Math is an extremely important subject in high school, some students would love to avoid it but it’s part of our school curriculum and we’re stuck with it. Some are more gifted in mathematics than others and have a much easier time. Perhaps it isn’t even necessarily simply math, you may love computer science and want to work hard in your math courses to do a better job in this specific subject as it requires a lot of mathematics.  Depending on your level of Math skills and abilities, as well as what you enjoy studying, now or in the near future you may want to begin taking more advanced math courses. 

There are different levels to this, however. In high school, you can take normal math courses which are your Algebra, Geometry, and Pre Calculus courses. If you have good enough grades in your math classes before you begin high school and/or at the beginning of high school you can think about taking Honors Math, which would be Algebra, Geometry, and Pre Calculus but at an even more advanced level. A step beyond this would be AP math classes. AP standing for “Advanced Placement '', these classes if you would like to try, and can handle, would be taken during your Junior and/or senior year. 

So what are the differences between normal, Honors, and AP classes? What are the advantages and disadvantages of taking one or the other? Here you’ll have an explanation of how you could benefit from taking Normal math classes, or Honors Math, or AP math classes. 

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Normal High School Math classes

Math equations on a chalkboard
Regular math classes are not as demanding as Honors or AP math. Source: Pixabay

If you are deciding if you would like to follow a normal math curriculum in high school these are the courses you are going to take:

  • Algebra 1
  • Geometry
  • Algebra 2
  • Pre Calculus

Throughout your four years of high school, you will be required to complete three years of math, however, some recommend four years as certain colleges around the country require that you complete four. 

Algebra 

In most high schools you will learn Algebra 1 when you arrive in ninth grade. This will be your first high school math class, and while at first, that task may seem daunting you always have various resources to help. In Algebra you will be covering concepts such as polynomials, inequalities, functions, and rational and radical expressions. 

Geometry 

In Geometry, which you would typically take during your sophomore year of high school you’ll be going over geometric transformations, right triangle relationships, and trigonometry. In other words, a whole lot of angles. 

Algebra II 

In most high schools you’ll be taking Algebra II while you are in your junior year. In Algebra II you’ll be learning concepts such as linear equations, inequalities, and more trigonometry. As the name suggests Algebra II will be a further study of concepts you learned in Algebra I. If you would like to get ahead in your math curriculum, taking Algebra II at the same time as Geometry is also an option! 

Pre-Calculus

There are colleges that don’t require you to take pre-calculus in high school, however, there are quite a few that do, therefore there are many high schools around the country that will at the very least encourage you to take precalculus. In precalculus, you will study factoring and division, as well as equations and inequalities. 

What you learn in Honors Math

pi-on-a-chalkboard
Honors math classes are at a faster pace but can be more rewarding. Source: Pixabay

Taking Honors math you will follow the same type of high school curriculum, from Algebra, Geometry, to Algebra II, and pre-calculus. The big difference here is in the name instead of Algebra I, it will be Honors Algebra I. Instead of Geometry it will be Honors Geometry. Of course, it is not only the title that will change but also the coursework. 

Taking Honors classes means a more demanding math class than the normal Algebra, and Geometry classes. The difference is it´s changed for students who have been achieving higher marks in math. It will be Algebra and geometry for example but you will go deeper into the material. 

Taking honors math is a much bigger challenge than regular math, and therefore helps you to develop your mathematical skills much quicker and prepares you for college and beyond. What are some of the key differences then? 

  • Faster pace
  • Less time on exams
  • Require more developed answers on exams
  • More coursework

If you’ve been good at math throughout grade school, taking honors math can be the perfect challenge for you to see if you’re ready for AP math classes or AP Computer science classes, and possibly a career that requires some high-level math skills. 

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What exactly are AP math classes? 

Teacher writing equations on a board
Scoring high on an AP exam can earn you college credit. Source: Unsplash

While honors are basically just an amplification and more challenging version of normal math courses that you take in high school, AP classes are in another league. Unless you are mathematically gifted like Sheldon Cooper you would typically be taking AP math classes during your junior and/or senior year. 

During your senior or junior year if you have the skills to take these classes you would typically have the choices to take various types of AP courses. These math courses are made to be taken as college-level courses. In other words, college students who arrive at college without having taken AP classes will be taking Calculus at some point in college. These courses offer a college-level difficulty you won’t find in honors math. 

The AP courses that focus on math you can take are:

  • AP Calculus AB
  • AP Calculus BC
  • AP Computer
  • AP Computer Science Principles 
  • AP Statistics

AP Calculus AB and BC are basically one and the same. They both cover more or less the same concepts such as limits and continuity, and differentiation. AP Calculus BC, however, is at a faster pace and examines a few more concepts. 

In the AP Computer science courses you’ll be learning about programs and algorithms at an advanced level, as well as about Computer systems and networks. 

When you take AP statistics you’ll be investing in how to collect data, probability, and drawing conclusions based on the data you’ve collected. 

Advantages and Disadvantages Between the Three Levels

Even though taking the easiest courses may seem like the best option straight away will be the best choice there are plenty of advantages and disadvantages to think about when taking math classes at a normal level, Honors Math, or AP math. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Normal Math classes

Taking normal math classes means you will go at a slower pace and cover less material than Honors math. If you are a student that doesn’t have an exceptionally high level in math it could be best to take regular math classes, and there’s no shame in that. You may also have a higher level in math but not exactly have enough time to dedicate to studying all of the extra material in Honors math. If you are dedicated to an extracurricular activity such as sports or work, or both, regular math classes may be the best option for you.

Having said that the disadvantage is that you won’t have as nice a looking resume when applying for colleges, and scholarships. Getting into colleges can be competitive and if you have less on your resume then perhaps you have less of a chance of getting a scholarship. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Honors Math 

Honors math is an excellent way to earn yourself a much better-looking resume when applying for colleges and scholarships. You will stand out more than those who took only the basic math courses. The advanced level and faster pace will also prepare you better long term for college-level courses. It is also a good middle ground between AP and regular courses, as it is more difficult than normal courses, however not the level of the AP math courses. 

Taking Honors math is a huge benefit to you, however, if you don’t have the time to study or process all the materials it could become overwhelming. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of AP math

The main benefit of completing an AP course is you can earn college credit straight away. The difficulty will also prepare you for college-level classes when you finally do arrive at a college or university. There will also be new concepts for you to learn such as statistics that you hadn’t really gone over yet prior to taking that course. 

The downside is the same as Honors math if you can’t dedicate your time and energy it will become an extremely challenging and overwhelming endeavor. 

How to Choose which is best for you

Light bulb and doors with question marks
Choosing what level of math you take depends on your math skills as well as your lifestyle. Source Pixabay

When you arrive in high school there are many things to worry about, what math courses may or may not be high on your list just yet, but it is an important question, especially if you have a talent for numbers. Deciding what math courses are dependent on not only your skills in math but what type of student and person you are, and how much time you can dedicate to studying. In the end, there are many possibilities for you whatever path you choose.  

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