Is Advanced Placement Computer Science at Stuy for you?

APCS is a full-year course that resembles an introductory computer science course at a good college. It covers much more material than the College Board requires for their APCS-A curriculum. It is a prerequisite for Stuyvesant's cool comp sci electives for seniors. It is available to juniors who have taken one or two semesters of Intro Comp Sci. Stuy's web site says more.

Many, many students in Stuy's last 20 years have enjoyed the APCS course, grown in its community, and shared the joy of learning some beautiful ways to think. After their taste of the subject in this course, some people have sought more learning in this area, while others moved on, carrying their learning from this area into others.

Talk to current and past APCS students. Some liked it; some disliked it. Expect your mileage to vary, according to the extent you resemble them. So talk to several students, and form your own judgment.

Is APCS for you? This page attempts some guidance on guessing well, formulated as three big questions:

the big questions

0. Does success with programming problems make you happy?

Notice what the question is NOT:

Focus on the "happy" in this question. Some of us get a rush of good brain chemicals when the thing works. We spend time admiring it. We run bigger tests, just to get more of the rush. We bore our friends trying to explain enough that they can admire our work. A working program pays us back for the struggle of its creation, for the time spent in wrong turns. It turns the frustration of debugging into elation at victory over bugs. We stay up too late beautifying code than no one else will ever see. We create the order of a working program out of nothing. We love this stuff.

1. Would you enjoy working with the best CS students, with all the work that entails?

After Intro Comp Sci, all the people who dislike the subject pursue other interests, like swimming or Shakespeare. Almost everyone in APCS wants to learn more CS.

The classes I am leading in the 2018-2019 school year seem to have a much larger proportion of students who skip doing the work, compared to classes from the previous year. I have yet to understand this phenomenon completely, but the cohort includes people who have communicated their disinterest in the subject, and at least two who took the course because other ten-tech courses were full. I am grateful for their honesty, and I am sorry that anyone winds in a course this hard when the learning is unrewarding to them.

There are probably a few people in the course because their parents want them to learn more CS. That turns out badly for both students and parents. So if you're on that path, have the tough conversation with parents now. Everyone will be happier in the long run.

Maybe it will help to ask them them to read this page. Maybe your school counselor can help. Do you find it tough to talk to parents about tough stuff? Welcome to the club. Talk anyway.

To learn more comp sci, one needs to work more. It would be great if people could learn my favorite subject without working so hard, but I know of no way to achieve that. The significant workload is why it matters whether success at the work makes you happy.

I try to limit homework in IntroCS to problems that a typical IntroCS student can do in half an hour. Some IntroCS students require more time; some require less time; some want to spend more time.

In contrast, homework in APCS is designed to take up to an hour, like the school's other AP courses, because APCS students want to learn more. Again, some people require more time; some require less. That’s a lot more work. For some, the bigger problems yield a bigger reward. But if that work will make you miserable, spend your time on subjects where the extra work will make you happy.

Whichever courses you think you will enjoy, don't take so many of them that the workload ruins your enjoyment of topics you like.

2. Are you willing to risk lower grades for more learning?

Grading in APCS needs to distinguish between avid students versus ok students. All of them can learn. But earning a 94 in APCS takes more work than earning a 94 in IntroCS.

A parent asked why a student's APCS grade was lower than the 96 that the student earned in IntroCS. The question is reasonable, but so is the answer: everyone admitted to APCS earned high grades in IntroCS. Unless a student excelled in IntroCS, the faster pace and more difficult material in APCS would defeat them. The less avid of those formerly-excelling students earn lower grades.

On the other hand, if you want to find ways to raise your CS game by learning with and from other leading students, APCS is a great opportunity to do so. Learning in the company of good students is why you came to Stuy, whether you knew that in advance or not.

reject some misconceptions

The complexities of scheduling imply that a prospective participant in APCS should not base their choices on any expectation for the period or teacher they would work with. Six comp sci teachers currently have experience teaching this course, and teaching assignments remain fluid.

Speed changes. The comp sci department spends significant consideration on the pace of APCS classes. So that pace is likely to change next year, as we work on reducing the dispersion between teachers. Second-guessing the results seems misguided.

This page conveys my opinions and judgment, aided by what others have taught me. It is certainly not official Stuy policy. Clear thinkers will consult other sources, including…

All those sources have helped my thinking, for which I am grateful. Errors on this page remain my responsibility.

more information

In 2020 spring there was considerable discussion of access to APCS for students to take only one semester of Intro to CS. See…

in closing…

People who enjoy learning comp sci often enjoy APCS — the heavy workload notwithstanding. On a personal note, I am hugely rewarded by working with them on my favorite subject.

— David Holmes,
aspiring Golux