for the last 2 years, I would not let any child take Litt or world history AP. The courses are just not focused enough to come out say they can learn a body of knowledge in one year.

  • Jim

    To really understand all this it would help greatly if the data on East Asians vs. other groups lumped into “Asian” were separated out.

    • anonymousskimmer

      You might think so, but I wonder.

      Are lesser ability southeast Asian students really pushed into taking AP tests? I’d assume that many of them who actually take AP tests are more than capable; possibly even more capable than the typical Chinese/Indian who feels the cultural/familial pressure to take the tests.

      But my bias is from a Navy town where the gifted students of Asian descent actually were southeast Asian.

  • Retired

    We are going to try JC classes instead of AP for our HS child.
    After years in sili valley and with asian step-siblings i have seen that asians are best at getting grades and test scores, but lag behind in real world success compared to their equally credentialed white counterparts.

    • vijay

      I wonder if Retired actually read the article Ed_realist wrote. Ed_R makes the following points:

      1. Asians, choose science APs because they give favorable scores.
      2. The Asian choices of APs and White choices are comparable with more liberal arts APs chosen by whites, and vice-versa.
      3. However, it is easier to get higher scores in physics, calculus, statistics and psychology.
      4. Nonetheless, the performance of the two races do not differ substantially by AP class.
      5. getting higher grades and higher AP scores in selected AP classes do not help Asians in college admissions, because too many Asians are doing teh same.

      Based on these points, real world success (if we can consider college admissions as a first step) is actually harder for Asians.

      I think people read what they want in Ed_R’s essays.

      • educationrealist

        This is generally true, but as always, I’m suggesting it’s possible. Because of the lack of information, it’s possible that there are other interpretations. These seem likely.

        Also, whites are actually much more likely to take STEM APs than Asians are to take humanities.

    • anonymousskimmer


      I did a year of dual enrollment at the CC across the road from my HS.

      I don’t know how universal this advice is, but I’ll give it anyway.

      Try to schedule the classes close together and toward the middle of the day. I had Calculus earlier in the morning, with a two hour block before my next class. Between it being an earlier morning class, and being so separated from everything else I was doing, it seemed almost unreal. Which probably hurt my grade.

      Thanks to the core requirements of my HS, most of the classes I took at CC were social studies and English, which weren’t my favorite subjects. Try to schedule some favorite subjects in, even if it means paying for an extra course (assuming your HS child can handle the extra load).

      At the end of all this, it still might not hurt to take the AP tests, as CC credits don’t always transfer.

      • Retired

        Thanks. We don’t have a lot of flexibility with the schedule since it’s a tiny JC satellite campus. He’s taking english as it is a joke at the HS plus an intro to electronics to get a science class that isn’t Environmental Brainwashing 101″ He loves engineering.

  • Retired

    I am basing my conclusions about “real world” success, not credentials, upon 50 years in the SV business world, not test scores nor college admissions. Like vijay, some demographics are lagging in people skills which are not incorporated into the metrics some strive for.

  • vijay

    I almost entirely agree with the essay except for one line “AP Science courses are, in my opinion, pretty horrible to begin with”

    This sentence is hard to decipher; the science courses, I believe do a good job of introducing concepts in a “high school” way.

    In Montgomery county you take two chemistry courses, two physics courses, and two biology courses. The second in the sequence is the AP course. How much you get out of the AP course is based on the teacher (YES! FINALLY! teachers are important). However, Chemistry does a good job of getting the bases covered. Physics is OK; heavy on mechanics, but light on E&M, even though there is a complete test on E&M. Biology is a nightmare; it is a mirror image of world history with a lot of substance and buzz words. The recent changes have made the exam virtually incomprehensible. There is no university which has exams and expects answers like the new AP bio. I know nothing about enviro science.

    I think they may actually be structured better than the world histoty and English Litt.

    • educationrealist

      Well, it’s kind of a joke because I don’t teach science. However, AP Bio was the one course I let my son drop in high school. It as all memorization and nothing else. Beyond that, I’ll accept your word for it!

  • anonymousskimmer

    Just now realized on your line chart that Government and Politics seems to have zero cultural bias of any sort. Does this extend to the URM category as well?

    We might have a true culture-fair test there. 🙂

    • educationrealist

      See, I need to do a followup. The thing is, there are easy grades, and easy tests. So AP Bio has a fairly easy test (or did) but not an easy grade. AP Gov & Politics, on the other hand, is a senior course so the important thing is it’s a relatively easy way to get an A. Students are often taking classes based on both the grade they’ll get in the course, and the score they get on the test. This is particularly notable among Asians, who are considerably more grade obsessed than the other three primary categories.

  • Evan

    “Who on earth is taking all those Spanish tests?”

    My immediate guess: The Hispanics who won their version of the language lottery?

    • educationrealist

      Oh, yes. I was being ironical. (g)

      • vijay

        However, the Spanish exam is not very easy, even for hispanic children born in the US. My daughter took that exam, even though she got a 5, she says getting the raw score of 75-78 is hard, and not many Hispanic students do it. I would rank it as harder exam than AP calculus or Chemistry,.

      • educationrealist

        50% of native speakers get a 5 or a 4, a rate that Hispanic performance on other tests isn’t even close to.

      • Mark Roulo

        50% of native speakers who took the test got a 4 or a 5 🙂

        Wiki says that the 2012 test taking population for AP Spanish was 130,000 and 45,000 were not native speakers. So … about 85,000 native speakers take the test each year. We have about 40M native speakers of Spanish, so probably 500,000 per grade level. Of the 17% who take the test on their “native” language, half do well. I’d love to see similar numbers for Chinese and French speakers.

        Anecdotally, I have a Mexican co-worker (who is also Jewish and a Princeton PHd in physics) who reports that his kids did poorly on the Spanish AP classes they took. The formal Spanish for the class and test are far enough away from Spanish as used in Mexico that it is still challenging. No doubt, the Hispanic kids have an edge, but the test might still be “hard” (though not hard like Calc).

      • educationrealist

        The results for Chinese are available for the SAT2; I reported it in another post

        Chinese testers are overwhelmingly Chinese. French testers are majority non-native speakers. Spanish testers are over half non-native.

        “No doubt, the Hispanic kids have an edge, but the test might still be “hard” (though not hard like Calc).”

        Even a 3 would be a huge boost for kids whose mode is otherwise 1. And consider the enormous and unfair advantage it gives them over their main competition–blacks.

  • vijay

    There is a study out there which I cannot locate immediately that ranks the performance of AP students (3 or above) in college exams for the same cource. It appears that AP psychology and english people perform the worst. The various AP calc people performed the average. Physics and chemistry students performed better than average.

    • educationrealist

      The Saul Geiser study is pretty definitive, and he found that high science scores were not predictive of success. AP Calc scores were predictive. Can’t remember what he said about English. I’ll look it up.

      • vijay

        yes that is the study; and it says:

        Although the weight for AP/honors is statistically
        significant in one disciplinary area, math/science, the size of the effect is extremely small: The regression coefficient of .05 for math/science translates into an effect size of only about three one-hundredths of a grade point, or the difference between a college GPA of 3.01 and 3.04.

        Implying that other AP courses were even worse as predictors of success.

        Thinking about it, makes perfect sense. Just because you took a few college courses in school does not mean that you are going to perform better. Your performance is based only on your ability.

  • Lagertha

    The AP’s (34 tests) are simply, the last “higher track” for 14-17-year olds in American High Schools, many who have bounced off the walls from boredom from 3rd thru 8th grade. Nothing more, nothing less. AP scores are a craven way for Ivy Leagues & Co. as a system to eliminate excellent applicants and shrink their admissions pool ( reduce drastically, 40,000K+ applicants) of ALL students EXCEPT URM’s.

    An admissions member at an Ivy League admitted to me that the Universities of that caliber are practicing “socialism” as far as admitting more and more URM’s every year. And, since SATs are now frowned upon, AP scores are the new process of elimination of equally talented youth of any ethnic group that is not Afr-AM/Native AM/Latino/Hawaiian/First Generation (like from Appalachia or Fargo), you know the group. Best move to Fargo to improve your chances to get into a top 50 especially, if you are in the broad middle as far as SES.

    Why Asians have always obsessed over getting into the top 50 national universities is a mystery. And, I fully agree that they avoid the humanities and liberal arts AP’s. Perhaps prestige is a big factor in their culture, so the entire focus of HS years is to secure a spot in a “perceived” top U and fill their transcripts with top-heavy STEM AP courses to impress admissions boards. I mean, the President has talked a lot about needing more students studying STEM…that there is a looming existential crisis for the USA if we fall further behind.

    I always think of Moby Dick when I think about this obsession to get into the Ivy & Co.s: I was around a lot of “Tiger moms” as my son fenced nationally…talk about Asians in a sport that they now know is Div 1 in Stanford, Ivies, Northwestern, MIT (div 3.) All these parents were obsessing over the college apps some years ago, and their worry was so bizarre since they’re child would’ve been immediately accepted to Rutgers/SUNY system…and would get huge merit money.

    The funny part (so personally familiar with Ivies) is that AP tests in the “obscure” subjects like Latin, Environmental Sci, French/Spanish/World History/Statistics is now very much of a game-changer in admissions policies. High AP math & science scores are a dime-a-dozen (like double 800’s in old SAT)…white or Asian, doesn’t matter. Now, if you are ALSO a state champion in 400 hurdles, you’re at the top of the list of admits…or, you grew up tending after dairy cows on your parents organic-only farm in VT…you have been published in national newspapers or literary magazines; won 1st place in your state’s art show; built your own small sailboat/picked the actual trees for the wood; took care of your 11 siblings in the sweltering Texas heat every summer; walked across the country alone one summer…and on and on. Uniqueness and exceptional “giftedness” in the arts is now ‘in.’ You see, the Ivies & Co. still need students who want to study paleontology, Classics, Philosophy, French….they’re not gonna lay-off a bunch of professors because everyone is majoring in comp sci or bio-medical engineering, for example. They also are aware that students may try to “game” the system by applying as an “obscure major”…it’s hard to fake Philosophy or wanting to study dinosaurs. You will have to write a pretty erudite essay for obscure majors…impossible to fake-it.

    If you are in the .01 percent economically, your child probably WILL get accepted at Ivy & Co. even if he/she took NO AP’s – money still (probably always, sigh,) talks in this country. And, athletes (national, state and regional champions only, BTW) still get in as long as they are reasonably literate and won’t embarrass the U. U’s especially love super-smart football players of any race( like Andrew Luck or RG3) and they fight over them. There is a lot of horse-trading in the elite schools over athletes that are exceptionally smart. Yet, legacies (Yale especially) are not getting in anymore…except multi-millionaires’ progeny or celebrities, European royals even if they were unexceptional students, for obvious reasons.

    AP scores of 4s and 5s are the last chance for students of the 99% to have any chance in hell to get into the top 50, or top 100 for that matter; especially, and especially, if their family income is above 150K (before taxes.) If one actually scored a 5 on AP Latin (a ha!) you may jump into Harvard before the perfect 5 in Bio, Chem, Comp Sci, Calc and Physics COMBINED! Life is so not fair, and, a 5 in AP French may secure a girl from KY with an average 500 SAT in math over the AP 5 Physics and BC Calc girl from CT with 780 in SAT math 2 dying to get into Princeton.

    AP courses are the last vestige of rigor in American schools, and they are hard and should be. Students should expect to read as many books on the subject that are not assigned/suggested by the teacher. The tests are all over the place, so, it is expected that the student read as much supplemental material as possible…on their own, and, then it is just luck and your creative and intuitive resources at test time. My son’s Chemistry teacher admits that it is impossible for him to cram everything in in the course in 8 months for any of his students to be fully prepared for the test in May.

    The up-shot is: based on my eldest son’s AP scores and STEM college courses while in HS, he started as a sophomore in a national public research university. We saved one year’s out-of-state tuition AND he is given another 10K/year until he graduates in 2 years. No debt/no loans/mom and dad’s retirement account untouched. But, you can only do this with public universities, or small, obscure colleges. Believe me, the private U’s and prestige colleges are realizing this and they are getting worried. Really worried. They can’t populate their schools with 50% URM’s on full financial aid, with the rest made-up of unremarkable 1% wealth kids, token (a minority now) valedictorians, jocks and foreign students to off-set their business model. Sooner or later all the best minds, and the future innovators are going to less expensive schools out of economic necessity. I always use homely mid-western, U of Illinois as an example: Google.

    Now, the Ivies & Co. don’t give many AP courses ANY credit…SO THINK ABOUT THAT. They don’t accept students who leap-frog into sophomore year. Is it really stupid for a student to slave over 10+ AP courses (not have a life during HS,) and NOT get credit AT ALL if they are so set on attending (assuming they were accepted) Harvard, Stanford, Northwestern, etc.?

    Prestige will not carry you into a dream job in this global economy. So, AP’s are best reserved for the state U’s where you can graduate early, take as many prestige college MOOCs/Coursera (MIT/ Harvard/Amherst, etc.) courses on-line simultaneously, as some of my friends’ kids have, and leave university with no debt…and still land that fantastic job in the city/country you have dreamed about. It’s all performance / economic Darwinism after college.

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  • Steve Sailer

    “AP Bio doled out 5 scores like candy;”

    My son got a 5 on AP Bio in 7th grade. It helped get him a sizable scholarship to a wonderful prep school. I’m glad the admissions staff didn’t know it wasn’t that hard!

  • Steve Sailer

    My recollection is that black girls do pretty well in AP French. Could be Haitians and French West Africans who already speak French, but I also figure there is a venerable African-American bourgeois tradition of wanting to go live in Paris that motivates some girls to buckle down and learn French in class.

    • SC

      Certainly Haitians and other Francophone Black foreigners are doing well at AP French. Another thing is that in places like Louisiana, you get people who are 25%-50% Black, who are able to speak French, and are also 50%-75% White/Native American.

  • Steve Sailer

    Some AP tests are for one semester classes such as Macro Econ and Micro Econ. It would be nice if there was an AP test day in mid-December or early January for seniors who want their scores sent to the colleges they are applying to.

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  • surfer

    On AP science, I took AP Chem and Bio in the early 80s and scored 5s and loved them. Felt very VERY similar content to college courses and I felt confidence placing out of college courses and moving to higher courses in sciences. Those fundamental courses served me very well in grad school, and chem/pharma industry.

    Part of recent issue is that ETS has been screwing over the curriculums to move towards reform curriculum: “critical thinking” happy horseshit.

    Bio (like all life sciences) is SUPPOSED to be a lot of memorization and supposed to hurt your hand that you have to write so much on the essay tests. It is a descriptional science. This does not mean there are no organizing systems or ideas. But a lot of what they do is to help you organize the details, not just know the idea and care less about the detail.

    Chemistry is supposed to be baby p-chem and baby inorganic and to involve a lot of applied algebra (stoichiometry, equilibrium, etc.) ETS has gutted the classic calculational problems. And gutted most of the descriptive chemistry (even the more broad organizing ideas like solubility rules–basic qualitative analysis!)

    See this exchange on college confidential:

    “Hahaha “the six big ideas” yeah in bio we had the four big ideas. Don’t worry you’ll probably just have to look at a bunch of graphs of chemical reactions or something and analyze&interpret them. Basically, they killed AP Bio and they’re probably gonna kill AP Chem. “

    “LOL what the heck? From the course description:

    Language of reducing agent and oxidizing agent is beyond the scope of this course and the AP Exam.

    Calculations of molality, percent by mass, and percent by volume are beyond the scope of this course and the AP Exam.

    Wow, they really did kill AP Chemistry. ”

    Also, check out any AP Chem teacher blog/twitter for the remarks on how AP Chem was screwed up:

    For both bio and chem, they’ve added more ETS tricky questions (they cleave that way, it is their SAT background…it’s yours too, you test tutor, you). Unfortunately, having lower scores does NOT mean the course was made better. Actually, they degraded the required content but just raised hurdles and added tricks. This is actually in the opposite direction of what an AP should be doing: TESTING COLLEGE COURSE COMPETENCY.

    There has also been a general trend of ETS/CB to wander very far off the reservation of what AP used to be–mimicking college courses, and to want to drive reform pedagogy, fit into high school honors, require/allow calculators, etc. They are making changes to support the high schools not the colleges (and in the process weakening their offering/brand).

    • Roger Sweeny

      Calculations of molality, percent by mass, and percent by volume are beyond the scope of this course and the AP Exam.

      If you are comfortable with basic algebra, these should all be fairly easy. They are often included in an introductory 10th grade Honors Chemistry class. I wonder if their removal from AP Chem reflects the College Board’s judgment about students’ math skills.

      (Most people assume that someone who has passed algebra II is comfortable with algebra I. The College Board knows better? Of course, most people who passed algebra II in high school can’t do much of algebra I today.)

  • surfer

    I had a long content filled post on science APs get eaten by your spam filter (had two links in it). Please dig out.

  • surfer

    My experience (early 80s) with AP English was that it was pretty much organized into set topics/ideas. There are certain terms (e.g. “tone”) that mean something in literature analysis and you are tested on them. [IOW, I disagree with Asian gentleman above, who says the content is arbitrary.] I got out of a semester of college English with a 5 and it seemed fine. Felt well prepped to take an upper level English elective.

    I never took any history APs so can’t really comment on them. I think world/European history is tough since the APs have changed what they cover and since colleges have a bit of a hodgepodge of what classes mean here. For instance, I took a classic, required two semester western civ course (heavy on Europe) that went from antiquity through the ME first semester and then through modern days for the second semester. Survey of key events and philosophers and books. But we didn’t look at Mayans or Asia or the like. None of the current AP offerings cover a classic western civ content.

    US history is more organic and defined. But is that even a classic college course? The way English, calculus, chem, world history are? My school didn’t even offer an elective in general US history. So I’m not sure the point. Feels more like a required high school course that is an honors version. Very different from calculus, where you are a year accelerated (have to take 8th grade algebra to make it) or like chem/bio where it is taken as a second year course–after a standard HS course already done.

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