Biology at BHS

Parent Q&A

  • My sophomore is deciding on his schedule next year, and his history teacher told him that AP Bio requires 2 hours of nightly homework, on average. For those of you whose kids are taking the class right now: Is this accurate? If so, he may not want to do it— even though he’s taking AP Chem right now and really enjoying the challenge. But two hours of homework on top of all the other subjects seems daunting. 

    I’m also just curious about AP classes at Berkeley High in general. My idea of AP is that you do one or two a year, in the subjects you truly love. But I’m also hearing things that make me feel that AP’s in Academic Choice function more like honors classes, and you take as many as you can if you want an academic challenge (which my child does). I’d love to hear from those of you with juniors and seniors: how do you see it? how many did your child take? My kid isn’t especially drawn to English, but he is strong academically— should he take AP Lit?  Thank you!

    My senior daughter took AP Bio, AP Lang&Comp, and AP US History junior year. This is pretty common for academic kids in AC, but it is a lot of work. The classes were great and she learned a tremendous amount. The teachers were excellent. I recommend those three AP's junior year if you think your student can handle the workload. In addition, my daughter took a 4th AP class that year (Art History). She managed to get A's in all of these classes but she did homework seven days a week. It was hard but she's glad she did it. Best of luck to you and your son.

    I love the way you are thinking about this! Some parents and kids are convinced that they need to take as many AP classes as possible to get into a "good" college. 

    I cross-checked with my kid, who took AP Bio at BHS; she definitely did NOT have 2 hours of homework per night, and she loved the class. If your kid is enjoying AP Chem and isn't overwhelmed by it, then AP Bio is a good fit. But balance is crucial, and each AP class comes with extra homework; don't overload on them, and don't sign up for a subject you don't like. 

    I recommend reading what Denise Pope of Challenge Success says about it (she's a education expert who runs a program at Stanford aimed at getting families off the race to nowhere. Here's a transcript of a short video she did on this very subject: 

    "When your child is enrolled in middle school or high school, there will be a time when you have to make a decision about how many honors or AP classes they should take. And the answer is: it depends. And it really depends on the kid, it depends on the schedule that they have in school and the schedule that they have out of school. What you want to do is look at the big picture, look at how much homework is this kid going to bring home. An honors class or an advanced class usually has significantly more homework and may be harder for the kid to keep up if they also have a very full extracurricular life. The other thing to keep in mind is it's really the kid's choice, and when I say that I mean you don't want them to overload, so you can put the kibosh on it. But if someone wants to challenge themselves and take the plunge, you want to encourage that because it's usually about a love for that particular class. So my rule of thumb is don't take an honors or AP class unless you really love the subject, and if you feel you can handle it within the full schedule of looking at what you're doing in school and the other load that you have outside of school. And the final thing to say is don't be swayed by what the colleges say. You can absolutely get into college taking no honors or AP classes, and it may be that if you take too many honors or AP classes, you're gonna mess up your GPA, you're gonna run into stress and other problems, it's gonna hurt you in the long run. So don't try to game it based on what the colleges want; do it based on what your child truly loves and can handle."

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Tutor for AP Biology Class

Oct 2013

My daughter is a good student, but really struggling with her AP Biology course at Berkeley High school. I'm thinking that she may benefit from a tutor. Does anyone have recommendations for a good tutor for this course? Any idea how much they would charge? I've searched previous postings, but there aren't many recommendations for this particular course. It would also be helpful to hear from other parents of students who have taken this course. Is there anything else you would recommend other than getting a tutor? Thanks in advance for your support and recommendations. BH mom



Ugh! That AP Biology class! We suffered through that a couple of years ago. It covers an overwhelming amount of information and requires students to really step up their studying skills. We used a tutor from Achieve Learning (on Grand in Oakland) paying $45/hour for a tutor who would come to our house. That tutor is no longer there but they might have someone else who can tutor this subject.

We have also liked the Bay Area Tutoring Center in Berkeley (not for AP Bio, for geometry and pre-calculus but I know they tutor AP Bio), for which we paid $55/hour but we had to go to Berkeley.

I pushed my daughter (to no avail) to join a study group or get a study buddy which was recommended by her teacher; I think it definitely helps to study this with others. We also got her a supplemental study guide and she watched videos on the Khan Academy site.

With all of this (plus some study help from me) she managed to improve her grade but it was definitely an uphill battle. Glad to have AP Bio in the rearview


June 1999

OK, I'll second the recommendation of Alex Panasenko for biology. I had him some (sigh) 28 years ago and when I went to see him at last year's back to school night he was still the same feisty, funny, irreverent, caring, & tough teacher I remember shepherding my brothers & me through his class. I've now convinced my not-so-great-student son to take him this next year for Advanced Biology because I believe that Mr. Panasenko will keep him amused, challenged and motivated, and that I'll hear from Mr. Panasenko just as my mother did if my son starts screwing up like I did. I credit Mr. Panasenko with being a major factor in my graduating from Berkeley High at times when there were an awful lot of far more interesting distractions than high school in Berkeley. While my son's not at the risk I was of not graduating, I'm convinced Mr. Panasenko will help him work to a higher level.
Patrick