BRISTOL, Connecticut, U.S.A. — Spring is a beautiful time of year.
No, I’m not talking about the flowers and sunshine. I’m not even talking about the fact that summer vacation is so close I can almost taste the freedom.
No, the reason I’m rejoicing is because I’ve finally finished my two advanced placement (AP) exams.
For those of you who have never experienced an AP class, and especially for those of you who are considering taking one, let me give you a glimpse of what I went through, and let you decide whether you’re up to the challenge. My first taste of the AP program was a year and a half ago, second semester of my sophomore year, when my class made the transition from civics to AP U.S. history.
Actually, that’s not really true. The fact is, I had an idea of what was coming ages before second semester actually rolled around. My teacher never missed an opportunity to gleefully inform us that we were taking the AP at our own risk, and our grades would almost certainly take a nose dive.
I’m glad he warned us, because otherwise I might have been very unpleasantly surprised by the difficulty of the course.
But at the same time, I don’t think the constant reminding produced exactly the most desirable result. By the time the AP hit, I think some of us had been a little desensitized. Like skiers trapped in an avalanche, we had lost almost all hope of survival.
The low expectations didn’t exactly ensure that everyone would give 100 percent effort on every assignment.
We adjusted, though.
Soon we found that there were more expectations than for any other class, in terms of the amount of material and the ways in which we were expected to apply it.
The class is taught to the exam, with heavy focus on the three sections on the exam: multiple choice, free response essay, and every AP-er’s favorite assignment, one that can be summed up in three little letters: the DBQ.
Unlike the ordinary essay questions, DBQs (Data Based Questions, for those of you who are out of the AP history loop) require not only historical knowledge, but the ability to analyze snippets of historical documents.
Surprisingly enough, these aren’t the most riveting pieces of writing a high school student has ever laid eyes upon.
But somehow we muddled through it all, without too many concussions from sleepy heads hitting desks, even though we had it first period, before any high school student is really awake.
To be honest, I didn’t think the class was as hard as I was expecting it to be. True, it was demanding, and no cakewalk. But – even though it came close – my brain never actually exploded.
And just when I was thinking everything was relatively smooth sailing, just when I’d gotten into the swing of things, and maybe even started to slack off a little – then the countdown to the AP exam began.
Time was running out. We were all studying like maniacs. Well, okay, we were all sort of slacking off and saying we planned to start studying like maniacs really soon. But the point is, we were all feeling the pressure.
Then came the daily after-school reviews. The not mandatory but “HIGHLY recommended” after school reviews.
The entire two weeks before May 7th – the date that had been written on the blackboard since the beginning, the date of the exam, a day I’d long since come to regard with dread as E-Day – was a blur of practice multiple choice questions, confused discussion of long-forgotten topics, and highlighting my AP review book in some last ditch attempt at finding salvation.
And then it was May 7th. And the sun ceased to shine.
Well, no. As appropriate as it would have seemed, the universe did not actually go to pieces on the day of the exam. As it turned out, it was a lovely, sunny day. The sort of day you hate to spend three hours and five minutes of taking an exam.
I showed up as early as I could to the exam room. I’d half expected something to go wrong with the family car on the way to school or something, but I arrived mercifully punctual.
Upon entering the exam room, we were all met with the barking orders of the AP proctor. She was a woman we’d all heard stories about, the test-giver of legend, a person whose strictness I had heard tell of but never quite believed.
Now I believed it.
She shouted over the nervously chattering AP students, telling them over and over to look at the board and follow the directions written there. We rushed to comply, leaving our backpacks and all other materials in the back of the room.
“Put sweaters or jackets in the back of the room,” she shouted, then added in a subtly-evil sounding way, “You won’t be cold…I promise.”
So then I was right. We were in hell. With that thought, I listened and followed instructions: Darken in this or that oval with a number two pencil, sign here, rip the plastic off your packet, and…
Katie Jordan is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.