Academics

A comprehensive look at high school academics. We cover grades, AP and IB courses, and the post graduate year. Learn the secrets of A+ students. Explore summer abroad programs, read interviews with experts and get valuable tips on excelling academically.
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Most schools use letter grades these days. But not every school uses the same letter grade scheme. This can cause problems when it comes time to send transcripts off to college admissions offices. The A at one school may not be equivalent to the A at another school.
 
The most common grade scheme is the following:

A+  97-100
A    93-96
A-   90-92
B+  87-89
B    83-86
B-   80-82
C+  77-79
C    73-76
C-   70-72
D+  67-69
D    63-66
D-   60-62
F     Below 60

If your school uses a variation of this scheme, then be sure to send a key or explanation sheet attached to each transcript. Failure to do so could cause mis-interpretation of students' results.
 
How does this tie in with GPA?
 
GPA or Grade Point Average is numerical equivalent of all your letter grades totalled and averaged. The numerical equivalents for letter grades are as follows:
A = 4.0
B = 3.0
C = 2.0
D = 1.0
F = 0.0
 
So, in theory if an A is 4.0, an A+ is higher. At some institutions that is the case. To put grades into perspective most graduate schools will require a 3.0 GPA for admission. American public schools set the benchmark at 1.0 for graduation.

 

Students sitting in rows of desks listening to a teacher lecture? You are not likely to find this scenario in a school which uses Harkness Tables. The brainchild of wealthy industrialist Edward Harkness, an Exeter alumnus, Harkness Tables are oval tables which seat 12-18 students together with their teacher. You cannot hide in the back of the classroom which uses Harkness Tables. That's the point. Engaged students learn.
 
In ancient times teaching was collaborative - think Socrates and Quintillian - but somewhere in our Victorian-Edwardian past we got off the rails and began lining children up in regimented rows of chairs and desks. Maria Montessori and Rudolph Steiner rebelled against this sort of regimentation. Their classrooms became what we would now call activity centers.
 
High school lab courses such as chemistry and physics have always been interactive and hands on. Discussion of findings and research are encouraged in that collaborative environment. Every member of the class has an opinion and a finding. That is the idea behind the Harkness Table. Every member of the class is encouraged to be an active participant. Because eye contact is a critical element of this style of learning, the Harkness Table's oval shape is ideal. It allows everybody around the table to see and be seen. Students and teacher interact. The teacher facilitates without dominating the lesson. He guides and steers the learning process. Maria Montessori would be thrilled.
 
Harkness Tables are widely used in prep...
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Several private schools offer a whole academic year abroad. Still others offer a summer abroad. These are enrichment programs designed to expose students who participate in them to the culture and customs of the host country. Promoting global understanding is an underlying aim of all these 'abroad' programs.

School Year Abroad
The School Year Abroad program was started by Phillips Academy in 1964. It is now operated by a consortium of about 30 schools located across the nation. Basically SYA offers approximately 60 students in their junior or senior year the opportunity to spend an academic year abroad in China, France, Italy, Spain or India. Students stay with host families. They are able to maintain their academic standing with their home school while at the same time experiencing all that a year living abroad offers.

Summer Abroad
Several schools offer summer programs which take place in foreign countries. Here are two examples of the sort of thing being offered:

"Woodberry in Mexico brings students to Morelia, where they take a variety of classes in nontraditional subjects such as guitar, drums, pre-Hispanic Michoacan, human zoology, and Mexican cuisine. They also have opportunities to experience parts of Mexico few Americans see. Possibilities include tours of artisans’ workshops, a professional soccer match, an excursion to colonial towns, and an orphanage visit. In Ixtapa, students experience an “all-inclusive” resort along the beautiful Mexican coastline. Puebla and Oaxaca offer important archeological sites that teach much about indigenous cultures." ...
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Many students find that a PG or Post Graduate year is a wonderful solution to several situations. Perhaps they feel that they are a little young to go off to college. A PG year offers time to grow and develop without taking a year off. Maybe they want to perfect a sport or artistic activity. A PG year offers a well-focussed span of time in which to accomplish that perfecting. A PG year also offers a chance to remediate any small gaps you might have in your high school transcript. Or maybe you just want a year before you head off for five years of pre-med or bio-kinetic science. The PG offers a great deal.
 

Admission Requirements
What kind of grades do you need? Pretty good ones! A's and B's are expected. In addition you will need to offer a sport or other exttracurricular activity. That will enable you to fit right into the life and community of your new school. After all, you will only be there for a year. Stellar recommendations from your current school will help.

Application Process
The application process is a little different. Instead of taking SSAT or ISEE, you offer PSAT or SAT test scores. Places for PG year are extremely limited. Be sure to apply as early as you can. Need financial aid? Expect that to be limited. Always ask up front.

 

When most people think of the IB or International Baccalaureate, they are thinking of the IB Diploma Programme. The International Baccalaureate Organization actually offers three programs: Primary Years, Middle Years and Diploma Programmes.
 
The IB Diploma Programme is a two year course of study for high school students aged 16-19. It has its own curriculum quite distinct from the more universal AP coursework most prep schools offer. The Programme leads to external examinations, success in which gain a diploma which is widely recognized by universities and colleges worldwide.
 
What Is The Difference Between IB and AP?
Think of IB as a complete package. It is curriculum and course work taught to universal IB standards. The International Baccalaureate Organisation authorizes schools to offer its programmes. (You don't just hang out a sign saying you are an IB school!) The teachers have to undergo a thorough preparation for teaching the IB programmes. The coursework culminates in examinations set and scored by the IB organization.

 

Think of AP or Advanced Placement as an add-on to your school's course offerings. The difference is that at the end of an AP course students are examined in a national examination as opposed to a local examination.

 

 

What Do IB and AP Have In Common?
IB and AP are all about excellence and high standards. Any prep school which offers IB or AP is making a statement. They are investing enormous amounts of effort and resources into achieving the...
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