After two years of easing into Aviation’s classes, many of this year’s juniors will begin taking AP classes for the first time. AP classes are a new experience for these students, as they study for one big test during May for each class. These classes separate the diligent from the lazy, and the confident from the faint of heart.
One does not simply walk into the exam room in May unprepared. Unlike their level counterparts, AP classes are tailored to prepare students for the material that the AP test will cover.
“I don’t have a curriculum for AP,” said Michelle Juarez, who teaches AP Language and Composition, “but I certainly have a goal in mind for where they need to be. It’s a matter of giving them very specific guided feedback. It’s giving them very specific practice tests and timed writes. It’s having them go over student models. It’s a whole process that wouldn’t exist if I didn’t have that test.”
However, teachers can only do so much to help their students. Successful students must be willing to work outside of class to survive the turmoilous year.
“In order to be successful in all my classes, I had to study both before and after school. I used to show up at 7:45 and study the day’s APUSH material until 9:00. This gave me a chance to refresh my memory before class began,” said senior and AP veteran Jake Hecla. “When I arrived home from robotics, I would finish up the reading and delve into any remaining homework until it was complete. I could usually get it all done by 11:00 or so, though I’ll admit I had to pull a few very late nights.”
Any rigorous class can cause a student’s GPA to take a hit, but AP classes are unique because much of the material must be learned independently of lectures.
“Although you get a good foundation in class,” said Crom, “it’s a lot of self studying, and you have to discipline yourself to study every night to keep up with the class.”
While AP classes are a new experience for the juniors taking them, certain strategies for success are the same as for any other class.
“I think successful students, whether AP or not, are good time managers,” said Juarez. “Because they tend to be organized, they finish ahead of the deadline.”
Current members of the AP army concur with this observation.
“I have a weekly calendar and I try to accomplish certain things by certain dates,” said AHS junior Lauren Crom. “Staying organized on the calendar and sticking to those dates really helps me manage my time.”
Many students find that studying for multiple AP tests causes anxiety and stress. While coping strategies vary from person to person, some students use exercise to blow off steam as well as multi-task.
“Everyday I go for a run and I listen to [Mr.Kumakura’s] recordings during that run,” said Crom. “It’s a good way to study Spanish too.”
Maintaining sanity also requires students to persevere, even when they’re struggling.
“The hardest part is convincing yourself that giving up is never an option,” said Hecla.
While it may be tempting to try a Blitzkrieg style strategy, cramming late into the night and doing hundreds of calculus problems at the same time, experienced students warn that this strategy is not helpful.
“I find that maintaining a balanced study schedule was the most effective strategy for keeping my grades up,” said Hecla. “ A small amount of time each day is orders of magnitude better than cramming, which contributes to stress, test anxiety and ultimately failure.”
AP students preparing to do battle with the college board in May will find their classes easier if they enter classes prepared with prerequisite skills such as having an understanding of proper grammar and organization.
“[In Junior Composition] we did a lot more work on grammar skills and essay composition,” said Juarez. “While we do a lot of essay writing in AP Lit, I expect that they have good essay skills coming in. We’re really focused on the analytical aspect.”
It is possible for students who are not already adept writers to succeed in AP Language and Composition. According to Juarez, overcoming these obstacles is a matter of having a good attitude.
“I welcome students that are willing to challenge themselves,” said Juarez. “I have a number of students for whom English is their second language so their writing skills are weaker, but they still have strong analytical skills, and that’s really the more important part. The writing skills will come along if they’re willing to work.”
Surviving AP classes provided more benefits than an impressive college application. AP classes are supposed to mimic the rigor and style of college level courses. At AHS, teachers try to honor this intention.
“When I first came into teaching AP I actually based much of what I do on my own freshman composition course,” said Juarez. “Some of the same activities, journaling critical reflections, peer editing, all of those things were things we did in real college classes.”
Questions for Juarez
You used to teach both AP Comp and Junior Comp, in your mind, how does a class being AP change the curriculum?
For those classes it was totally different curriculum. For Junior English it was American literature, AP is very specific to the AP test which is really nonfiction and based on persuasive techniques of speakers and writers. We did book groups, we did a lot more work on grammar skills and essay composition, so while we do a lot of essay writing in AP lit, I expect that they have good essay skills coming in. SO we’re really focused on the analytical aspect.
Besides the extra work load, how does having a standardized test at the end of the course change the way students need to prepare?
I don’t have a curriculum for AP, but I certainly have a goal in mind for where they need to be. It’s a matter of giving them very specific guided feedback. It’s giving them very specific practice tests, timed writes, it’s having them go over student models. It’s a whole process that wouldn’t exist if I didn’t have that test. It would look very diff
When I first came into teaching AP I actually based much of what I do on my own freshman composition course. Some of the same activities, journaling critical reflections, peer editing, all of those things were things we did in real college classes.
Do you find that students have trouble transitioning to having AP classes? Why is this transition difficult for them?
As long as they come knowing that they are going to have to put in a good deal of time if they want to improve. I can’t make them better writers, they have to do the work themselves.
SOme of them want to be given answers, some of them really rely on me. SOme of them don’t have the skills coming in and they’re not willing to work on them, or I had some students who came in because their friends came in and that makes it difficult because they don’t want to be here for the right reasons. Some of them just take an AP class because they think it will look good on a college transcript they really need to come in with the idea that they want to succeed and improve and work.
As a teacher do you generally expect a higher quality of work from AP students versus students in a level class? I welcome students that are willing to challenge themselves, so I have a number of students for whom english isn’t their second language so their writing skills are weaker but they still have strong analytical skills, and that’s really the more important part. The writing skills will come along if they’re willing to work.
What do the most successful AP students do to manage the workload? why does this work?
What strategies are particular to AP?
You’ve mentioned before that the AP Comp timeline and the APUSH timeline lineup loosely, tell me more about how that works.
How can students take advantage of this, from the perspective of either class?
Right now the most challenging class is AP calculus. It’s a lot of self studying and you have to discipline yourself, and manage your time so you can finish your chapter before the big test.
Although you get a good foundation in class it’s a lot of self studying, and you have to discipline yourself to study every night to keep up with the class. I have a weekly calendar and I try to accomplish certain things by certain dates focusing on one class per night, but also spreading it around a little bit works well for me.
The calendar helps a lot, staying organized on the calendar and sticking to those dates really helps me manage my time.
Everyday I go for a run and I listen to Mr. K’s recording’s during that run, it’s a good way to study Spanish too.