It’s 3:30 pm, and the student body’s collective heartbeat has synced with the clock’s every tick, inexplicably faster with each passing second. My fingers tapering the violent strokes of ink-strained pen, the paper I stare at is scarcely whiter than my own vitamin D deficient wrists. I am a nervous wreck.
Four hours in, the seventh essay: amylase secretion and starch digestion. It’s cell communication, a core pillar of AP Bio curriculum, and I’m threatening my starch-depleted conscious tooth-and-nail for a coherent response.
“10 minutes remaining,” the proctor mumbles.
The same, familiar thought comes to mind: “Is this really worth it?”
An excerpt from my junior year AP exam week, this idea captured the essence of my high school experience. With massive changes coming to the 2020 AP curriculum, I’ve reflected on the question forever stitched into my test-conditioned psyche.
With College Board’s Advanced Placement (AP) program, nearly 30 exams are held throughout the first weeks of May. Upon completion, students spend the next three months anxiously anticipating the release of their scores. If passed (less than half of students do), colleges may dismiss one from the equivalent college course, saving students up to 8 credits and thousands in fees.
At first glance, the system appears generous, and each year millions of above-average students commit to multiple AP exams, blissfully dismissive of the immense stress and tediously-strategic studying that follows.
It’s no secret among high schoolers that these exams are difficult, and, if one is not blessed with a teacher morally capable of discarding all individualized or explorative learning for drilling exactly how to apply knowledge limited within the test’s parameters, then passing the exam becomes a Herculean challenge for even the brightest students. Test-takers possessing an abundance of knowledge, displaying exceptional levels of comprehension on a particular subject, may still fail (losing any chance of college credit) if not adhering to the meticulous standardization the College Board has concocted.
This is where the unprecedented workload manifests, the majority of which is not dedicated to actual course content, but learning how to optimize exam performance (hint: practice exams, practice exams, and practice exams).
Studying itself becomes an expensive endeavor as students scour for course materials, practice booklets, tutors–anything that could be of possible advantage. Add these additional prices atop the 2020 exam’s $94 entrance fee (for each exam; students routinely take 4-8), and a student is spending comparable amounts towards an exam they may fail as a properly-instructed college course.
The considerations are overwhelming, but, prior to this year, there was one saving grace: students could opt out of the exam.
Previously, the exam registration deadline fell towards the end of March, giving students ample time to realistically reflect, making a decision that benefitted not only their pockets but their mental health. If a student was well-prepared, a few months of sleepless nights and practice essays may be worth the credit, but if a student knew their class did not cover the required material, they could opt out, saving themselves from the absurd costs and self-studying required to learn neglected material while still risking failure.
The tool was incredibly useful for seniors participating in the AP curriculum. Increasingly, colleges do not accept AP credit earned in particular subjects. Since AP exam dates fall past most college admissions, if one knew their college did not accept credit from a particular AP, there was no point in taking that exam—something the March registration deadline accounted for.
This year, however, the registration deadline has been moved to early November.
No longer are students given appropriate time to gauge their aptitude for the test, and seniors are forced to blindly register for exams that may not even be applicable. Before they are ever accustomed to the course or their teacher, students must weigh their odds: sign up (guaranteeing months of stress, overpreparation, and exam scores which may not earn them the college credits they desire) or back out—saving the $94 registration fee, but potentially wasting thousands of dollars in credits they could have earned.
With this new registration date, the College Board thrusts upon students an impossible, utterly unnecessary choice. There is no reason for it, aside from increased registrations fueled purely from student anxiety, undoubtedly providing a substantial increase to the College Board yearly revenue.
AP exams are made to benefit students. The College Board has been careless with its core values for their own monetary gain, further increasing financial and emotional strain on millions of student households.
Please, stand up against the College Board. Sign this petition, created by Wisconsin school-counselor Jennifer Wander. With the disastrous potential this change carries for thousands of students’ personal wellbeing and future, we cannot indulge the College Board with another injustice.