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College courses and AP exams


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#1 nullsquared   Members   -  Reputation: 122

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Posted 29 January 2010 - 01:26 AM

Hey guys I have a few questions for you this time: (background: USA, currently a sophomore in HS) 1) Does the AP Comp Sci exam actually mean anything to most good colleges? The AB exam used to be pretty comprehensive but now that they dropped AB and the only exam you can take is the A exam, is it worth my $86? As far as I can see it doesn't really test anything useful at all, anyone half decent in Java can ace it with a perfect score. 2) While on the topic of AP exams, where do those $86 go?! To me the CollegeBoard seems like a huge scam... 3) If you already have knowledge that a certain course in college is supposed to teach you, can you somehow skip the course as if you took it? My teacher mentioned something about "challenging" the professor of the course and demonstrating that you have sufficient knowledge of the material, thereby receiving credit without actually taking it. Is this true? For example, I've been doing C++ for about 5-6 years now (Java for about a year), and I feel that (perhaps with a little brushing up) I could easily skip a various courses (such as any introductory courses, perhaps a data structure course, and others)...

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#2 Ezbez   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1164

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Posted 29 January 2010 - 01:58 AM

1) Hard to say, since this is the first year there's only an A exam. Why don't you check about specific colleges you have in mind? You should be able to find that information on their website with some work, and if not a phone call is completely appropriate.

2) Yeah CollegeBoard does seem like a scam, but do keep in mind that it is a not-for-profit organization. The money goes towards making those exams, organizing and paying for graders, maintaining their website and all sorts of things. It's not an easy task to coordinate literally thousands of tests all across the US.

3) Depends strongly on the college you go to, and even then it will depend upon the department or even the professor. That said, there's no need to "challenge" the professor! Departments might have placement exams. You can talk to professors of higher-level courses and convince them that you're capable of taking it. Talk to your adviser there about your options - they will mostly be supportive and helpful.

But also don't just dismiss courses off-hand. They will have more theory, rigor, or depth than you normally just pick up on your own (the exception to this might be intro level programming courses). Skipping data structures, even if you have working knowledge of them, could easily result in you not knowing theory behind them, or not knowing the terminology and definitions used. In short, reading Wikipedia doesn't easily substitute for a college-level course - and even if it does, you might have difficulty persuading your college of that. It's usually perfectly reasonable to sit in on some lectures at the beginning of the year to get a feel for the material or to talk to the professor about whether the course is right for you.


I did just note that you're a sophomore, so you probably don't yet have colleges in mind. I don't think that would really change anything, though. When you look at a college, you can check the specifics, but I wouldn't rank that as a high priority when it comes time to choose. In the meantime, continue learning on your own!

#3 nullsquared   Members   -  Reputation: 122

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Posted 29 January 2010 - 02:22 AM

Quote:
Original post by Ezbez
1) Hard to say, since this is the first year there's only an A exam. Why don't you check about specific colleges you have in mind? You should be able to find that information on their website with some work, and if not a phone call is completely appropriate.

Well as you noted in your edit (or non-edit?) I don't have colleges in mind quite yet [grin], I'll wait to see if anyone else can pitch in on this.

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2) Yeah CollegeBoard does seem like a scam, but do keep in mind that it is a not-for-profit organization. The money goes towards making those exams, organizing and paying for graders, maintaining their website and all sorts of things. It's not an easy task to coordinate literally thousands of tests all across the US.

I'd love to see where their $86 actually go, step by step, if they're non-profit. I got scammed out of $20 for taking an optional PSAT in the beginning of the year that just 2 days ago the rest of the school took for free (wtf?), so I've really got it out for these guys.

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3) Depends strongly on the college you go to, and even then it will depend upon the department or even the professor. That said, there's no need to "challenge" the professor! Departments might have placement exams. You can talk to professors of higher-level courses and convince them that you're capable of taking it. Talk to your adviser there about your options - they will mostly be supportive and helpful.

OK thanks for the info [smile]. Yeah I don't mean literally "challenge" the professors, that's the just term my teacher used [lol]

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But also don't just dismiss courses off-hand. They will have more theory, rigor, or depth than you normally just pick up on your own (the exception to this might be intro level programming courses). Skipping data structures, even if you have working knowledge of them, could easily result in you not knowing theory behind them, or not knowing the terminology and definitions used. In short, reading Wikipedia doesn't easily substitute for a college-level course - and even if it does, you might have difficulty persuading your college of that. It's usually perfectly reasonable to sit in on some lectures at the beginning of the year to get a feel for the material or to talk to the professor about whether the course is right for you.

You're right. But with several years of experience things just start to stick and make perfect sense all on their own, you know? Things feel more like I understand them rather than just "know" them... That's why I want to find out if it's possible to skip courses [smile]

#4 swiftcoder   Senior Moderators   -  Reputation: 10367

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Posted 29 January 2010 - 02:58 AM

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Original post by nullsquared
Quote:
3) Depends strongly on the college you go to, and even then it will depend upon the department or even the professor. That said, there's no need to "challenge" the professor! Departments might have placement exams. You can talk to professors of higher-level courses and convince them that you're capable of taking it. Talk to your adviser there about your options - they will mostly be supportive and helpful.
OK thanks for the info [smile]. Yeah I don't mean literally "challenge" the professors, that's the just term my teacher used [lol]
If you have a solid programming background, sitting through the introductory programming courses is a waste of both your time and the professor's time/patience.

To some extent, your teacher's "challenge" terminology is not far off. I walked into the office of the CS department head on the second day of university, and skipped out of two introductory programming courses and an OOP course, purely on the basis of 20 minutes chatting - no placement tests, no deep discussion of my work or skills, etc.

This approach is not foolproof, and it fails spectacularly for many students...

The trick I find is to have had the narrow focus/self-discipline to learn in great detail the few particular skills I pursued on my own, and the self-introspection/humility to know my own limits. If you go in with sketchy knowledge of many topics, and a know-it-all attitude, they will smack you down [wink]

Tristam MacDonald - Software Engineer @Amazon - [swiftcoding]


#5 MAEnthoven   Members   -  Reputation: 194

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Posted 29 January 2010 - 04:28 AM

Quote:
1) Does the AP Comp Sci exam actually mean anything to most good colleges? The AB exam used to be pretty comprehensive but now that they dropped AB and the only exam you can take is the A exam, is it worth my $86? As far as I can see it doesn't really test anything useful at all, anyone half decent in Java can ace it with a perfect score.


Absolutely. I took AP Comp Sci and got a 5 with EASE.

Here's the deal: it's the cheapest college credit you'll ever get. $86 might cost a lot now, but most colleges will let you use it as a credit, which saves you well over a thousand dollars.

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2) While on the topic of AP exams, where do those $86 go?! To me the CollegeBoard seems like a huge scam...
Eh, there is a lot that goes into the AP tests. Making the test requires a lot of work. Grading it requires a lot of work.

But yes, CollegeBoard has their own private golf course. It's a huge scam.

Quote:
3) If you already have knowledge that a certain course in college is supposed to teach you, can you somehow skip the course as if you took it? My teacher mentioned something about "challenging" the professor of the course and demonstrating that you have sufficient knowledge of the material, thereby receiving credit without actually taking it. Is this true? For example, I've been doing C++ for about 5-6 years now (Java for about a year), and I feel that (perhaps with a little brushing up) I could easily skip a various courses (such as any introductory courses, perhaps a data structure course, and others)...


I won't advocate skipping the course, simply because you can always find something new. If the course turns out too easy, tell your teacher and they'll probably find a way to make it challenging for you.

Do you need to know about data structures or pointers? No. But you do need to have a real mastery of for-loops, both front and tail recursion, etc.

And you definitely need to have a strong mastery of Java syntax. You don't get a compiler on the exam to tell you when you've left off a semicolon.

#6 nullsquared   Members   -  Reputation: 122

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Posted 29 January 2010 - 04:58 AM

Quote:

Absolutely. I took AP Comp Sci and got a 5 with EASE.

Here's the deal: it's the cheapest college credit you'll ever get. $86 might cost a lot now, but most colleges will let you use it as a credit, which saves you well over a thousand dollars.

You're right... though it does depend on whether the college I go into actually gives me credit for it...

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I won't advocate skipping the course, simply because you can always find something new. If the course turns out too easy, tell your teacher and they'll probably find a way to make it challenging for you.

Do you need to know about data structures or pointers? No. But you do need to have a real mastery of for-loops, both front and tail recursion, etc.

And you definitely need to have a strong mastery of Java syntax. You don't get a compiler on the exam to tell you when you've left off a semicolon.

Well I'd really rather not waste my time with courses I already know. Not to be cocky but I've done some relatively big things in the past so I can assure you I've mastered for loops and recursion [smile]. In fact, that's the reason I want to skip courses I already know, so that I can learn the many things I don't know [smile]



#7 Brain me   Members   -  Reputation: 170

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Posted 29 January 2010 - 05:34 AM

I'm in my second semester at the University of Texas at Austin, and I know exactly where you're coming from. I got a 5 on the AP Computer Science AB test, and the test seemed like a joke to me, but the introductory Computer Science courses are even more ridiculous, so definitely take the exam unless you want to spend your first semester learning 2's complement, how to call a function (I'm dead serious - some people just CAN'T get it..), and how to declare and initialize variables...

I'm majoring in Computer Engineering, but I have a friend I went to high school with who got a 2 on the AP CS A test, and he's taking those introductory courses bored out of his mind. Unlike the CS department, in the Engineering department at UT, you can't test out of any courses, so I'm sitting through a semester of Intro to C Programming.

Anyway, yes, the tests are worth it because you can skip at least the lower 2 or 3 CS courses. Even more worth it is the AP Physics C tests. If you have time, get 5s on them. Seriously, I'm gonna finish here 3 semesters early JUST because of taking the Physics.

But there are a few pieces of useful information in classes where you think you already know everything, so at least attend a few lectures to see if your professor is the kind where you might learn something "extra".

#8 nullsquared   Members   -  Reputation: 122

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Posted 29 January 2010 - 05:49 AM

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Original post by Brain me
Anyway, yes, the tests are worth it because you can skip at least the lower 2 or 3 CS courses. Even more worth it is the AP Physics C tests. If you have time, get 5s on them. Seriously, I'm gonna finish here 3 semesters early JUST because of taking the Physics.

Wow that must really suck O_o Speaking of physics, next year I'm taking AP Phys (along with AP Chem and BC Calc). Now the problem is that I'm taking AP Phys B - school doesn't do C because you need to have taken or be taking calculus along with it, which I will be indeed be doing, but I'm one of those edge cases so there's nothing I can do about it :(

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But there are a few pieces of useful information in classes where you think you already know everything, so at least attend a few lectures to see if your professor is the kind where you might learn something "extra".


Yeah you're definitely right, I can't just generalize the professors like that. I'll take it into consideration [smile]

#9 MAEnthoven   Members   -  Reputation: 194

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Posted 29 January 2010 - 10:19 AM

If you're focusing on AP tests, the best one to try to get is AP BC Calculus. I can't think of a single college that doesn't recognize a 5 on that test. Several colleges (such as Northwestern University, University of Texas, Texas A&M, Stanford, Wash U @ St. Louis) will even award 2 credits.

Physics C is worth it, by neither my school nor my girlfriend's offered the class. I got a 5 on Physics B, but it only got me an unrestricted elective credit. Still great for credit though.

#10 nullsquared   Members   -  Reputation: 122

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Posted 29 January 2010 - 10:28 AM

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Original post by MAEnthoven
If you're focusing on AP tests, the best one to try to get is AP BC Calculus. I can't think of a single college that doesn't recognize a 5 on that test. Several colleges (such as Northwestern University, University of Texas, Texas A&M, Stanford, Wash U @ St. Louis) will even award 2 credits.

OK good, I'm taking that next year.

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Physics C is worth it, by neither my school nor my girlfriend's offered the class. I got a 5 on Physics B, but it only got me an unrestricted elective credit. Still great for credit though.


I wish I could take C, unfortunately we only have B here -_-

#11 way2lazy2care   Members   -  Reputation: 782

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Posted 31 January 2010 - 11:27 AM

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Original post by MAEnthoven
Absolutely. I took AP Comp Sci and got a 5 with EASE.

Here's the deal: it's the cheapest college credit you'll ever get. $86 might cost a lot now, but most colleges will let you use it as a credit, which saves you well over a thousand dollars.


Quote:
If you have a solid programming background, sitting through the introductory programming courses is a waste of both your time and the professor's time/patience.


these two cover it pretty much perfectly. You will save yourself a lot of time by testing out of intro courses that won't teach you anything and you will save a lot of money. You can use the semester you'll end up saving to pick up a minor, work on building your portfolio, or just getting done with college sooner. Maybe take a semester off to intern.

#12 daviangel   Members   -  Reputation: 600

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Posted 31 January 2010 - 03:32 PM

Yeah definitely take all the Math and Physics AP exams you can before college otherwise plan on having no life trying to cram all the required courses/electives, etc in 4 busy years.
The AP Comp Sci exams are a bit trickier, since there seems to be a larger variation in each schools intro programming courses.
For example Berkeley uses Scheme, MIT Python now, so I don't know how much that will help you there?
And the thing with challenging a course is the instructor will usually choose the hardest problems on an exam to test you with so you better know your stuff inside/out!
I would check out some previous finals for some introductory programming courses at a school like MIT or Stanford and if they seem easy to you then you probably have nothing to worry about.





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