AP Capstone: Beware the Cryptid

Mr. James Grace introduces a new AP course to Rocklin High School.

Saja Katmeh

Ah, the Advanced Placement species. Known by any student here at Rocklin High School, this species is notorious for being painful and rewarding at the same time. Recent sightings have reported that a new kind of AP has been discovered: AP Capstone. The reporter? Mr. James Grace.

In all seriousness, AP Capstone is a new course that’ll be offered at RHS next year. It’s a fairly recent AP course, founded in 2015, and Mr. Grace had never heard of it until he “stumbled upon it” one year ago. 

“The program is a combination of two courses: AP Seminar and AP Research,” said Mr. Grace. “AP Seminar is a course that’s open to all students, but AP Research, which is the second year course, can only be taken by those who passed Seminar.”

If the names didn’t give it away, the courses will focus on research and presentation skills. AP Seminar, the first of the two, will be an introduction to AP Research, a 101 of sorts. Mr. Grace gave a very detailed (and slightly terrifying) description of how the course is expected to go.

At the beginning of the year, I’m going to teach how to read non-fiction texts, how to identify claims and arguments within those texts, how to weigh the credibility of a source,” said Mr. Grace. “We’re gonna talk about research methodology and how to write the type of essays [students] are going to need to type for the College Board. And then, we talk about how to give speeches and how to present. That’s all the first semester.”

The second semester will be less rigorous in terms of teacher instructions, but possibly a nightmare to soloists because students will be placed in groups. Here’s the kicker: that team will remain the same all term long.

“Students will be put into a team, and then the team is going to generate a research question and research the answer to the question from multiple critical and academic lenses and multiple perspectives,” said Mr. Grace.

AP Research is where the fruits of students’ efforts will be reaped. There won’t be much busy-work because the entire year will revolve around the student picking a topic to research and sticking with it.

“AP Research is all by yourself,” said Mr. Grace. “So basically: how do you do academic research and write papers and do a formal presentation and, in senior year, you choose a topic. You have to find a gap in the research and then fill the gap.”

It seems strange that an entire year will be dedicated to a single research topic, but Mr. Grace says that “Not everything that you do in an academic course can be answered in a five-paragraph essay.” That’s how universities work, too: you spend years learning one thing to earn a master’s degree on.

Speaking of universities, Capstone is no joke when it comes to meeting deadlines. All work goes directly to the College Board, so any late work is out of Mr. Grace’s hands.

“Any student that’s taking Capstone needs to be able to meet deadlines,” said Mr. Grace. “If you don’t meet a deadline, you’re out. If the deadline is missed, that’s not a conversation that you can have with me. You’d have to negotiate with the College Board in New York, so you can pitch your excuse there, but I can guarantee you that their response will be ‘sorry’.”

Now, onto the elephant in the room: the AP exam. Capstone does this a little differently, and that’s where the line is drawn between Capstone and other APs.

“What’s different about Capstone, as opposed to other AP courses, is that the exam is not in May,” said Mr. Grace. “For AP Seminar, 55 percent of your overall AP score is determined by the score that you receive on the two papers that you submit in the middle of the year and your performances on two presentations. So we start taking the AP exam in late November.”

That is why Mr. Grace advises against taking AP Capstone if students don’t want to take the AP exam. The course itself is the exam, so signing up for the course is the equivalent of signing up for the exam. Taking that into account, expect a fee in order to enter the class.

Oh, did I forget to mention that this class counts for English credit? The only reason this fact is all the way down here is because Mr. Grace doesn’t want students to take this course in place of AP Lang. and AP Lit. He’d rather it’s taken alongside the courses.

“[AP Seminar] would be a really good course to take with AP Language, but it can’t replace it,” said Mr. Grace. “You can take the class and receive English credit for it, but it’s not good to use it to avoid AP Lang. because we go over things in AP Lang. that [are] really helpful to seniors moving onto their SATs and colleges.”

Mr. Grace is hopeful about AP Capstone and believes that it will be a popular and fun class to teach, but he does worry about a few things.

“I am concerned that [AP Capstone] might gut my AP Lang. class and AP Lit. next year. It would be easier to teach AP Seminar, but I’ve also had so many kids that’ve moved on and gotten their master’s degrees say that AP Lang. helped them out a lot. AP Lang. and AP Lit. are also more well known and accepted by colleges than AP Capstone, which is still new and unknown to many schools.”

Still, Mr. Grace believes that this would be a good introductory AP class to anyone that’s never taken an AP class before. Passing can also earn students an advanced diploma, which would look good on resumes.

“[Taking AP Seminar] would be like getting your feet wet in the world of AP. It would be a good introductory course to take. This course is also perfect for kids that like keeping trophies and resume material because if you pass the two courses you get what is called a Capstone Diploma, which is an advanced diploma.”

AP Capstone is still new to the whole world, so don’t feel threatened by this recent addition. If you put in the effort and do your best, AP Capstone is bound to be just as rewarding as the other AP courses RHS has to offer.