Arcadia High School

Examining the AP exam

Starting May 4 and ending May 15, high school students across the nation are enduring the two-week annual period that students dread– AP Exam weeks.

Credit: CollegeBoard

The Advanced Placement (AP) program is a list of courses, varying from biology to Japanese, that “enables students to pursue college-level studies — with the opportunity to earn college credit, advanced placement or both — while still in high school,” according to the College Board website. To earn these credits, students must take the exam pertaining to their AP course and earn a score of a 4 or 5. (Grading is on a scale from 1 to 5.)

While technically optional, these exams have been deemed mandatory in the eyes of many students and families. Factors, such as the ever increasing rise of tuition for college, have compelled many to take many exams, in the hopes of receiving as much college credit to pay as less money as possible. “The only reason why you would ever want to take an AP exam,” said Arcadia High School’s senior Jesse Narkmanee, “is for college credit.”

Others point to the increased competition in college applicant pools, noting how it is no longer sufficient to just take normal high school courses to enter a good college. For many, taking many AP courses has simply been just following the norm.

Take Arcadia High, one of the many schools in Southern California that offer a multitude of AP courses. In the school there has developed a stigma in that if one is smart, he or she must be taking at least four AP courses. William Smith, a junior at Arcadia, tells that through AP courses it’s “how you prove to people that you are smart.” Indeed, it has become a running joke among Arcadians that if one student says how he is taking six AP courses, one has to ask, “Only six???”

Outside of Arcadia, the trend is similar. Junior Jonathan Hsu from San Marino explains “the norm is to try to fill up your schedule with a bunch of AP or honors course to show that you are capable of handling rigorous material and basically signal that you are able to handle college courses.” However, he points out a downside to this– due to it being a norm, “people are just taking AP courses just for the sake of taking it, rather than actually exploring their passions and challenging themselves in areas that truly appeal to them.”

However, senior Akhil Silla from Arcadia noted a few positive components. “It definitely creates a competitive vibe,” he stated, “which makes students yearn to learn more and sets up a good learning environment.” Smith also said how AP exams “are a good way to measure what you’ve learned so far.”

Parents are lavishing money on private after-school programs such as this just to prep for AP exams. Credit: LA Times.

With this increased knowledge from AP courses come a trade-off of extreme stress during testing period. When asked about how he felt preparing for the exams, Hsu simply said, “Really stressed and tired.” Indeed, the amount of preparation for AP exams is incredible, with many students even going to private educational centers such as Elite and Time and spending huge amounts of money just to prep for an exam. Add this on to the back-breaking workload of AP courses at high school, and it becomes hard for many. Smith, who is currently taking five AP courses this year, emphasized how it takes up so much of your time that “sometimes you have to put off extracurricular activities and other afterschool things.”

Was it worth it though? The reactions are mixed. Smith concluded that because of the stress, “it helped me realize what I was wasting time on and how to use time effectively and productively.” Meanwhile, Hsu echoed the financial woes of many high students, in which exams can cost up to more than $100. “You spend so much effort and time on AP exams,” said Hsu, “and then add on the cost. AP is just another way for Collegeboard to make money.”

Whether beneficial or not, AP exams are here to stay. They have revolutionized the high school culture and impacted many student’s lives. Once this year’s AP exams end, it’s time to prepare for next year’s.