Tackling AP Season at Stuyvesant

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Issue 16, Volume 109

By Veronika Kowalski, Mahirah Khan 

For the Stuyvesant community, the month of May is filled with Advanced Placement (AP) exam preparations. From first-time test-takers to teachers, these exams can either cause anxiety or are nothing to worry about. No matter what experiences Stuyvesant students and staff have with AP exams, they all have something to say about AP season.

Sophomore Alyssa Sulaiman, who just finished her first AP season, believes that the AP exam is not a good representation of what she has learned in class. “You don’t really get to show important concepts that you took away from [certain] topics in the curriculum. Every AP class in this school is different. Every teacher is different, […] and that’s what I feel like the real problem is—that we’re not really learning a universal curriculum,” she started. Despite these difficulties, Sulaiman advises, “I think it’s all about falling and keeping your goals in mind so that you have the motivation to get back up and do more.”

“This is my second year taking APs, and [though] I’m kind of nervous, I know that I really tried in all of my classes, so it shouldn’t be that hard,” junior Bernard Wang explained. Wang relieves his AP-related stress by playing ultimate frisbee and doing other extracurricular activities, such as volunteering with Red Cross. “I do things that I’d normally do before another test. I don’t view the AP test as something that I’m especially stressed for. I treat it as a big unit test,” Wang said. To first-time AP test-takers, Wang offers, “If you’re stressed, you want to study, but study in a healthy manner. Build confidence through studying up until the AP.”

Senior Hanna Yang recalls her first AP season experience, when she was “super scared” and thought that the AP test “would have a huge impact on college [admissions],” she said. This being her third year taking AP tests, Yang definitely feels less pressure. “I think the best way [to combat AP-related stress] is to start [studying] early. When I start studying for the test, I feel much better because I feel like I’m doing something. Just get started and then things will seem less scary,” she advised.

Students aren’t the only ones who experience exam-related pressures. Teachers also spend time figuring out ways to best prepare their classes. AP Chemistry teacher Dr. Steven O’Malley takes a unique approach to make sure his students know the material. In addition to giving students in-class group practice problems and providing them with take-home problems, Dr. O’Malley allows each student to teach a problem that has appeared on a past AP Chemistry exam to the class. “It’s set up so that every single student in this class is put in charge of a slightly lengthy problem, and they just simply have to teach the class how to do it,” Dr. O’Malley said. “I think it’s more interesting than just watching me, the teacher, the person they’ve seen since September, teach all these questions to them, again.”

These informal presentations take a few weeks to complete, but “by the end, every single student knows at least one problem really well, and every student has had 33 others explained to them, in a variety of ways,” Dr. O’Malley explained. Some students choose to make their presentation into a game, and, if they wish, they can even use it as a way to show off to their peers. Mostly, this activity is an effective method to master test-taking strategies and tricks.

AP Biology and AP Psychology teacher Marianna Reep finds that administering past exams from the College Board during class time is more helpful to her students than going through the entire curriculum again at triple speed. “Unless you ask me to specifically review something, I’m not going to reteach my entire course for review time,” she said. Because each student’s weaknesses are different, the students have independent study time during class to go over these topics.

The exams for Reep’s two AP courses require students to synthesize information differently. While the AP Biology exam demands that test-takers make predictions and process information, the AP Psychology curriculum is designed more around the expression of ideas. “For AP Psych[ology], it’ll give you information that you have to know, that you have to articulate, [that] you have to be able to write about,” Reep stated. However, for the AP Biology curriculum, “they’re a little more complex,” she elaborated.

Reep understands that as upperclassmen, her students have a fair amount of work to get done. “If you have three or four APs, your head is spinning, and you have so much to do,” she sympathized. The workload may force students to triage each AP test. “I hope my juniors and seniors are smart enough and mature enough that they can say, ‘I’ve got to start doing this,’ do it early, and do it consistently,” Reep continued. “But life happens, you’ve got a lot of things going on simultaneously, and, you know, it’s hard.”

Both students and teachers agree that consistent, spaced-out practice is the best strategy to overtake the vicious wind that AP season brings. As Dr. O’Malley puts it, “As long as you do a little bit each day in the weeks leading up to it, you’re going to be more than prepared for the actual test. Not just [for] exams, but [for] life.”