For AP classes, extra credit is unnecessary

Grades serve as a scale to determine one’s proficiency in a subject, and extra credit shouldn’t be used to skew them

Against the secret hopes of AP students everywhere, extra credit for students in AP classes is largely unnecessary. 

While this opinion undoubtedly feels unfortunate in the eyes of all sophomores fighting their way through their piles upon piles of AP European History homework, it is important to remember the original purpose of a grade. A grade is there to assess and inform a student of their understanding in that class. Most teachers’ “no extra credit” policies aren’t decided out of an unusually cruel desire to punish dedicated, but less academically gifted students. 

Flat grades (for the purposes of this article, I will define this as normal assessment, classwork and participation grades without extra credit) can help students gain a more accurate gauge of their own understanding, as the grade gives a scale to measure how they are doing. Serving as more than a magical sparkly device designed to boost your chances of getting into Yale or Harvard, flat grades also help strengthen student’s study habits by providing an accurate scale for them, allowing them to see where they are doing well compared to where they may be struggling. 

Like myself, I’m sure many other students pour their entire existence into certain classes while they neglect others. I much prefer reading sexy novels for English over memorizing body parts for physiology or undoing log problems for algebra. But like a physical gym body, letter grades tell me exactly where I’m lacking: I skipped leg day, so now my Algebra 2 grade has dropped to a B. My biceps are looking pretty good, but what about my AP Lang essay? It’s immediately noticeable if your abs and quads look amazing but your arms are still thin and wimpy, the same way you’d immediately notice an inconspicuous and crusty C nesting in your heaven of A’s. 

But while the promise of extra credit points seems like an easy way to lift that C and kill two birds with one stone—the student gets a better grade, the teacher gets students to clean a beach or fill in additional worksheets—it makes the intent and use of a normal letter grade redundant and counterintuitive. Extra credit is the steroid that disqualifies the bodybuilder from the competition. 

It’s important to note that although hard work and commitment to a class is terribly important, the function of a grade is to evaluate how much a student has learned in very sterile terms; from a curriculum with these specific standards, how many of these would you be able to meet? Nevermind that students have always had plenty to gripe about in the world of CollegeBoard and AP test fees—adding extra credit to the mix would worsen the flaws (mysterious complexity points, strict teaching objectives) of AP style teaching by adding another complication to the grading scale.  

In a perfect system that was tailored to everybody’s pleasure and specifications, extra credit would reflect the amount of time a student invested into a class as well as their actual grasp on the material, but the natural limits of the current grading scale mean that extra credit is purely inflatory, a problem that could interfere with the college admissions process as the standards for grades go up again. I’m sure no one needs a reminder of how competitive the process is. 

Extra credit is another attempt to inflate letter grades to encompass the worth of a whole student—maybe before we start throwing wrenches into the works, we should find another way to evaluate students, rather than slap a bandaid over the current system.