The big numbers of the timer on the TV screen in front of you seem to be counting down at a more rapid pace than you remember five minutes ago. You can hear everyone around you writing as fast as they can, spilling any knowledge they have into their test packet. You sit there and think to yourself “I can’t think this fast, how does everyone seem to know exactly what to put on this exam?” You’ve been sitting here for almost three hours, and can barely even remember how to spell your name, much less what king ruled Europe in whatever year the prompt was asking. You begin to freak out thinking, if I do not pass this exam, this whole class was for nothing.
This is the harsh reality of AP exams. They cause students an extreme amount of anxiety preparing for the test and especially taking the test itself. For some students, tests are not the best way for them to show that they understood a course’s curriculum. Instead, some students can better show off their knowledge with a more creative approach that does not require a three hour written test. AP exams can be very stressful for students and oftentimes, many students do not pass their exam. As a result, students start to doubt their knowledge and let a small number define their success. This should not be the case as a three and a half hour test is not a good indicator of a student’s achievement. Most students who don’t pass their exam, maintain A to B averages for the entire school year. Instead of focusing on the AP grading number, students should think about their year long average and the growth they have experienced on the certain material they learn.
For those unfamiliar with how the AP exam is scored, the test is graded out of five points, with the minimum passing score being three or higher. Although some students may perform well and maintain good grades, they must pass the test in order to earn college credit. If students don’t earn a passing score, they do not earn college credit for taking the course that year. For a comparison of the AP grading system to the standard school grading system, scoring a five on the AP exam is an A+ or A, and scoring a four is an A-, B+ or B, according to The College Board. Most of the highly motivated and hardworking students aim for a four or five on these tests rather than a three, which is a B-, C or C+. Although these grades seem fairly easy to achieve, there is an abundant amount of students who score below a three. However, because of these standards set by The College Board, students who get a three or below end up believing that they are not smart enough or did not fully graph the material. A small number on one test should not make students doubt their knowledge or believe that their hard work throughout the year was for nothing.
In a classroom setting, many students feel more comfortable and less pressured. They are able to better engage with material and fully comprehend it without worrying about the grade. But in an AP testing environment, students become more anxious and on edge. Between the strictly timed sections and quickly jumping from section to section for four hours straight, it can be too much for students’ mental capacity. In fact, Test taking anxiety can affect anywhere between 10 to 40 percent of all students. That percentage has been increasing at a steady pace alongside the increase in standardized testing. When studying for an AP exam, students have to spend weeks reviewing material from the very beginning of the year. Having to go back essentially relearn all the material from the beginning of the year can be very stressful and hard on students mentally. This is especially difficult for students who take more than one AP because it can negatively affect their mental health.
“It[the exam] is kind of scary because everyone is set up in perfect little desks,” junior Bella Ekk said. “Everything is timed and it is really stressful to complete the sections.”
Many students are aware that taking an AP class comes with taking an AP exam. This fact is nothing new and is not going away. However, what makes the AP exam bad for students is when they compare their growth and knowledge to a single number that honestly has little meaning in the big scheme of things. It’s important for students to realize that not everyone is good at taking tests, and that is ok. Whether or not a student gets a four or a two on an exam should not be an indicator of their academic performance in the class. Standardized tests do not always allow students to demonstrate how they understood a course in the most creative or authentic way that they are comfortable with. With the multitude of AP exams students are probably going to take throughout their highschool career, it’s important to understand that they do not define a student’s academic success. Every student performs and showcases their ability in various ways, and sometimes an exam is not the best indicator.
Instead of putting a negative perception on students who do not pass their AP exam, themselves and society should normalize how hard and stressful AP exams can be. Whether it’s a two or a five, students should be proud of the work they have done throughout the entire school year because a silly little number does not determine their overall academic success.