SNELLVILLE -- South Gwinnett High School student Bryan Smith was looking for a way to challenge himself during his senior year, so he decided to take an Advanced Placement course in environmental science.
"It is a tougher course, but it is worth it," Smith said. "The tests are a lot harder, so I've had to change my studying habits to make sure I'm ready for the tests. ... Now I'm 10 times better in studying for tests."
This May students at South Gwinnett will take 864 Advanced Placement exams, school officials said. Since last year, the school has seen a 48 percent increase in the number of students taking the exams.
"We are here to make sure that every student reaches their full academic potential," said Eric Thigpen, an assistant principal at the school. "To that end, we believe AP accomplishes that."
In fact, Thigpen said, the syllabuses for AP courses align with college standards and must be approved by the College Board, a nonprofit organization that oversees the AP program.
"It's a very rigorous class that challenges students in a different way, so much so that it's a college-level course," Thigpen said.
AP exams are graded on a five-point scale, and students who earn a 3 or higher can potentially receive college credit for the course.
Trena Sharpe, said taking AP courses makes her feel more prepared for college. She's taking five AP courses this year, and she said the experience has helped her learn how to better manage her time.
Sharpe also said the classes are academically challenging.
"It's not just learning," she said. "It's applying what you've learned."
AP classes require students to move beyond a simple recall of information to strategic and extended thinking, such as drawing conclusions, analyzing and applying concepts, science teacher Kristina Cabral said.
"It challenges students in the way they think about education and challenges them to think," Cabral said. "They can't get away with just knowing the facts anymore."