More Students Taking AP CS Exams, but WAY more taking AP Physics

October 19, 2015 at 8:55 am 7 comments

Surprising result!  We knew that AP CS was growing quickly (see blog post), but AP Physics just took a giant leap forward.  I wonder why that is, and what we can learn from that.

The number of students taking the physics test doubled between 2014 and 2015. The College Board, the nonprofit that administers the AP program, said that represents the largest annual growth in any AP course in history.

Source: More Students Taking AP Physics, Computer Science Exams – Curriculum Matters – Education Week

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Liz Johnson  |  October 19, 2015 at 9:04 am

    Physics just revised their course to make the sequence easier for HS teachers to offer.

  • 2. Bonnie  |  October 19, 2015 at 11:21 am

    Spekaing as the mom of a 15 year old who is plotting his AP strategy, I think I have an idea. There is a lot more interest in STEM majors now than there used to be. Physics is required in virtually every STEM major, whereas CS is not a standard requirement. Therefore, kids like my son see AP Physics as more important than AP CS. Also, schools are still more likely to have AP Physics than AP CS. Our school has had AP Physics for years, but just added AP CS this year. My son actually plans to take both, but that is because he is hoping to major in CS. Many of his friends plan to take AP Physics but not AP CS.

    • 3. Mark Guzdial  |  October 19, 2015 at 11:31 am

      I buy the argument, Bonnie. I can see why AP Physics would be more valued than AP CS in general. That doesn’t explain the huge jump, though.

      • 4. Bonnie  |  October 19, 2015 at 11:51 am

        I think it is simply the huge jump in interest in STEM majors. I see the change in our high school. Seniors who used to plan on business or economics majors are now seriously looking at engineering programs in particular.

  • 5. Yvonne  |  October 19, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    The huge jump is because they changed from AP Physics B to AP Physics 1 + 2. AP Physics B was a 1-year course providing an algebra/trig based overview of all of physics. The recommended prerequisite was a regular physics or honors physics class.

    AP Physics 1 only covers half the physics topics in 1 year and is billed by the College Board as a introductory (1st) course in physics. It also uses algebra/trig, but schools were unclear about what amount of algebra and trig that meant; our school offered it to students taking geometry after algebra 1 (i.e. no trig yet).

    The scores for the 2015 AP Physics 1 test were the lowest ever scores for any AP test. (4% scored 5, 37% “passed”). I do not think that emulating a test with such a low pass rate is ideal. The test was more “conceptual”, which teachers and others interpreted as “easier” but the test makers interpreted as requiring deeper understanding of how to use formulas in novel situations and better explanations of how an answer was arrived at. More of the students taking the test were in years prior to senior year.

    Click to access Prog-Summary-Report-2014.pdf

    Click to access Program-Summary-Report-2015.pdf

  • 6. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  October 19, 2015 at 5:26 pm

    If you replace one test (Physics B), with two tests (Physics 1 and 2) that cover about the same material, anything less than a doubling of the numbers is a loss. It is like a stock split.

  • 7. Hack Education Weekly News | Co-Opt-Ed  |  October 24, 2015 at 9:42 am

    […] students are taking the CS AP exam, CS professor Mark Guzdial observes (although way more take the physics AP […]


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