Student Issue: AP and Exit Exam Stress

by Elizabeth Casolo

The academic year may be coming to a close, but, for the past two weeks, a handful of Greenwich High School students had to endure some challenging assessments: Advanced Placement and exit exams.

Advanced Placement tests cover a variety of subjects, ranging from Italian to Physics. Each exam determines students’ abilities in a their chosen specialization on a scale from one to five. Colleges have unique policies for accepting AP scores as course credit. Cornell University, for instance, only grants credit for fours and fives in a select group of subjects, but some departments do not honor these high school courses.

Exit exams, on the other hand, are intended for seniors taking non-AP classes. As these upperclassmen depart for internship, some courses have students take an abbreviated final prior to leaving.

The main point of contention is how these two exam schedules overlap, causing considerable stress for seniors, in particular. However, depending on the class, exit exams may also apply to other grade levels.

“I overall think that we shouldn’t have AP exams at the same time as exit exams,” said Cormac Doyle, a junior. He took a calculus exit exam despite not being a senior. “It’s like having a finals week with schoolwork.”

A senior by the name of Ben (who preferred to not include his last name) thought that “after our final unit was over in statistics, the exit exam prep was sort of sprang on us. It was sort of a mad dash to recall as much as we could.” A number of students in his class were also taking AP exams, and he observed “a lot of confusion… because we were also doing an exit project.”

AP and exit exam students begin to feel the pressure when finding ways of incorporating their study techniques into their normal homework load. To alleviate some of this stress, Ms. Lucy Arecco— the Social Studies program administrator— explained that the department decided against mandating final exams for graduating seniors. However, that does not remove the outside workload AP test-takers are facing. Sophomore Sophie Robertson took the AP U.S. History and AP English Language & Composition exams this year. “I don’t think it [AP preparation] is bad, but the stress comes from other classes,” she explained. Robertson went on to describe how her math teacher planned a test during a block that she would be missing. Robertson claimed that these added sources of anxiety were “affecting everything and bringing everyone down.” In the midst of this academic pressure, Robertson juggled preparing for a job interview and performing in the school’s production of Beauty and the Beast.

Some students, though, felt less worried about their assessments. Isabelle Busch, another sophomore taking the infamous 10th grade AP duo, said that she was “pretty sure about Lang,” meaning that she felt confident in the material and was not too concerned with developing detailed study plans. One benefit of testing is that students can practice study habits while evaluating their mastery of the academic material.

However, there is also a downside to extensive exam-taking. Ms. Judith Nedell—the 6-12 Guidance Program Coordinator—proctored several of the AP tests and thought that “students worry about disappointing themselves or their parents or their teacher. Pressure comes from a variety of sources.”

Diana Martinez, another senior, recalled one of her teachers saying, “‘If you don’t pass this exam, I won’t sign your slip [for internship leave]…’ they [teachers] start cramming in all of this stuff.”

This qualitative evidence shows how students respond to an academic strain from multiple sources, yet the age-old question remains: what do we do about it?

When asked about how to lower senior and AP students’ stress going forward, Ms. Nedell responded that reaffirming students of previous success with these examinations is imperative: “Seniors may benefit from knowing that students at GHS consistently do very well on their AP exams. They should feel confident that their teachers have prepared them very well to do their personal best.”

Evidently, GHS students have a history of successfully overcoming and growing from a rigorous testing agenda. Although the College Board is here for the foreseeable future, high school students will be even more prepared for the academic obstacles they will face in college and beyond. Yet, students must still be aware of their mental and emotional states to avoid unhealthy stress while adopting mechanisms to cope with pressure.

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