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Living AP testing: what are we sacrificing?

Apr. 19, 2018

For me, May harbors a bittersweet connotation. We are one month closer to summer and the end of the school year, but as a high school student, May is also the month when the dreaded two weeks of Advanced Placement (AP) testing take place. I’m sure that I’m not alone in this sentiment, as a multitude of high school students all across the U.S. (and in some other countries) will be taking these AP exams in the coming weeks.

All of us strive to score the best we can, but this brings into question what exactly we are sacrificing in hopes of receiving that 4 or 5 (AP exams are scored on a scale of 5). Many students survive on a few to no hours of sleep during the weeks preceding and during the exams in May. More drastically, Adderall (the “study drug”) is commonly used for staying awake through studying and testing alike.

In my community, most of my peers are taking a range of three to seven AP tests this coming month. I’ll be taking four. The reasons for taking many AP tests ranges from wanting to beef up one’s high school resume to college-related aspirations. Though it could be rewarding in the long-run, testing so heavily can do harm to a student’s mental state, increase fatigue, and create stress. 

To sum this up, I asked AP students at my high school why they’re testing and how it affects them. Here’s what I found:

Q: How many AP tests will you be taking?

Student 1: Four.

Student 2: Five.

Q: How much studying are you or will you be doing in preparation for these exams?

Student 1: I started studying before spring break [which was the second week of April], and I’ll be doing this until my tests in May.

Student 2: I started studying during spring break.

Q: How much time does this studying take up on a weekly basis?

Student 1: Several hours a week, definitely. I spend a lot of my time studying for them, and sometimes I forget to do my homework because of this. And during May, I average maybe two or three hours of sleep a night, and I sometimes just don’t sleep. May is probably the most stressful month for me.

Student 2: All of my time when I’m not in school.

Q: Why do you take AP tests and/or classes?

Student 1: I want to show colleges that I have rigor in my school schedule, and I’ve always felt, as twisted as it seems, that stress is a natural part of high school life. The classes challenge me in a good way, but I mostly take these classes and tests so that I can show more to colleges. I also take the test just because I don’t want to take a final in my AP classes. [Many teachers waive finals for students taking an AP exam for that class.]

Student 2: I feel like it [shows colleged] my want to have a higher level of learning.

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10, how stressful is the process of AP testing?

Student 1: A solid 8 or 9.

Student 2: 11.3.

It’s clear that these tests bring up feelings of immense anxiety and stress, and these are only two students out of the hundreds of thousands who participate in these exams. Most (if not all) AP students are in the period of the school year during which they are burdening themselves with plentiful hours of studying, barely getting a moment to take a breath. 

These tests are important—that much is true. But, as you shut off your computer and return to study, think about why these exams are important to you. What are you sacrificing to achieve that perfect 5?