What Is AP Seminar? Should You Take It?


If your school offers AP Seminar, you might be wondering what it's all about. This AP class is great for students who want to challenge themselves and learn more about the independent research process before starting college.

In this guide, I'll give you an overview of what AP Seminar entails, a sample course outline, advice on whether you should take the course, and some tips on how to do well in it.


What Is AP Seminar?

AP Seminar is one of the course requirements for the AP Capstone Diploma and the AP Research and Seminar Certificate, both of which were introduced by the College Board in fall 2014.

If you take and pass AP Seminar, AP Research, and four other AP courses and exams, you will earn the AP Capstone Diploma. If you take and pass just AP Seminar and AP Research, you'll earn an AP Research and Seminar Certificate. Both of these actions are impressive accomplishments that demonstrate your ability to successfully manage college-level academic challenges.

AP Seminar offers students an introduction to conducting independent analysis of complex ideas across various disciplines. It involves reading and understanding advanced source material in the form of texts and other media.

You are expected to synthesize information from different sources, and formulate research questions based on these source materials. You'll elaborate on these ideas through essays, oral presentations, and team projects. The goal of AP Seminar is to provide students with the tools to evaluate information accurately and make compelling, evidence-based arguments.

Your seminar curriculum might be connected to another AP course you take, meaning you'd explore themes that relate to that course when constructing research projects for AP Seminar. For example, your school might offer a class titled "AP Seminar: American Studies" that is for students who are concurrently enrolled in AP US History.

AP Seminar can also function as a stand-alone class. For example, it could be called something like "AP Seminar: Networks" and offer a focus on the impacts of societal networks from various perspectives.


body_socialnetworks.jpgAP Seminar: Social Networks. You must write your research paper in the form of a series of tweets. Wait, that actually sounds kinda fun.


What Will You Do in AP Seminar?

The AP Seminar curriculum is framed around what the College Board calls five "Big Ideas." These ideas are all pretty buzzword-y (their first letters spell Q.U.E.S.T.—need I say more?), but they cover the main educational goals of the class.

Below are the five Big Ideas of AP Seminar and what they mean:


Big Idea 1: Question and Explore

This idea is about encouraging students to embrace intellectual curiosity and develop their own points of view. Learning to consider issues from different perspectives is also an important part of this.

You'll be introduced to the complexity of societal problems and learn how to view them in a larger context. This is where you start to build a strong foundation for the process of coming up with meaningful research questions.


Big Idea 2: Understand and Analyze

This Big Idea is about learning to read critically and reach the heart of an author's argument. You'll practice avoiding oversimplification and generalization when describing the points made by others. You'll also learn how successful arguments are formulated as well as the importance of counterarguments, context, and the ability of an argument to influence behavior.


Big Idea 3: Evaluate Multiple Perspectives

With this idea, you'll learn that a person's perspective is heavily informed by his or her background and worldview. You'll also consider your own biases and how these might impact your reading and interpretation of an argument.


Big Idea 4: Synthesize Ideas

This is about creating an effective argument from your ideas. You'll learn how to formulate a clear line of reasoning and how to avoid overgeneralizations. In addition, you'll be taught how to collect evidence while steering clear of plagiarism.


Big Idea 5: Team, Transform, and Transmit

This one is about teaching students how to do their best work in a team environment (as you might've guessed from its cringeworthy name). The main focuses here are self-reflection, revision, and developing both good communication and effective presentation skills.

Class discussions also play a large role in AP Seminar in the form of debates, group discussions, and reflection on open-ended questions associated with the course material.


How These Big Ideas Are Put Into Practice

These five Big Ideas manifest in AP Seminar in a series of tasks and lessons, which involve the following:

  • Exploring one or more different themes by making connections across subjects and looking at them from various perspectives
  • Learning to fully appreciate and understand issues by viewing them in different contexts and across different types of sources (writing, performances, broadcasts, etc.)
  • Learning to avoid plagiarism (very important for college!) while using the ideas of others for support in your own work
  • Working collaboratively on a team project to evaluate a real-world issue and present the findings in a written report and presentation
  • Working independently to come up with a research question and to formulate an argument that culminates in a written report and presentation

AP Seminar will teach you many core skills that are important for college-level research, and it'll give you the tools you need for the AP Research course (which most students take the following year).

In the next section, I'll give you an example of how a real AP Seminar course might be structured.


body_team.jpgTeam, Transform, and Transmit: stage one of a bizarre cult initiation, Big Idea, or both?


AP Seminar Sample Course Outline

AP Seminar is a class that often weaves through many different subject areas. Since the goal is to gain a better grasp of the complexity of opinions on societal issues and to use your newfound understanding to do more effective, self-driven research, it covers a lot of ground.

In this example (which I'm basing off a real syllabus I found online), the AP Seminar course was divided into three units for the first semester:


Unit 1: Questioning Modernity

This unit's focus is on introducing the main concepts behind AP Seminar. This includes learning about the process of inquiry, understanding complex arguments, and becoming familiar with rules for avoiding plagiarism. This particular unit is graded based on participation, a 250-word reflection paper, and a group presentation.

In keeping with the theme of contemporary culture, source materials include the famous T. S. Eliot poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," a book by Steven Best titled The Post-Modern Turn, and an article from Forbes titled "Is Facebook Making Us Anti-Social?"



Unit 2: Perception—Arguing Money

This unit is a continuation of the learning experience in the first one but with a focus on advanced topics related to wealth and poverty. This unit also emphasizes viewing issues from different perspectives.

It is assessed based on participation, a 400-word reflection paper, and another group presentation. Source materials for the unit include Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, The Communist Manifesto, and Andrew Carnegie's essay "The Gospel of Wealth."


Unit 3: Mastering Education

This final unit in AP Seminar brings together concepts learned in the previous units to discuss topics in education. It is graded based on participation, a 500-word argumentative paper, a 500-word reflection paper, and another group presentation. Source materials for this unit include the film Waiting for "Superman" and several scholarly articles on The Common Core.


body_teaching.jpg"Oh, is that what I'm supposed to be doing?" Education is complex.


In the second semester of the class, students will use the skills they learned in the first three units to take on larger challenges in the form of two research projects and the final exam. Each of these assignments makes up a portion of the final AP score.


Team Project and Presentation (25% of AP Score)

The first assignment is a team project and presentation, worth 25% of the final AP score. Students collaborate in teams of three to six to identify a problem or question they want to research. Each student does research individually and presents his or her findings to the group.

The group then works together to compile a written report and an approximately 10-minute class presentation, followed by a defense of their argument based on questions posed by the teacher.

Each student will also write a reflection on the project as a whole, detailing their collaborative process and approach to both research and problem-solving. The entire project takes place over the course of about two months.


Individual Research-Based Essay and Presentation (35% of AP Score)

The second assignment, worth 35% of the AP score, is an individual project. For this part of the course, the College Board releases source materials on a certain topic or theme that students are expected to use in their research. The final paper must use at least one of these sources.

Students are expected to produce a 2,000-word written argument, a six- to eight-minute oral presentation, and a defense of their argument based on two questions posed by the teacher. Students will have around two months to complete this project.


Final Exam (40% of AP Score)

The final exam for AP Seminar consists of three short-answer and two essay questions. The short-answer questions ask students to analyze an argument from a single source. For one essay question, students must compare arguments from different authors, whereas for the other, they must formulate their own evidence-based argument.

Seven sources are given to students for use on the final exam questions.


body_researchproject.jpgIf a featureless white blob creature can do research, so can you.


You can see from this outline that AP Seminar stretches across a variety of topics, and there's quite a bit of freedom to choose what you want to research in the second half.

Overall, AP Seminar is focused on teaching you how to think critically, which is a big departure from many high school courses that just serve to convey specific information. AP Seminar is clearly a more abstract course—but also potentially a more valuable one.


Should You Take AP Seminar?

If you hope to earn an AP Research and Seminar Certificate or an AP Capstone Diploma, you need to take AP Seminar. The AP Capstone program culminates in a 5,000-word research paper that is completed in the AP Research class—an impressive accomplishment for a high school student!

Even if you don't go on to earn the AP Capstone Diploma, you will learn highly valuable critical—thinking and research skills in AP Seminar. Students who take it might place out of introductory college courses or earn college credits.

AP Seminar can also help you avoid academic shock when you get to college. Many high school students have never done in-depth research and therefore don't know how to begin when they're tasked with their first big project in college. If you take this AP class, you'll be ahead of the curve in understanding proper research methods and in learning to avoid both unreliable information and plagiarism.

Lastly, AP Seminar can be a fun experience because it gives you the opportunity to debate important issues with your classmates and work on a project that interests you. There is a level of independence in the seminar-style class that is absent in most other high school classes, which might appeal to students who prefer to explore ideas on their own terms.

If you're an independent, driven student who is hoping to attend a competitive college, AP Seminar might be a great course for you.


body_academicpath.jpgAP Seminar will allow you to start forging your own academic path before you even get to college.


How to Do Well in AP Seminar: 3 Essential Tips

What you'll need to do to succeed in AP Seminar depends partly on the format and subject area of the class since it has a lot of flexibility in its structure, teaching methods, and topics. Here are some general tips for success:


#1: Be Open-Minded

AP Seminar mainly deals with analyzing differing perspectives, so try to approach each reading with a willingness to listen and think critically about the author's opinion, even if it doesn't align with your own. This will enable you to adopt a wider view of issues and appreciate their complexity. These skills are critical if you hope to be successful in your research projects.


#2: Participate in Class

Class discussions are very important in AP Seminar. Even if you're not usually big on participation, you should make an effort to contribute to every discussion. Being able to actively engage with your peers will enhance your understanding of the material and allow you to carry out productive conversations with others in your class who might see things differently.


#3: Keep Up With Assignments

This is important in any class, but it's especially critical in AP Seminar. Since you'll be reading and absorbing a lot of material, it's important not to fall behind the rest of the class. Participation relies on a thoughtful reading of the course material, and it's hard to do that if you're trying to play catch up with assignments that were due earlier.

Because you'll be doing research projects both independently and with a team, always stay on top of deadlines to avoid getting overwhelmed or letting down your teammates!


body_participation.jpgLearning how to communicate ideas effectively is a major part of AP Seminar.


Conclusion: The Benefits of Taking AP Seminar

Critical thinking and the ability to logically evaluate arguments are key skills that'll help you in all aspects of your life. AP Seminar can be a very practical course if you're up for the challenge.

You'll have three major assessments:

  • A team research project
  • An independent research project
  • A final exam

Throughout the course, you'll be asked to read a variety of source materials and participate in class discussions. You'll learn about proper research methods, argumentative techniques, and the importance of looking at issues from all sides.

Students who take AP Seminar can then go on to take AP Research, which offers students even more independence in choosing research topics.

AP Seminar is essentially an opportunity for advanced students to get some experience with the types of assignments and expectations that are common in college classes. Take this class and you'll be way ahead in the game!


What's Next?

Still planning out your schedule? Use this guide to help you decide which AP classes to take.

If AP courses seem kind of intimidating, check out this article to learn just how hard they really are—and to decide whether you are up for the challenge.

To learn more about creating a class schedule that'll give you the best chance of attending a top college, read this article on what a rigorous course schedule looks like.



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About the Author
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Samantha Lindsay

Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.

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