Image courtesy of College Board’s AP division.

We get to meet a lot of interesting people when working on TP, and today’s interview is no exception. Have you ever taken an AP test or class in school? Meet one of the honchos who works on these programs, Trevor Packer. We may or may not have tweeted at him a couple of weeks ago, and now, here we are!

Check out our chat with Mr. Packer about all things Advanced Placement (and it’s also no coincidence that his initials are ‘TP’)!

What do you do as the Head of AP, and what’s a typical day like?

Trevor Packer: Great question.  In a nutshell, I work with teams of college professors and AP teachers from around the world to update the AP courses and exams each year, and then with researchers to examine how well AP students do when they receive credit and placement in college. This work also involves supporting the teacher training weeks that are offered by many colleges and universities each summer to help schools train new AP teachers.  And then there is an annual cycle of reviewing and approving AP teachers’ course syllabi, printing the AP Exams, shipping them to schools, scoring them in June, and then reporting the scores to colleges, schools, teachers, and students.

But the part of my job that I care most deeply about is the work we’re doing with educators and policymakers to ensure that students who have worked hard in middle school and 9th and 10th grades gain access to the AP coursework they deserve. Over the past decade, low-income student participation in AP has more than quadrupled, providing many of the most disadvantaged students in the country with college credit that will significantly reduce their college costs.

What’s a surprising fact that most students don’t know about the AP?

TP: Most students don’t realize that the majority of college students are now taking 5-6 years to earn their bachelor’s degree, which adds tens of thousands of dollars to college costs. However, research shows that the majority of students who earn scores of 2 or higher on AP Exams graduate on time in 4 years or less.

In 2013, high school graduates qualified for more than $2 billion in college credit through their AP scores. 14 states now have laws that require every public college/university in the state to provide AP credit, and overall, 99% of the colleges and universities we survey provide credit for qualifying AP scores.

What was your favorite subject in school and why?

TP: English. I have always loved reading, and I had wonderful English teachers who treated each text like a mystery, encouraging me and the other students to look closely at the evidence within the text in order to understand it. The moment I first remember loving English was when a substitute teacher assigned us all to read William Faulkner’s brilliant story “A Rose for Emily.” The story requires the reader to piece together many different clues to discover what happened to Miss Emily, and is quite challenging, requiring great attention to the details within the text – but there’s a real thrill of discovery and accomplishment that comes with solving this sort of literary challenge.

And then I got my first taste of teaching in the AP English Literature course I took in 11th grade; the teacher required us each to select one short story to teach to the rest of the class. I picked Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use,” and the experience of having to figure out how to teach that story to my peers was so illuminating that I decided to major in English (despite my grandfather’s strong desire for me to become the first Packer to earn a medical degree).

Some people might be wondering: Why are the APs great for students?

TP: AP is not about memorizing facts, but about “hands-on” learning. This is what colleges want to see. Research on AP course work confirms AP’s comparability to introductory college courses in content, skills and learning outcomes. Students who take AP courses have the opportunity to develop the critical thinking, reasoning and communication skills necessary to succeed in college and careers. Students who receive AP Exam scores of 3 or higher (on a 5-point scale) have the opportunity to receive college credit or placement while still in high school, which offers them more time to do things like pursue a double major or study abroad.  When you consider that half of students who enroll in 4-year colleges take more than 4 years to graduate, AP helps students to take full advantage of college, without risking their ability to graduate on time.

What’s your favorite study/work tip for students?

TP: Research shows that students who understand that academic excellence is the result of persistent, focused work and practice, rather than “innate abilities”, have stronger college success. So the most important thing a student can do is to ask a teacher for additional examples of challenging tasks or problems, because practice truly does make perfect.

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the author

Lily Herman is a junior at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. Besides bopping around on The Prospect, Lily is a columnist for USA TODAY College (read the Quad Report, yo); an editorial intern for The Daily Muse; a contributing editor for the campus blog Wesleying; a national contributing editor for Her Campus; and an editorial/marketing intern at HelloFlo. When she is not studying or awkwardly waving at people around campus, Lily enjoys eating Sour Patch Kids and re-watching the Friday Night Lights series finale (she's Team Saracen, by the way). Also (shameless plug alert), feel free to follow her on Twitter, or email her at lherman(at)theprospect(dot)net.

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