AP Precalculus: Success or Failure?

By Alexa Loera, Class of 2026

If there’s one thing that everyone knows, it is that high schoolers have a lot on their minds. With worries ranging from fitting in to passing a test, there is no doubt that students face immense levels of stress on a daily basis.

Regardless, there are perhaps few things that GHS students fear more than AP Exams. It’s no secret that, for many, May is perhaps the most stressful month of the year, with AP Exams – offered in subjects from art history to computer science – looming so large that they become all that a student can think about.

AP Classes are frequently viewed as some of the most demanding classes that GHS students can take. From the homework load – which, in many classes, may reach up to one hour nightly – to the final 2-3 hour exam, taking an AP class requires determination and dedication from the student.

In fact, there is even a “soft-cap” on how many AP classes a GHS student should take per year, in order to manage stress and workloads.

For instance, it is recommended that seniors take a maximum of four AP classes, as opposed to sophomores with a recommended maximum of two. Of course, students are not bound to this recommendation, but the fact that it exists at all suggests that, ultimately, AP classes are not something to be taken lightly, with students needing to make careful decisions as to how many they enroll in.

And yet, GHS introduced a new AP course this year: AP Precalculus, eliminating the previous honors option. The question is, was this a good decision?

The College Board, the organization that runs the AP Exams, recently created the AP Precalculus course, with this year marking the first time that students could enroll in the class. Prior to the creation of this class, GHS offered both on-level and honors level precalculus. With the introduction of AP Precalculus, the honors option has been removed. I recently asked Andrew Byrne, the administrator of the Math Department, about the process behind this change, and whether or not it has been successful.

Andrew Byrne, GHS Math Department Program Administrator

“The College Board announced in the spring of 2023 that it would begin offering AP Precalculus. As part of their release, they provided schools with the AP Precalculus Course and Description document,” he explained.

“We were pleasantly surprised that the expectations and the course outline provided by College Board was almost identical to the comprehensive and rigorous Honors Precalculus class that GHS has offered for many years,” Byrne continued. “The teachers continued to work collaboratively to make the minor adjustments before the 23-24 school year and worked diligently throughout this school year to familiarize themselves and their students with the content, format, and expectations of the AP exam.”

One of the benefits of taking AP classes is having the opportunity to earn college credit while in high school.

To explain, AP exams are graded on a scale of 1-5. Depending on the university, some schools will accept credit if the student receives a high enough grade, although this value changes across different institutions. This allows many students to get a head start, allowing them to take more advanced classes while in college – or in some cases, even graduate early. As such, many courses offered by the College Board are subjects that one frequently takes in college – such as American History or Psychology.

However, precalculus is a high school level class, which has led to many students believing that an AP-level course is unnecessary, as many colleges won’t provide credit for it.

Although Mr. Byrne acknowledged that some colleges won’t provide credit, he also clarified that, at the moment, 382 colleges across the country, including UCONN, will accept credit for the class.

Additionally, Mr. Byrne emphasized the many benefits that students can get out of taking the course, even if they don’t end up receiving credit for it.

For instance, the concepts taught in class are fundamental for other AP classes, such as AP Computer Science and AP Chemistry, and the fact that the course “dives deeper” into advanced mathematical concepts will help students make a more seamless transition to calculus.

This opinion is shared by Robert Brown, an AP Precalculus teacher at GHS, who said, “I am also confident that students will walk into AB calculus and BC calculus more prepared than past years.”

Mr. Brown also explained that, ultimately, there aren’t many differences between the honors and AP classes, saying, “In most cases, the content and resources we used in Honors Precalculus were able to be modified without too many changes. Often, it was just a matter of using more appropriate terminology or adding a question that better reflected AP style questions. There were some cases where new resources had to be created.”

However, Mr. Brown also made sure to note that there were curriculum changes.

“We focused more on analyzing graphs and data,” he said. “For example, we spent more time learning how to determine if a graph or data set was exponential, cubic, etc. We made time for this by reducing content in other areas, such as applications of physics.”

Regardless, the AP teachers discovered that “Grades across all classes [in the previous Honors course] were very similar to past years, and the number of students who dropped to regular precalculus was also very similar to past years, so the data supports that the challenge level was similar.”

Although the staff seem to have very positive opinions regarding the course, student opinion appears to be more mixed, widely differing from each other.

For instance, sophomore Mio Gogate believed that, although the class was educational, it should not have been an AP class.

“Pre calc to me is like an intermediate class,” she said. “So because of that I think it’s really useless to make it an AP class…It’s like they just want kids to have one more AP to put on the resume, but that’s not what AP classes are about.”

A similar opinion was expressed by Sharon Ye, who believes that GHS should have kept the honors-level course.

“I think having more options, or having both honors and AP options is better because each student is different and might prefer a level more than the other, therefore having more options can help more students choose the class that they think is the more suitable one for themselves,” she said.

On the other hand, Petra Prepriak believes that the switch from honors to AP was a good idea.

“It was a very interesting experience as the first AP (math) class I took, and gave me an insight to the workload and how things would function in what people consider a ‘real’ AP class,” she said.

Ultimately, the addition of AP Precalculus is still a widely debated topic across the high school. Of course, the fact that this was the first year the class was offered likely bolstered this debate. Only time will tell if the College Board’s decision to make Precalculus an AP-level class was the right decision, especially when AP scores come out on July 8.

Regardless of the outcome, it’s as Mr Byrne said: “I am more than grateful for the five amazing teachers who worked diligently to provide our students with such an amazing experience and for the many GPS Mathematics teachers who do such a great job preparing our students for all our courses at GHS,” he said. “We are truly fortunate to have such dedicated and committed teachers in Greenwich working with our talented students.”