AP vs. Honors: How Are They Different?


SHS math and science teachers Phill Blake (left) and Geoff Gross (right)

Samantha Roman and Ella Ward

At Scituate High School, there are a variety of classes at the College Preparatory, Honors, and Advanced Placement levels. Students have the option to fill their schedules with a combination of all three levels; however, Honors and AP courses offer a more challenging high school experience. AP curriculum is directed by the College Board, with rigorous lessons designed to prepare students for AP exams in the spring. Honors coursework generally builds fundamental and advanced skills, while traditional CP courses typically emphasize fundamentals.

SHS math teacher Phill Blake teaches a variety of courses ranging in difficulty: AP Computer Science, Honors Algebra 2, and AP BC Calculus. Blake equally enjoys the mix of teaching both honors and AP courses, as they “both come with their own unique challenges.” After years of teaching at SHS, Blake realizes there is no notable difference between the way students excel in Honors vs. AP classes; however, he notices a handful of students who are geared toward enrolling in more AP classes solely for the GPA boost. Blake disagrees with this grade measurement: He says he doesn’t think enrolling in AP classes “merits a GPA boost.” With his years of experience teaching different courses, Blake has noticed that an honors course can be just as challenging—maybe even more challenging—than an AP course. Unfortunately, if the College Board has not designated the course at an AP level, students will not receive the 2 point credit boost.

 Blake enjoys finding new methods to engage his classes. This year, SHS has formed a new relationship with MA Insight, a collaboration of Massachusetts schools to help teachers get a better understanding of how to teach AP students. Consequently, Blake recently attended a workshop to learn more about the principles of AP Computer Science. While this is not a course currently offered at SHS, Blake has high hopes for the future, and he is ready to be fully trained to instruct the class. 

SHS science teacher Geoff Gross teaches both AP Physics 1 and 2, in addition to Honors Physics. Gross likes that he has more freedom in AP courses, especially with labs, while Honors courses need more structure. According to Gross, there are no notable differences between the success of a student taking an Honors versus AP courses in physics. There is a similar breakdown of grades in both, but the distribution of weight is different. Gross runs his courses so homework doesn’t weigh a lot on a student’s grade–it is mainly labs and tests–similar to how a college course would run. His teaching style is very similar for both levels: he instructs using lectures, labs, reviews, and assessments. The only major difference is he moves at a slower pace through honors courses. Gross enjoys the new relationship with MA Insight because he is able to talk to other teachers “who have similar issues and come together to create similar solutions.” He thinks they are doing a great job and looks forward to learning more strategies through MA Insight resources. 

For students, the decision between taking an Honors versus an AP course can be difficult. For example, many students take AP courses for the GPA boost instead of taking courses based on their true interests. 

Senior Brooke Pierotti is taking three AP courses this year: AP Psychology, AP Literature and Composition, and AP Statistics. For Honors credit, Pierotti takes Honors Anatomy and Physiology and Honors Ornithology. Pierotti said her schedule allows her to take challenging courses while not overloading with stress and homework. Pierotti commented, “AP classes seem to work through the curriculum at a faster pace than Honors courses, but some of the Honors courses are just as difficult as AP’s.” Pierotti said she chose to take an AP over an Honors class for the GPA benefit. 

Senior Clara Sullivan takes a plethora of AP courses, and although she finds them difficult, she enjoys the challenge. Sullivan is currently taking six AP classes: AP Physics 2, AP Biology, AP Literature and Composition, AP BC Calculus, AP French, and AP Psychology. She is not taking any Honors level courses this year. When deciding which courses to take, Sullivan realized she had reached the AP level in a lot of subjects and wanted to keep pushing herself. Sullivan said she “thought a lot of the courses would be useful in college.”