May Madness: AP students prepare for battle against exams



March Madness is the term given to the NCAA Division men’s basketball single-elimination tournament of 68 teams, but advanced placement students should bestow May a name of the same likeness. Hence, the dreaded AP exam season should only be known as May Madness.

For those that are unaware, the abbreviation A.P. refers to advanced placement, and it is a type of class offered in high school for accelerated learning, much like an honors course. However, unlike honors courses, AP curriculums are through the College Board, the same organization that administers the SAT and PSAT, and offer exams during May. These exams are scored on a 1 to 5 scale with 3 as a passing score. Colleges will sometimes use these scores for admissions, but its most favored benefit is the credit it offers.

Depending on the college, they can allow a student to skip a course or even take advanced courses, should the student have passed or met the college’s minimum score. With this method, university students can save money and may even graduate early. The only obstacle? Passing.

The pressure of an AP course can be too much for some. Writing three essays in an hour and 45 minutes, memorizing every concept and formula without any idea of what would actually be on the exam, and sitting for 4 hours to take one test is not everyone’s cup of tea. Yet most of the elite students go back to school to take more after receiving 4’s and 5’s.

What is their trick? Do they have social lives? Are they spending every minute of every day reading review books, or are they just that intelligent?

Here are the answers: no tricks, most do, not every minute and some students are simply very intellectual, but it does not take a super genius to score a 4 on the AP Calculus BC exam.

So if the students are not aliens, how are they scoring 4’s and 5’s like taking candy from a baby?

The key phrase is “Study smarter, not harder.” No, seriously.

As an AP veteran myself with 3 scores of a 5, I can speak from an experience. You have to adamantly consider how to divide up your time and what to focus on while facing the exam deadline. On top of that, you still have homework for other classes and all of your extracurriculars. There just does not seem to be any time to do it all.

Allow me to enlighten you: there is time, and all you need to do is make it. Time cannot be made by any human being, but you can make time to do things and achieve it all. Therefore, as AP exam season slowly approaches, let me give you my advice on how to survive AP season.

  1. Learn the exam: each AP exam has several big ideas or themes that can be studied over instead of mindlessly reading the textbook. Not only that, but the different parts of the exam each have their own rubric, especially essays. You should at least know how the essay rubrics or the point values given to free responses before sitting in your seat on the day of the exam. Knowing these allow you to prioritize easy points over hard ones in most cases.
  1. Prioritize sharpening your “weapons” over making new ones: this means to focus on what you know than what you do not. This also goes hand-in-hand with advice 1, in which you should know how the exam is broken up. For example, the AP Physics C: Mechanics exam is split into 6 topic ideas, one of which is worth 12% and some others worth about 15-20%. To get a 5 on the exam, you only need a 60%, meaning if you were weak in 2 topics but strong in the other 4, you could still potentially earn a 5.
  1. Commit 100% to it: if you are going to study for it, put your all into it. While advice 2 gives you an example of leeway, it does not mean you can put almost no effort and expect to get a 4. At least, try your best! This goes for almost everything, and it is a cookie-cutter response, but it is true nevertheless. Use AP review books and start reviewing them in February at best, practice questions, learn the rubric — whatever you can do, do it but within your limits.

AP classes and exams are an excellent measure of how much pressure you can handle as well as how smart you study. The score does not define you, but should you feel like it is too much, then you should not feel obligated to take the exam nor the class. March Madness may be for all basketball fanatics, but May Madness does not have to be for all students. Best wishes for all of us taking exams in May!

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