Science & Tech

High school AP courses do not predict college success in science

2 min read

A survey of 18,000 college students enrolled in introductory biology, chemistry, and physics has found little evidence that high school Advanced Placement (AP) courses significantly boost college performance in the sciences.

The study by researchers at Harvard University and the University of Virginia (UVA) found the best predictors of success in college science courses to be high school classes that foster mathematical fluency, value depth over breadth, and feature certain types of laboratory work.

Philip M. Sadler of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics presented the findings Feb. 17, 2006, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in St. Louis.

“Our survey, the largest ever of its type, suggests that AP courses do not contribute substantially to student success in college,” says Sadler, the Frances W. Wright Senior Lecturer in the Department of Astronomy. “Even a score of 5 on an AP test is no guarantee of a college grade of A in the same subject.”

Sadler and UVA’s Robert H. Tai first solicited college and high school educators’ views on the foundations of college science success. They then surveyed 18,000 students at 63 randomly selected colleges and universities to correlate these educational factors with students’ actual performance and persistence in college courses.