Students reflect on return to in-person AP exams


For many juniors, seniors and even some sophomores, AP exams approaching in May have been at the forefront of their minds. Although a common College Board AP curriculum exists, some classes follow it more than others, and different teachers have different ways of preparing their students for the exam. However, the one commonality between all ETHS students taking an AP exam this year is that it will be the first in-person AP test, due to the COVID-19 pandemic requiring the tests to be at home for the previous two years.

“Last year, AP exams at home were really rough,” senior Skylar Stiller says. “It was very hard to focus, and we did much less preparation than this year.”Remote school all year long had a great effect on the final exam in many AP courses. The score reports found on the College Board’s website for each exam indicate that average score distribution dipped significantly in 2021, and it is evident why. Although hope exists that an in-person school year will bring better results, junior Ines Visa claims that the 2021 remote school year’s effects did not just disappear. 

“The habits that many strained last year,– continuously turning in late work, using outside resources, etc—has created gateways in preparing effectively and efficiently,” Visa says.

Most teachers of AP classes have taken this into account when designing their curriculum for this year. 

“All my classes have been doing preparation pretty consistently,” Stiller says, 

Having been in person for the whole year will also hopefully be an advantage for AP students. Last year it was difficult for teachers to stay on schedule, and keep students engaged. This year teachers have much more ability to cover the material in a way that will appeal to students.

“The preparation for my AP tests primarily depends on the teacher,” Visa explains. “My APUSH teacher prioritized a focus on teaching the material thoroughly and for interest rather than an exam. Whereas some of my teachers have perpetually mentioned that all our coursework was intended for the AP exam.” 

Both of these approaches can be successful, but many  students find more comfort in a curriculum that familiarizes them with the AP exam they will be taking as they move through the coursework, as opposed to feeling stressed that they haven’t done much for it in class, even if they enjoyed the other material they learned. Because of the rush of this approach, Visa, who will be taking five APexams, has noted that she will be spending a great deal of time utilizing AP classroom, Khan Academy, Youtube videos and one-on-one time to meet with her teachers as ways to prepare for the exams. 

“I think I’ll be where I’ll need to be by the time May comes,” she predicts.

AP exams are packed with a load of stress, but a healthy mindset about them can sometimes be the most important piece.. 

“I can’t say I’m not stressed, but I’m not going to allow myself to stress on something I can’t go beyond controlling. The work, effort, and perseverance I put in studying for my exams will show in the scores I receive,” says Visa.

There is, however, one area in which AP test expectations and preparation have clearly changed vastly in recent years– multiple-year classes. Some classes are taught over the course of two years, in order to cover all the material to the fullest extent.

For example, junior Emmet Ebels-Duggan is taking Chem Phys, a multi-year science class that covers AP Chemistry and Ap Physics over the course of three years. Ebels-Duggan will be taking the AP Physics test this year and the Chemistry test next year. He’s noticedvast differences in his preparation for the test as a result of the year online.

“The biggest thing that I’ve noticed academically is retention of information. I noticed that I was able to understand the material at the moment, I was able to hold on to it for a couple days, but quite quickly I just had no idea what I was doing,” Ebels-Duggan says. “That carried over to this year with material that we supposedly learned last year, not really sitting in my mind and not really providing the kind of base that I want [in order] to be able to understand the stuff that it’s building off of this year.”

Similarly, Kelsey Blickenstaff has felt underprepared in her AP Spanish class, which is taken over the course of two years, concluding with one test covering all the information from the past four semesters. 

Of course, with a language, the learning curve is vastly different. Blickenstaff says that learning a language anti-socially in isolation leaves much to be desired. 

“[I’m behind in] speaking, because we didn’t have any speaking time last year. And that’s really important for learning a language,” Blickenstaff recalls. 

It’s hard to pinpoint one reason causing students to feel so behind, but this has teachers working overtime to help their multi-year students both relearn the material from past years while also covering all the material needed to prepare them for the tests this year. 

“My teacher is giving us some time to practice the AP language, there are certain ways that [the tests] give questions… we’re reviewing some [content]we learned last year,” Blickenstaff says. 

Other students agree that their teachers are working to get students caught up and prepared for the test. Ebels-Duggan admires his teacher’s help getting his class prepared. 

“Most teachers that I’ve seen are very cognizant of the fact that we fell behind, both in what teachers were able to cover and what students are able to remember. They have been very good about accommodating [for that],” he says. 

For Chem Phys specifically, Ebels-Duggan recognizes that his class is reviewing many topics for the upcoming Physics test.

 “I think that, in general, the class has done a really good job of covering everything systematically. And I know that when we go into physics this quarter, we’re definitely going to have a focus on review,” he says. 

All in all, there are clear differences between preparing for AP testing season this year, whether it be for a single-year or multi-year class. 

“It’s definitely more intense this year,” Blickenstaff recalls. “There are a lot more expectations because you’re in person.”