[dropcap style=”flat”]S[/dropcap]tudents from RBHS will take 417 Advanced Placement exams during the first three weeks of May. Taking AP has become a popular option for juniors especially, but as the time for test-taking drew closer, those who crammed their year with these courses began to have a lot to stress about.
Junior Emily Ma, for example, has four exams to prepare for. After pressure from her parents and like-minded friends, Ma said she took these classes figuring they would help ready herself for college.
“There’s a lot more homework [in AP courses,] and I have to budget my time better, which doesn’t always work out, so I usually get a lot less sleep,” Ma said. “They usually go deeper with the content, which can be confusing for me. . . I don’t feel prepared, and I doubt I’ll feel prepared walking into the tests. There’s just so much content it’s hard to grasp it all.”
Fortunately, Ma said she and her friends work together for classes they have in common. She said they do a good job of helping one another cheer up whenever they feel discouraged or overly stressed. One of her AP instructors, Nicole Clemens, teaches Language and Composition in a merged US Studies class.
“As a group, AP students struggle more than non-AP students with time management,” Clemens said. “I think in my AP class in particular is a place where students realize this for the first time. It’s two AP courses and it’s often the first time very bright students walk into a course not already knowing how to do the skills or knowing the content. It’s a hard pill to swallow when school has always been pretty easy and then suddenly it’s not so easy.”
Another one of her students, junior Adam Vincent, joined her class on top of AP Physics 2 as a way to challenge himself. He said that by doing something so difficult, he figured it would help him become better adept to the challenges.
“Essentially, I took these classes thinking, ‘Oh, boy, higher difficulty means I’ll get better’,” Vincent said. “[But] it just stresses me out to an unhealthy level and while it may have made me better than a regular class, I definitely feel there is a lot of unneeded stress that comes from AP classes.”
Clemens said she and AP U.S. History teacher Chris Fischer, who she teams with, ultimately determine the specific things that happen within their classroom each day. The curriculum, however, is decided through a lot of filters, impacting the daily education they give to students.
“We each had to submit a syllabus for approval by the College Board—the company that does AP—so we have to honor those,” Clemens said. “Those are based on what the College Board tells us we need to teach to get students ready for college and the AP exam. We also are beholden to the state standards for History and English Language Arts and the district level expectations. CPS wants a certain amount of consistency among the courses at all the high schools. However, the level of consistency for AP U.S. and AP Lang courses is less intense than in a lot of other courses.”
Clemens said although she knows of students who are enrolled in four or five AP classes, she couldn’t imagine taking any more than two. More important than the number to her was the ability to manage the workload.
“If AP U.S., for example, isn’t really a huge stretch class for you, personally, maybe taking one or two AP courses that are more of a stretch will work for you,” Clemens said. “But if a schedule is chock full of stretch classes, AP or not, that’s going to have a toll on students that will be reflected in their grades, participation [and] attitude about school.”
Ma regrets her amount of AP class work, but she thinks the frustration is on a very surface level.
“I don’t think that I would change my classes if I actually had the option,” Ma said. “[But to anyone that’s planning to take AP courses,] make sure that you know you’ll be able handle it.”