Published research from UVU faculty member examines value of AP courses

University Marketing & Communications: Layton Shumway | 801-863-6863 |

Written by: Barbara Christiansen | 801-863-8208 |

Advanced placement, in which high school students may earn college credit, is a good program, but may not be all that it’s cracked up to be, according to a recent article published by Utah Valley University faculty member Russell T. Warne.

“AP isn’t a bad program,” Warne stated, “But the evidence does not support the unqualified belief that any AP experience is good for any child.”

Warne, an assistant professor of psychology, compiled previous studies and new data, then questioned the widespread enthusiasm for AP, which has more than three million participants per year.

He pointed to three prior studies that showed that students receive no academic benefit from merely enrolling in AP courses.

“In order to have any academic gains from AP, students have to study for and take the AP test,” he said. “The academic benefits to students are even higher if they pass the AP test.”

The students enroll in the advanced placement classes and are exposed to college-level work. Near the end of the school year, they have an option to take tests to determine their level of knowledge gained. If they pass the test, they are eligible for college credit in that course.

Only slightly more than 60 percent of those enrolled in the AP courses actually take the tests, however. Warne cited two studies that outlined those results.

“I thought that this was too low of a number, but just before the article was published, I found another article that showed that 61% of AP students take their course’s test. That’s a pretty consistent result across two independent studies.”

Warne indicated statistics show that AP students have better results in college than their non-AP counterparts. He continued, saying the studies did not demonstrate whether those results were from the AP courses or other factors.

Economic benefits are another area where enthusiasm surpasses the research, according to Warne’s article. “Many parents believe that AP will help their child graduate from college sooner — and therefore save on tuition costs. Almost every state subsidizes (AP test) fees for at least some students. But there is no strong evidence that this financial investment into the AP program saves money in the long run,” Warne said.

Despite the questions about AP’s benefits, Warne still endorses the program.

“AP is certainly a great way for students to get a taste of college-level material,” he said. “The end-of-course exams are rigorously designed and encourage deep learning with the material. We just need to be careful that we don’t oversell this program or claim that it is an educational panacea. If we do, then parents, students, and policy makers are only going to be disappointed with the results.”

“It is my hope that more researchers study the AP program so that students, teachers, parents, school personnel, and university personnel can make more informed decisions about AP classes and tests,” he wrote.

The article is entitled, “Research on the Academic Benefits of the Advanced Placement Program: Taking Stock and Looking Forward,” and was published in the journal SAGE Open. Because of the financial support of the UVU College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the article is free for the public to read and download at

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