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Fewer Freshmen Get AP Credit

By David D. Hsu
Staff Reporter

Fewer freshmen placed out of the freshman core classes this year than in previous years, according to the advanced placement and advanced standing statistics released by the Undergraduate Academic Affairs office last month.

The number of freshmen placing out of Calculus I (18.01) showed the largest drop, from 53 percent of the freshman class passing out of the class last year to 45 percent this year.

In Principles of Chemical Science (5.11), the number of freshmen passing out of the class decreased from 20 percent to 15 percent, and in Physics I (8.01), the number dropped from 18 percent to 15 percent.

By taking Advanced Placement examinations in high school, students can place out of the following freshman core classes: Introductory Biology (7.012), 5.11, 8.01, and 18.01. In addition, AP tests allow placement out of Introduction to Computer Methods (10.001).

Unlike the other departments, the Department of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences grants only elective credit for AP tests because HASS requires no specific set of prior knowledge as the core subjects do, according to Harriet Ritvo, the associate dean of HASS.

By passing Advanced Standing tests offered by certain departments at MIT, students can also place out of higher level classes including Physics II (8.02) and Calculus II (18.02). Each academic department decides its own placement policy, said Margaret S. Enders, associate dean for undergraduate academic affairs.

Some professors dislike policy

Over the past years, the number of students coming into MIT with credit for the science core classes has increased overall. "The increase in the amount of AP credit is of some concern to some faculty and none to others," Enders said.

Some faculty are troubled that students may miss the MIT brand of teaching.

Professor of Biology Paul T. Matsudaira said, "Here, [the material taught is] in the MIT mold of stressing the concepts and learning the material by working the problems." But most high school courses rarely stress problem solving, he said.

Professor of Chemistry Robert W. Field, who teaches 5.11 this term, said, "There's a profound difference. Many of the same concepts and phenomena are [taught in high school], but we treat them at a much deeper and intuitive level."

Professor of Mathematics Michael Artin said that students who pass out of core classes may not be as prepared. However, problems with classes could be due to a number of other reasons unrelated to placement, Artin added.

"It depends on individual cases. Certainly there are people who should not waste their time on first-year classes," Artin said.

One rationale behind MIT's placement system is that students can choose to have a free class slot freshman year, Enders said. Students can then focus on their major and pursue a more interesting schedule, Enders said.

Students' goals vary

Students agree that MIT classes are taught differently from high school classes. "In high school, there wasn't as much emphasis placed on the theoretical, and definitely it didn't go as in-depth as the courses here," said Eric Y. Mui '98.

For that reason, some have chosen to retake courses. "I am taking Concourse chemistry because I felt that it would teach me some things that I didn't learn in high school," said Pietro Russo '98.

On the other hand, retaking courses may just hold students back. "I could have placed out of 18.01, but I took 18.014. Instead, I feel like I'm a term behind everyone else," said Daniel J. Weber '97.

Students who decide to take a higher level class would rather finish the core earlier than repeat the same material.

"I would be having an easier time in that class [18.01] than I am in 18.02, but I like the idea of getting ahead in my schedule," said John S. Reese '98. "I'm glad that I placed out of 5.11, because I won't be wasting time taking a class in an area that I will not continue to study."

"If I were forced to take all these courses for a whole term, I think I would be bored to tears, even though MIT focuses on problem solving," said Tseh-Hwan Yong '98.

Departments evaluate placement policies

While no immediate changes are foreseen in the chemistry, mathematics, physics, and HASS policies, the Department of Biology's policy on placing out is still subject to review, Matsudaira said. The biology requirement was only instituted one year ago.

"It's too early to tell. It's something we have to think about later," Matsudaira said. "I think for now, it's okay."

Despite the possible disadvantages, Artin, Field, Matthews, and Ritvo are in favor of the current system.

"It's likely that the high school course is different from MIT's calculus. Even if that's the case, I don't think it's worthwhile for other students to take it over," Artin said.

"Someone who gets advanced placement will spend their time profitably," Field said. "We're doing it about right."

In the end, the professors feel that placing out of classes is still the choice of each student. "It's up to students to decide," Field said.