Should I Take: AP English Language and Composition and/or AP U.S. History?


Rachel Fuka

Whether you’re ready or not, forecasting is here, which means choosing classes that you know almost nothing about (especially if you’re a freshman). Sure, you may have heard from your older sibling to NEVER take a certain class because the teacher was rude or it was simply too hard. But what do you really know about the class other than it being ‘really hard’ or ‘having too much homework’?

Let’s talk about two of the AP classes offered to juniors: AP United States History and AP English Language, more commonly known as APUSH and AP Lang.

These classes may be giving some sophomores massive anxiety: should they sign up for them because they took AP European History and Advanced American Literature and Composition? What about students who took neither? Should they have had prior experience in advanced classes to take them? Will they be okay without any experience whatsoever? What do you even do in these classes?

Let’s start with AP Lang. The two teachers who teach AP Lang for the 2016-2017 school year are Thomas Wells and Lauren Carrier. AP Lang is a step up from your previous Lit and Comp classes, as it is all about examining and creating rhetoric (or arguments). In the class, you learn about the structure, and the impact of strong rhetoric, as well as the rhetorical strategies that writers use in their writing to grand effect. You will be assigned many readings that you will rhetorically analyze. You will learn how to determine the author’s intended audience for his or her argument, the purpose of their argument, and other strategies the writer used in his or her language. This class is much different from traditional Lit and Comp classes that revolve around literary analysis.

“I don’t like to argue,” I hear you say. Well, I think you will find soon enough that arguing doesn’t have to be emotionally charged. It won’t necessarily be an academic version of every Thanksgiving dinner with your relatives! Rhetoric isn’t as intimidating a topic as it may seem, either. You use and see rhetoric every day, even. Ever try to convince a teacher to round you up in a class because of your good behavior? Rhetoric. How about those advertisements that tell you to buy this product or that product because, if you do, you’ll gain forty pounds of muscle? Rhetoric. Your siblings telling you not to take a certain class because “it’s too hard” or “it’s completely useless in real life”? I’ll give you three guesses, and the first two don’t count.

“The kind of students who succeeds in AP Lang are the kids who are, first of all, are willing to work hard,” states Wells. “You have to be willing to [fully] put yourself into the essays, honestly, sincerely.

“Kids who take risks, kids who put out something into the world that they’re not sure the teacher wants to hear, I think those kids are the ones who really do great here.”

“But also, what I think is underestimated in this class, is the kids who I love watching the most. [Those kids] who are willing to take a risk. Which is true with every class, right? You succeed in school when you take risks, you try new things, and you make mistakes. Kids who take risks, kids who put out something into the world that they’re not sure the teacher wants to hear, I think those kids are the ones who really do great here.

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Students walk through campus, presumably to their AP U.S. History class. (Photo: Inbal Marilli)

“No. I don’t think you have to been the best student, I don’t even think you have had to taken Advanced American [Literature and Composition] and Advanced World [Literature and Composition] to take this class. In fact, there are a couple of kids in my two classes, who I’ve had in the past that I never would’ve guessed they would’ve taken this class… And those people end up doing great. You just have to be willing to work and be willing to take risks [to succeed].”

Sangi Lama, a junior currently taking AP Lang with Wells, says, “I’d say take [AP Lang,] because it’s going to benefit you [more].”

“Especially AP Lang because writing is something people [continue] doing, no matter if you’re in school or not.

“it’s a lot of [independent work],” she continues. “because you’re writing essays and such. Most of the time you have to do that [outside] of class, so it’s a lot of keeping yourself on track.

“We form arguments of our own,” states Chra Algaf, a junior. “which is really important for college and your job, because you need to know how to form an argument and defend yourself, and be able to talk about the world.

As a junior who is also taking AP Lang, my two cents is that AP Lang is a good choice if you want to improve your writing and learn to argue effectively, dissecting others’ arguments with all the ruthlessness of a high school junior. Just because you haven’t taken advanced writing courses before doesn’t mean you can’t succeed in AP Lang, and the skills you learn in that class are very valuable for when you need to write persuasively, such as in college and work application forms. Be prepared for large amounts of homework, though, as you will often have to write rhetorical analyses on many books and historically important speeches, so the class will be a hefty demand on your free time.

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AP Lang students take a field trip to Portland State University to work on a research paper every spring. (Photo.)

However, like anyone else would say, loading your plate up with AP classes is not always the wisest choice. If you have never taken advanced or AP classes, your junior year is probably not the best time to load yourself up with six of them, because your junior transcript will be the most recent grades colleges see when you submit your transcripts in your senior year. You don’t want to be unprepared for the classes, getting bad grades in the valiant effort to appeal to colleges.

Also, remember that pushing yourself doesn’t mean sacrificing everything to get good grades. If you aren’t the strongest writer, give AP Lang a chance if you know you are committed to working hard and trying. If you have other priorities, take Lit and Comp 11 without any shame.

“The other thing that I think there are misconceptions about,” begins Wells. “is that because it’s an argumentation class, people think they have to agree with the teacher and that the teacher is somehow going to think less of them if they disagree with them. And in fact, the two teachers teaching it this year — both Mrs. Carrier and I — we love it when kids have reasoned arguments that are contrary to our own perspective. I worry about that perception that people think that we think less of them when they disagree.

Next, AP U.S. History. This class is taught by Vincent Kirnak. In this class, you learn about American history, from the United States’ early beginnings as a British colony to the approximate current day. Students are assigned daily textbook readings, discussing the readings the next class, taking reading quizzes, completing quarterly projects, such as memorizing all the presidents (it’s not that bad, I swear!), writing a research paper on an influential American of your choice, and interviewing senior citizens. Many AP European history students will find that the workload is similar to AP Euro’s. Readings are normally ten to fifteen pages (not including notes), along with the typical AP history class duties like Document Based Questions and Long Essay Questions (DBQs and LEQs, respectively).

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The Utah State Capitol (Photo: Zac Nielson)

“History is boring, it’s all about politics and stuff that doesn’t matter anymore!” I hear some of you shouting. Well, maybe APUSH will be better for you because you’ll be learning the history of the country you’re living in. Not only that, but I think you’ll find American history ripe with silly stories. (For example, the story of the caning of Charles Sumner, an 1856 Massachusetts senator who was beaten with a cane on the Senate floor for insulting a Southern senator.) The class is also a great way to learn the origins of our modern American government.

Lama, who also is enrolled in APUSH, states, “it’s very loose in terms of what we talk about but it’s also more [lectures]. Kirnak will talk, and the students will ask questions [based on the lecture].”

Chra Algaff said that sophomores taking AP European History should take APUSH. “It’s a lot easier. [You come into the class already prepared]. If you got a B or an A, or maybe even a high C, I would definitely take APUSH. If you couldn’t handle [AP Euro], I’d say no, probably not.”

As I stated before, I am a junior, and I’m currently taking APUSH. So should you take APUSH? Well, it depends. If you’re the kind of student who regularly procrastinates and has a hard time keeping track of what assignments are due when, you should probably stay away from this class, as it requires a lot of self-discipline. Students are responsible for staying on top of your reading and asking questions when you don’t understand a topic. You will be expected to understand everything you read, so if you don’t, make a note to ask about it. Of course, this class is a good preparation for college and “adult” life. My advice is that if you took AP European History and did well, then you should take APUSH as the classes have nearly the same structure. Students coming from AP Comparative Government and Politics may find that class is much different than what they are used to and have a difficult time transitioning. If you’ve never taken an AP social studies class but would like to try it, be prepared for increased workload from your previous classes.

Remember also that pushing yourself doesn’t mean sacrificing everything to get good grades. There’s more to life than your GPA. If you have priorities outside of school (sports, extracurriculars, etc.), then you will have to weigh them against new academic priorities. Be prepared to reorganize your priorities should you take a lot of advanced courses next year.

I wish you luck and happiness for the upcoming school year and hope this has helped your forecasting decisions!

Note: Answers have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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