So you want to take … AP Environmental Science?


Isabel Sim

Environmental Science (APES) students discuss their experiences in the class, which poses the question–is APES Ayala’s easiest AP or simply mimicry? While some find the content-heavy memorization challenging, others find its hands-on learning style fitting for those hesitant to take a science AP course.

Wren Bulawin , Open Canvas Manager, Staff Reporter

As students file into the classroom, they approach the counters surrounding the perimeter of the laboratory, where their newest lab project rests — neat rows of biodegradable plant pots, each filled with soil, paper, or other mediums of their choosing; some with sprouts, some with leaves, and others with nothing at all. Some students water their pots — others leave them alone and simply mark their progress. Others leave their plants to thrive in direct light, while many pots are left in the dark. 

This is but one of the many labs done during Ayala’s AP Environmental Science course. Unlike other AP science classes, this course does not put its main focus on dissections, the calculation of enthalpy, or the memorization of cell parts — rather, as the name suggests, it focuses on the natural world and the impacts that every little change has on it. 

As per the name, AP Environmental Science, better known as APES, is an Advanced Placement class equivalent to a “one-semester introductory college course in environmental science,” in which students will investigate and analyze natural environmental cycles as well as the causes of environmental disturbances. At Ayala, APES not only counts as an advanced class, but also counts towards elective and laboratory science credits on student transcripts. Additionally, students who take the class and pass the AP exam may be eligible for college credit, which may benefit those considering STEM and environmental-based majors. However, due to its limited ability, only juniors and seniors can take the course during periods one through four. 


Yet, while APES is commonly touted as the “easiest science AP,” this reputation may be slightly misleading. The AP exam has been ranked as the second hardest to pass, with only about 53.9% of students earning a 3 or higher in 2022; and, being an AP class, the curriculum provides its own challenges. Interviewed students who had previously taken the class typically rated it a six to seven out of ten in difficulty, while students currently taking the course rated it a seven out of ten. Their main reason: the heavy amount of cumulative content memorization required throughout the year.

“The concepts are easy, but there’s a lot of them, which is the difficult part,” said APES teacher Ms. Pamela Luncz. “Everything is connected and complex, and we cannot reduce environmental issues to any one thing.”

“A lot of the time, it’s [complete] memorization. So it’s a lot of studying,” added senior and current APES student Laila Erbin.

Yet, despite the challenging curriculum, Ms. Luncz’s personal teaching style ensures that both tactile and traditional learners can thrive throughout the course. Students in the class are provided with various resources outside of the textbook and lecture notes, such as study sheets outlining each concept’s main ideas, application-based investigations, and weekly review quizzes. 

“She does lecturing and recall on quizzes, so it’s like assessing your knowledge after a few notes,” said senior and current student Leila Kuvshinova. “It keeps me accountable, [since] I can’t just doze off. I have to make sure that I’m always there because there’s always going to be some questions [on a] quiz that I’m gonna miss.”

To further aid students with the memorization aspect of the course, Ms. Luncz also provides engaging, hands-on games based on both cumulative and unit-based topics, especially before major exams.

“We played this one game about carbon tax credits, where we basically made our own capitalist market,” said senior Ruby Kamal, recalling the previous year’s activity on environmental solutions. “We were exchanging carbon credits, and it was really fun because not only did you remember stuff, but you had to communicate with everyone in the class.”

However, as many of these tactile activities are application-based, students who struggle with memorizing and understanding base concepts through the class’s daily lectures may need to put in extra work.

“To understand what you’re doing in the labs, you have to understand what you were doing prior to that,” said senior and past student Genevive Amador. “You can’t learn [concepts] just by doing it [alone].”

Although APES provides its own challenges, students ultimately should not feel discouraged from taking the course, regardless of difficulty. After all, its focus on environmental science rather than completely building on prerequisite biology or chemistry knowledge allows students to jump into a science where they can start fresh.

“If you’re too scared to take AP Bio or [AP] Chemistry, and you want a taste of what it’s like taking [an] AP science, I think it’s a good start,” said Amador. “It’s not necessary, but I think anyone could really benefit from taking it.”

And for those concerned about college-credit practicality, the concepts of APES can be applied to nearly every aspect of study, from STEM to policy-making.

“APES benefits everyone [differently]. If you’re [going to be] a science major, you get the science aspect, but if you’re not a science person, you can still do well because you’re approaching it from a policy aspect,” said Ms. Luncz.

However, prospective students must be committed to putting in the work. After all, some students admitted that part of their challenging experiences stemmed from an initial lack of effort due to underestimating the course’s difficulty.

“At first, I thought it was going to be [an] easy AP, easy A,” said senior and previous student Celeste Banuelos. “But it was honestly kind of tough, especially with free response, [so my mindset] went from ‘Oh, this is an easy class’ to ‘Okay, it’s gonna take some work.’”

Ultimately, APES is structured to provide an engaging learning experience and ease students into college-level concepts, so juniors and seniors looking to challenge themselves alongside like-minded students while easing into the world of AP should consider trying out the course.

“I don’t regret my decision taking APES,” Banuelos said. “It was an overall fun experience. [Aside from the material], we did a lot of fun projects, and I enjoyed the people I met there.”