HARD AT WORK Students in Janet Lin’s AP Chinese class use the Language Lab to take an online test to prepare for the AP exam towards the end of the school year.
HARD AT WORK Students in Janet Lin’s AP Chinese class use the Language Lab to take an online test to prepare for the AP exam towards the end of the school year.

Marksmen weigh AP test benefits

With AP exams taking up spots in students’ busy schedules and on their college applications, Marksmen use a variety of strategies in preparing for them.

AP exams serve an important role in the many advanced classes that Marksmen take. For some students, though, the choice to take these exams is a complicated one. 

Students take most AP classes as juniors and seniors, but sophomores can take AP exams the summer before, such as with the AP World History exam, whch requires some self studying. College Counseling Coordinator Vanessa Leyva sees this opportunity as a good foray into AP classes, helping to provide an early look into what they are like.

“I think it’s a great introduction to AP standardized testing,” Leyva said. “This is the first standardized exam you can take following the PSAT 10 and it can really help you see how APs work.”

After taking their first AP exams in sophomore year, some students may choose to self  study for even more. For Junior Carson Bosita, they play a big role in college decisions because they serve as another method to test each student’s ability in a given subject.

“Every teacher explains something differently; some might be really easy and others more difficult while revolving around the same material, so it’s a good benchmark for college decisions,” Bosita said. “Last year, I took the AP Music Theory exam and chose not to take the AP World History test since music theory was a topic I was already relatively familiar with.”

AP exams account for the difficulty of each class, but they may also include concepts that aren’t otherwise taught in every curriculum.

“You need to nail maybe four or five concepts super well and fill in everything else with time,” Bosita said. “But we have our finals basically at the same time, which I think is very unbalanced for some subjects and it could be dangerous because of all the additional pressure for kids who want to do well on AP tests.”

Though they present some extra difficulty, AP exams account for a special spot in a student’s portfolio, demonstrating their aptitude through a different lens.

“If there were no AP exams, colleges would look deeper into other standardized tests that students take, like the HSK and SAT,” Bosita said. “This really makes it hard to choose what you need to study. This year, I chose to work with (Chinese instructor and Master Teacher Janet) Lin on preparing for the AP Chinese exam and it ties in well with the HSK, alleviating my workload a bit.”

AP classes and exams help a student stand out amongst the pack as being particularly capable.

“Fundamentally, AP exams are like extra credit: they can help, but you can also choose not to show them to colleges,” Bosita said. “And of course, (colleges) also look very closely at your extracurriculars.”

College credit can serve as a motivating factor for students to take AP exams. On the other hand, seniors may choose not to take certain AP exams if the college they are planning to attend doesn’t recognize them for credit. Senior Hudson Brown, who will be attending Harvard University next year, had this exact scenario play out for him.

“Harvard doesn’t accept any AP credit unless you’re trying to graduate in three years, which defeats the whole purpose of going there and meeting people,” Brown said.

Though Brown took many AP exams his junior year, he quickly decided that taking several AP exams simply wasn’t worth it anymore since the test scores wouldn’t help him in college.

“I went to Ms. Leyva, and I went to unregister for all of my AP exams,” Brown said. “Ten minutes later, I got $470 back.”

However, it’s worth considering that both Bosita and Brown represent special cases, and most students simply take whichever AP exams correspond to the classes they take. For the average student, Leyva has some simple advice – to be diligent, but not to worry about it much.

“A good number of students at St. Mark’s take AP exams, which is phenomenal,” Leyva said. “We have students who do very well and it’s a great opportunity to show how well you did in a class after being in it for a year or a semester. It’s a great opportunity.”

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