I was exploring Reddit’s forum entitled “AP Students” the few days before the start of my actual AP exams. Advancement Placement exams, or AP exams, are designed to challenge students in order for them to not only take college level courses, but also gain credit in college if one earns a 3 (out of 5) or higher on the exam.
I witnessed the panic and despair spread throughout the forum at the prospect of having to cram a year’s worth of information into a few nights during the first two weeks of May. People uploaded memes, like pictures of a pristine bottle of bleach with a straw in it, to take a little edge off right before the exam, if you know what I mean. It was completely understandable, I mean some people’s economic and academic futures depended on their score on this one test that many have spent the entire year studying for.
For me, two of my teachers would change my grade from a B to an A if I scored a 4 or higher on the exams for their classes.
At school, people were cramming with their prep books, paying attention for the first time in their classes, and attending review session at the crack of dawn.
Sometimes, I just want everything to stop.
“What’d you get on your SATs?”
“How well did you do on that test?”
“Where did you go for SAT Prep?”
“How many APs are you taking?”
One word I could use to describe junior year was: stress. The amount of classes and the extracurriculars I pushed myself to do wasn’t the main cause of the overwhelming strain I felt throughout the entire year; the duress I could feel seeping through my bones found its root in the feeling of inadequacy.
Nowadays, all I could think about is school. When is the next SAT? How many APs am I taking senior year? When is the score release for the SAT Subject test? The supposed hell of junior year was long behind me (by a few weeks), and I thought that senior year was supposed to be relaxing. I thought my summer was going to be filled with illicit activities and continuous beach going. Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on your idea of fun) I have just been sitting at home, finishing a Careers course I neglected to take freshman year and writing whatever comes to mind.
It’s interesting to see the dynamic of timid freshman compared to the bitterness and hatred that encompasses my whole personality. They are ready to start high school while I’m getting ready to start college. They seem happy and hopeful.
The Careers course, powered by a program that hasn’t been updated for five years, seems happy and hopeful as well. I feel like if I took this course freshman year it would have been somewhat helpful. It outlines good study tips, the colleges one needs to look at, tips for the PSAT. Meanwhile, for the past year, I’ve been stressed while studying, stressed while looking at colleges, and stressed for my PSAT and SAT.
During the summer I’m worrying about my scores on every test, grades I’ve gotten, the colleges I need to apply to. I see on Instagram people having fun on a road trip. Should I be having more fun? On Snapchat, I see a girl documenting her experience throughout a Stanford Summer Program. Should I be doing more?
Everything has made me feel inadequate lately. I’ve long accepted the idea people will always be better, it’s a fact of life that one has to accept unless they want to be trapped in their own little bubble for the rest of their life.
I applaud my fellow classmates, I mean I go to school with someone on the Olympic Shooting Team. Good for this person, right? But the competitive toxicity that has found its way on my high school campus, along with the desperation for college acceptance culture that is evident throughout my city is contributing to my continual feelings of inadequacy and stress, and I’m not really sure what to do.
My school is extremely affluent, the test scores reasonably high, the teachers supposedly good, and the students are honest, well-rounded, and able to go to any college their hearts desired.
What I found was interesting throughout my junior year was that I cared so much about what others thought of me, and was always curious as to what other people got on their tests. Maybe it’s to stave off the feeling of inevitable inadequacy, but I was a supportive participant. I made sure to assert my dominance, reminding others of my various accomplishments throughout the year, along with showing my prowess as a student by participating consistently.
Looking back, I see myself as irritating, annoying, and a tryhard. People were always asking me what I got on tests, my grade in the class, my SAT score, and I would honestly tell them, even lie about my score at times in order to live up to how people viewed me as a student. Now I say things along the lines of, “I think I did pretty well,” or “I don’t feel comfortable saying my score,” because there is already such an unhealthy academic competitive spirit going on, why encourage it further?
People I know make sure to make their high grades and high scores evident in others’ faces, practically pleading with teachers to compliment them in front of the entirety of their class, and making sure to hang out with fellow “elite” students on the same academic level as them.
It was interesting to watch how well you score on test determining your friends, your social standing, and how intelligent you are. I mean, my school’s focus isn’t even on academics, it’s on sports. I can’t even begin to imagine the sheer academic elitism that could run rampant on a school whose focus is school.
Before moving to my current city, I only heard about the tutoring at the nearby library, or asking my all-knowing parents for help. My parents were, for the first few years of my academic career, stereotypically Asian when it came to my education. We lived in a neighborhood that was small and predominantly blue-collar. The schools were overwhelmingly average, so it was my mother’s job to make sure I excelled above and beyond.
My mother tutored me in extra math with workbooks she could find on sale and I remembered complaining about the extra worksheets that she would later use to beat over my head if I dared utter another complain. She would say we didn’t have money for Kumon, so we would have to make due with what we had.
I’d imagine the Kumon books would have hurt more with their papers’ higher quality. However, despite the relative hell I would go through with math, Thursdays were the days I, at times, prayed that someone would end my seven long years on earth right there and then because book reports would be due Friday. Which meant that my mother and I would be staying up until the wee hours of the morning making sure the elements of the book I was reading was completely understood, or else I would be dodging that book from making its way into my face.
I remember crying, screaming, and writing with tears in my eyes. I’m pretty sure all my book reports were crinkled to some extent for the tears that managed to find its way on top of my paper. I had to start from scratch if one little thing was wrong. The conclusion too choppy? Guess I have to erase and start from the theme statement! My handwriting a little wonky on the analysis portion? Might as well rip up the paper!
The little eraser shavings from my Hello Kitty eraser always managed to find its way into my hair every Thursday, probably from my head laying on my desk in complete defeat at the expense of my mother yelling again in Vietnamese. When I recount these tales to my friends in the city I live in currently, we laugh at it saying something like “Asian parents, amiright?” Yet, they always end up telling me they never really had the same experience, Asian or not.
They were always shipped off to Kumon, or any of the tutoring places nearby and then come home to a lecture. Their parents never even considered the intense hands-on-experience my parents used. Even in high school, which my Careers course says is a great time to use the skills developed in elementary and middle school, people in my class are going to tutoring for every class, paying upwards of $3,000 for extra help in school.
It was culture shock, in a sense.
With the majority of my life depending so heavily on test scores, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to just learn. A teacher at my high school recently advocated for her class to be based on pass or fail, no letter grade, just learning. She wants to group students based on their learning styles, and she desperately wants kids to learn, not compete.
I know I must sound like a complete baby; I am grateful for the education that I am able to receive because of the many sacrifices of my parents. I will never have to face the intense academic pressures of countries like China or South Korea, or be unable to receive education due to my gender. I love how I am able to expand my learning as much as I possibly can. Yet, I feel as though school has mutated itself from learning to an unnecessary competition of who can outdo each other.
The release of AP Exams this year on July 5 caused panic from the east coast to the west coast (in that order specifically, according to the Collegeboard’s staggered release times) and I see people panicking, pulling up the memes, and crying while typing incoherently on their keyboards.
My body has a self-alarm when it comes to stressful things occurring early in the morning, and somehow I woke up at 4:45 in the morning, 15 minutes before the official release of AP scores, despite sleeping at 1 in the morning. I managed to do the same thing for my favorite Kpop group, BTS, and woke up at 6 in the morning, despite sleeping at 4 a.m., for their album release, which is just as important in my opinion.
I used servers some kids in AP Computer Science made to access a few of my scores a few days before I, being on the west coast, was supposed to receive them and after multiple tries, along with the other millions of kids panicking alongside me, I saw my scores. Strangely, I didn’t care much. It was weird, seeing an entire year’s worth of stress, tears, and inadequacy summed up into a few numbers projected from my phone. Kids were understandably worrying, trying every website to access their scores, and crying about the amount of money they invested in these AP exams. I was strangely indifferent.
I’m proud of what I earned, for sure, yet I can’t help but feel a little sad that so much of who I am as a person depends on scores like these.