Using MIT Open Courseware for AP Exam Prep

A not-so-hidden gem for learners among the internet’s hit-or-misses is MIT’s Open Courseware. MIT has published 2340 courses and their course materials online for free public access. This means that anyone anywhere can take an MIT course, albeit not for credit. And, since these materials are recorded, you can take them at any time you want, anywhere you want.

As quoted on MIT’s Open Courseware Website, “The idea is simple: to publish all of our course materials online and make them widely available to everyone.”

Dick K.P. Yue, Professor, MIT School of Engineering

Among MIT’s most visited courses are Linear Algebra and Calculus courses, Computer Programming and Quantum Physics. In addition to the heavily math and science-focused courses one would expect, MIT also offers courses from their Humanities, Architecture and Management. For anyone with internet access, a world-class education is only a mouse-click away.

In addition, MIT has curated its materials for high school students, here. MIT offers specifically for its high school audience course highlights in Biology, Chemistry, Engineering, Humanities & Social Sciences, Mathematics and Physics. Most notably, MIT provides exam prep resources for the AP Biology, AP Calculus, AP Physics exams. Have an AP Biology exam coming up? MIT has sorted its lessons by topic and sub-topic so you can easily navigate to the topic you want to review, providing essential video clips, reading passages and practice problems.

Here are some links to MIT test prep review in the following areas:

AP Biology

AP Calculus

AP Chemistry

AP Physics

Learning is available everywhere, for those who are willing to go out and get it.

Which is Better: AP Courses or Community College Courses?

Which are better when applying to colleges, AP courses or real college courses taken at the local community college?

I described AP courses in this article on AP vs IB here. Basically, AP courses are Advanced Placement courses trademarked by the College Board, the same establishment that produces the SAT and its many subject tests. These courses are taught at the high school by high school teachers, but are assessed with a standardized exam in early May. This standardized exam, graded on a scale from 1 to 5, 5 being the highest, allows colleges to compare your mastery over the material versus other applicants.

The problem with APs however, is that, though they are supposed to provide you with college credit, college credit is solely awarded at the discretion of the admitting college. So oftentimes, though AP courses are highly desirable indicators of potential college success, they do not necessarily guarantee the college credit that they were initially touted to do. Community college credit, on the other hand, is highly transferable and can help you fulfill your undergraduate credit requirements. This does not mean, however, that you are guaranteed to place out of a course because you took it at a community college. Many colleges still expect you to take certain courses under their tutelage, especially in your major field of study.

Which begs the question, why not just take the college-level version of the course at the local community college, rather than leave it to chance whether your credits will be accepted?
There are, in fact, a couple of reasons why taking the high school AP course is still better than the community college equivalent.

One reason is financial. Even though the cost of community college is much less than that of a four-year private college, it still is more expensive to enroll in a community college course than it is to take the AP exam.

Second, commuting between high school and community college can be burdensome, and can preclude you pursuing other extracurricular interests.

Third, high school AP courses tend to attract the most committed students, including the best and the brightest, who will, in a year or two attend the top universities in the nation. Learning together with other bright, committed students raises the bar for everyone. Community colleges, may or may not have the same level of student body, and will probably a less-intense, less-personal experience.

Fourth, the fact that the AP exam is standardized allows colleges to get a truer picture of where you stand among your peer group. Colleges have little to no way to assess the quality of a community college course, and of your mastery of the material, and therefore cannot assess your performance in the context of the rest of the student body.
Therefore, when choosing between AP and community college courses, if you want to ensure you can transfer some credit, take the community college version. If, on the other hand, your priority is to appear in the best light before the admissions committee, stick with the AP.

AP vs IB: Which One is Better for College Admission?

AP vs IB: Which One is Better for College Admission?

First of all, what are AP and IB? AP is a trademark of the College Board, which stands for Advanced Placement. Advanced Placement courses are an American institution in which students may take college-level courses while in high school. Your acquisition of the content matter is assessed in the 3-hour-long AP exam given at the beginning of May that school year. AP courses are vastly important in college admissions, because it gives colleges a glimpse of how you will fare at their schools. Further, colleges want to see that you challenged yourself with the most difficult course load your school offers. If your school offers AP courses, colleges expect you to have taken them. Of course, you never want to take more of them than you can succeed at. Taking 10 AP courses is not impressive if you don’t simultaneously earn good grades and score high on the AP exams.

IB courses stand for the International Baccalaureate Program, developed out of Switzerland. The IB program is far rarer in the United States. In 2014, more than 2 million students took AP exams in 2014, while there were only about 135,000 who took the IB exams.

Both AP and IB coursework may earn you college credit, depending on your scores on their respective exams, and the college in which you enroll.

What’s the Difference between AP and IB?

AP was developed in the United States so that high school students could take college-level courses in high school.

IB was developed in Switzerland as an international diploma that could be recognized anywhere. As such, the IB program is a complete course curriculum, whereas the AP courses are one-off courses in the subject matter of your choice. You can pick and choose AP courses. If you are enrolled in an IB program, you take all the IB courses. Though higher-level, and more focused on writing and critical thinking skills, only advanced IB courses are considered for college credit. Within the context of IB, similar to AP, you may choose which courses you take at the advanced level.

Cost-wise, IB is more expensive for a school to adopt and for individual students to attend. There is a yearly $160 registration fee for IB, plus the test costs, which are slightly higher than the costs for the AP tests.

Which One, AP or IB, Will Offer Me More College Credit?

That depends on the school in which you enroll. Each school has different policies regarding awarding of college credits. Most will accept either AP or higher-level IB, depending on your scores,, whereas most colleges will not accept regular level IB courses for credit. Some will accept more AP courses. Some will accept more IB courses. To find your prospective college’s policies, google the name of your school followed by AP credit policy. Similarly, for IB, google the name of your school followed by IB credit policy.

Which One, AP or IB, Do Colleges View Most Favorably?

In general, colleges do not view either AP or IB more favorably. What colleges look for is that you challenged yourself by taking the most ambitious courses in high school. At the same time, colleges will NOT look favorably upon you taking the most challenging courses and not succeeding at them. So choose your course load wisely. Colleges only evaluate you in the context of your high school offerings, so don’t worry if your school doesn’t offer the same course options as another.

Which One, AP or IB, Should I Take?

That’s up to you, and obviously depends on which programs your high school offers. Do you want to fully commit to the IB program, with its more challenging courseload overall, or do you want more control in which subject areas to challenge yourself?

MIT’s advice: “Overall, you should try to take the most stimulating courses available to you. If your high school doesn't offer courses that challenge you, you may want to explore other options, such as local college extension or summer programs.”

High School 4-Year-Plan for Science Majors

Considering that Rocket Girls are expected to take the highest level mathematics and science courses in high school, here’s the Rocket Girl’s ideal math and science schedule for her four years in high school.

Freshman Year
Geometry (or its equivalent)
Biology (or Physics, if you go to a Physics-first school)

Sophomore Year
Algebra 2 (or its equivalent)


Junior Year
Chemistry AP

SAT II Subject Test: Chemistry
SAT II Subject Test: Mathematics Level II

Senior Year
Calculus AP
Physics C AP

SAT II Subject Test: Physics

What if my high school doesn’t offer some of these courses?
Take the equivalent that your high school does offer. You can also take these courses at a local community college or online. Rest assured, though, that you will never be asked by an admissions committee why you didn’t take a course that wasn’t offered at your school. On the other hand, you will always be asked why you didn’t take one of the above courses if it was offered.

What if my math skills are not good enough to take this sequence?
Do everything you can to bring your math skills up to the level they need to be. Read my article, “Does a Rocket Girl Have to be Good at Math?”

What if my school offers IB instead of, or in addition to, AP?
Read my article on AP vs IB here.

What is the difference between SAT II Subject Test: Mathematics I and Mathematics II?
Read my article on the SAT II Mathematics Subject Tests here.

Which High School Courses Should a Science Major Take?

I asked Cornell University’s Dean of Admissions what courses should a potential science or engineering major take in high school to get into a school such as Cornell. He told me flat out that, to be considered for a physical science major in general, and to be admitted to the engineering school in particular, you need to have performed well in these courses or their equivalent, provided that your school offers them:

Calculus AP (preferably BC)
Chemistry AP
Physics AP*

In fact, he told me that the admissions committee will ask you why you didn’t take one of these classes if they were available to you. You don’t want to have to answer that question. When it comes to the engineering and physical science majors, you need to demonstrate mathematics proficiency, first and foremost, and you need to demonstrate it in the context of the most difficult courses high school offers.

Other courses to consider are:

Biology AP
Computer Science AP
Statistics AP

But What if I’m Planning to be a Biology Major?

I still believe strongly in taking the above courses before Biology, even if you intend to major in the latter. Why is that? Both Chemistry and Physics AP courses are traditionally more challenging courses, and required prerequisites for Biology majors anyway. Taking the more difficult courses in high school with smaller classes and teachers more trained in pedgagogy will most likely give you leg up during that first challenging year in college.

*There are actually three AP Physics course offered by the College Board. They are:

AP Physics 1 covers essential physics topics such as Newtonian mechanics, work, energy and power, waves and simple circuits, though it will not count toward your college physics requirements because it is Algebra-based. For physics majors and related science-majors college-level physics is calculus based. This would be a great option for your first-year physics course before you take Calculus.

AP Physics 2 is similarly algebra-based, and covers the topics fluid statics and dynamics, thermodynamics, electrostatics, electrical circuits with capacitors, magnetic fields; electromagnetism, optics and quantum, atomic, and nuclear physics. Again, while Physics 1 is a great first course to take, and Physics 2 a potential second course, those planning on majoring in science at the college level should take calculus-based AP Physics C.

AP Physics C is broken into two sections, Mechanics and Electricity & Magnetism. Though you may take just one of these two — in which case, Physics C: Mechanics is the preferred course — you are encouraged to take both of them, Mechanics first semester and Electricity & Magnetism second. You will be able to sit for both AP Physics C exams in succession during a 180 minute testing period.

From the College Board website:

“The Physics C: Mechanics course is equivalent to a one-semester, calculus-based, college-level physics course. It is especially appropriate for students planning to specialize or major in physical science or engineering. The course explores topics such as kinematics; Newton's laws of motion; work, energy and power; systems of particles and linear momentum; circular motion and rotation; and oscillations and gravitation. Introductory differential and integral calculus is used throughout the course.”

College Board says about its Physics C: Electricity & Magnetism course:

“The Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism course is a one-semester, calculus-based, college-level physics course, especially appropriate for students planning to specialize or major in physical science or engineering. The course explores topics such as electrostatics; conductors, capacitors, and dielectrics; electric circuits; magnetic fields; and electromagnetism. Introductory differential and integral calculus is used throughout the course.”