MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XIX No. 4
February 2007
Grappling with Change
Overview of the Report of the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons
Introduction to this Special Issue
Will the Task Force HASS Recommendations Increase Student Apathy?
A "Nerd Track" for MIT?
Reasons to Continue to Require 8.02
Diversity in Foundational Skills
and Knowledge
"Big Ideas" and the High School Asymmetry
More Science, Not Less
Recognizing the First Rate
Five-Out-Of-Six Model is Not Viable for MechE, but Five-Out-Of-Five Model Is
The Changing Nature of "Fundamental"
AP Credit for 8.01 is Appropriate
Arguments for Five-Out-Of-Five
The Case for a Shared Freshman
Knowledge Base
Educating Leaders for a Complex World
Toward a Liberal Scientific and
Technological Education
A Serious Equivocation:
The Issue of Foreign Language Study
Select Data Considered by the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons
Select Data Considered by the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons
The General Institute Requirements (GIRs)
Printable Version

The General Institute Requirements (GIRs)

AP Credit for 8.01 is Appropriate

Nicholas M. Patrikalakis

One of the recommendations of the Task Force is the elimination of AP credit for all required science subjects, with the exception of calculus. The Task Force report (p. 53) refers to

“…a growing body of compelling evidence that students who receive top grades in the AP exam typically have difficulty when they proceed to the next subject in the sequence at MIT.”

The report does not explain this evidence, but subsequent discussion with Dean Silbey revealed that it refers to the AP exams in chemistry and biology. For those exams, the faculty have indeed found significant differences between the AP material and that covered in the corresponding subjects at MIT. The Task Force recommends replacing AP credit by MIT administered advanced standing exams.

The ME faculty were quite surprised by this recommendation as it applies to 8.01.

Our experience has shown that students with AP credit for 8.01 do very well when they proceed to the next subjects in the sequence at MIT, which for Mechanical Engineering students are 2.001 and 2.003J.

First, how is AP credit currently awarded for 8.01? The Physics Department has set a high standard: to obtain AP credit in 8.01, students must have a score of 5 on both parts of the Physics C exam (i.e., they must have the top mark on the hardest AP exam in both mechanics and electromagnetic theory). Roughly 16% of MIT’s incoming freshmen meet this standard.

Second, what are 2.001 and 2.003J? The former is our introductory subject in mechanics and materials, covering statics and elasticity. The latter is our introductory subject in dynamics, covering kinematics and dynamics of linear and rotary motion. Both are entirely dependent upon the students’ knowledge of elementary classical mechanics as covered in 8.01. Our students generally take 2.001 in the second term of the freshman year or the first term of the sophomore year; 2.003J is usually taken in the first term of the sophomore year. The prerequisites for these subjects are 8.01 and 18.03 (18.03 is co-requisite for 2.001).

To assess the performance of students who received AP credit for 8.01 (and who did not take 8.01 or its variants at MIT), we reviewed the grade distributions for AP students in comparison to all other students taking 2.001 and 2.003J.

The results are given in Table 1 and Table 2. We observe that students with AP credit for 8.01 receive grades in the A range at a rate of roughly 60% for both subjects, as opposed to rates of around 35% for students without AP credit. (Students with advanced standing exam credit are included in the non-AP group.)

We conclude that students with AP credit for 8.01 outperform those without AP credit in the next subjects in the sequence in Mechanical Engineering.

We therefore see no need for the extra student and faculty effort that would result from replacing AP credit for 8.01 by an MIT-administered advanced standing exam.

As a final note, we have asked the Physics Department about AP student performance in 8.02. In fall term, the non-AP students taking 8.02 are predominantly sophomores who for one reason or another did not complete 8.02 in the freshman year (e.g., they failed 8.01 or 8.02), and the AP students outperform them. In the spring term, very few AP students take 8.02. As a result, a useful comparison is not easily made.

Nicholas M. Patrikalakis is the Associate Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

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