Advancing the Pace

Mariam Keita, Reporter

Carlotta Gidal ‘19 is an advocate for the Advanced Placement program. As a sophomore she had taken three AP courses during her high school career, US History, Biology, and World History. 

“If you’ve been preparing for something the entire year in a class and really getting in depth in a subject, why not see what you can do with it?” said Gidal.

Gidal is one of only six students that scored a five out of five on the AP United States History (APUSH) exam last year. According to Guidance counselor Linda Hoel, APUSH is one of the most challenging social studies courses offered at City High.

Of the 1680 students enrolled at City, 655 (forty percent) were enrolled in at least one AP course for the 2016-2017 school year. This testing cycle, a resounding 64% of AP students answered the College Board’s call with 418 students taking a total of 700 exams, or approximately 1.7 tests per student.

For those that had been studious and mastered their courses, it was a chance to show off their skills through the standardized testing process and get a leg up in the college search. 

“Deciding to take an AP course lets colleges and universities know that you have what it takes to succeed in an undergraduate environment. When admissions officers see “AP” on your transcript, they know that what you experienced in a particular class has prepared you well for the challenges of college.” reads the College Board website.

With City High achieving such success within its AP program, the school has even been looking to expand the number of Advanced Placement courses available to students and will be adding two new options, AP Seminar and AP Research, in the next two years. Both fall within a program known as AP Capstone.

This year, Gidal took both the AP Biology and AP World History exams. Although she scored well on the 2016 APUSH exam, she admitted to having felt more prepared for this year’s testing cycle.

“When I prepare for AP tests I like to…write essays,” Gidal said. “It’s a good way to articulate the ideas to myself in a way that I’ll actually remember them instead of just reading a prep book.”

When looking at the staggering number of students involved in the twenty AP courses offered at City, it is easy to forget that City did not have an AP program until the early 2000s. The AP program began with the 2003-2004 school year with AP English Literature. Since then the school has grown from having one AP option to having twenty.

Despite the wide range of AP courses offered to students at City High, there are some courses that are not available to students including European History, Environmental Science, and Art History, to name a few.

Teagan Roeder ‘18 belongs to a group of students that elects to self-study for courses they have not taken and register for their AP exams. Last year, he took the AP European History test.

I had to find a book that taught the entire course. I had no teachers to teach me the material,” Roeder said. “Self teaching requires a bunch more discipline to learn the course material. It requires a lot of effort in focusing for the exams.”

As shown by the numbers, not all students enrolled in advanced placement classes opt to take an AP exam come May. Maimouna Sow ‘19, much like Gidal, took AP World History this year.

“Even though I took AP Worlds, I decided not to take the AP exam this year,” Sow said. “The only reason why I did not take the AP exam was because [AP Worlds] was kind of hard for me. I took it because I was good [at history] not because I love it. That’s where one of my mistakes were[sic].”

As the year went on, Sow began feeling less and less motivated to put her efforts into AP Worlds. While she wanted to do well in the course, she just didn’t feel connected to the material.

“I feel like you should take AP and Honors classes in things that you actually love and not just because you’re good at it. In AP and Honors classes it gets a step harder so just being good at it is not going to be enough. You’re going to need to have a love for it in order to succeed in it– you need to be passionate about the subject.”

Roeder decided against self-studying for an AP test this year despite loving the subject at hand.

“I decided against it because it requires a high amount of stress and time to achieve the goal of passing an exam- besides, I had to make muffins!”

And like Sow, Roeder believes that having a fondness for the subject matter will contribute to a student’s success. While deciding whether or not to test for a subject, he considers the following,

“I ask myself if I’m passionate [about the subject],” Roeder said. “If the answer is yes, then I do.” 

While not possessing a passion for the Social Studies, Sow does have a deep interest in Human Sciences. As of now, Sow has enrolled in subjects that she has an interest in this upcoming school year and hopes to take more courses like them in the future.

“I love Biology, I want to take AP Bio,” Sow said. “When I go to college I cannot wait to major in Biology so AP Bio will help me a lot. I think it’s so fascinating how the human body works.”

At least one student has a strong opinion when it comes to Advanced Placement courses and whether or not students should test.

“Why not? It’s not as hard as everyone seems to make it out to be if you’re interested in the subject,” Gidal said.”It’s a good way to show colleges that you’re serious about something. Just because a class has an AP label on it does not make it harder than all other classes.”

Despite deciding against self-teaching this year, Roeder did take the AP Government test and shares Gidal’s opinion when it comes to testing.

“It provides a legitimate challenge for students who want to learn more about their passions,” Roeder said. “It’s also a chance to demonstrate your knowledge.” 

Generally speaking, students are encouraged to take AP exams. The group ACHIEVE aims to up minority student involvement. Test-takers scoring a three or higher on their tests on a scale of five contribute to the school’s AP index, which has seen a significant rise within the last year alone.

“The higher your index, the more…you are preparing your students adequately for post-high school. [It shows] that you’re doing an excellent job of your AP instruction,” Hoel said. “As I look at our AP index…that tells me that not only do we have students that are seriously taking AP classes, they’re applying themselves and they’re learning a lot in those classes.”

Roeder is a student who likes to challenge himself, having taken several Advanced Placement courses and tests throughout his high school career with success. Over time, he has developed a method that helps him when AP season comes around.

“It’s a mix of meticulous close reading, and constantly listening to audio-visual review materials I can find on the topic,” Roeder said. ”I tend to download a bunch of videos on the AP exam’s material and listen to them whenever I go on for a walk or doing other activity [sic] to let all the information sink in.”

Eden Knoop ‘18, another student familiar with the testing process, took the exams for AP Chemistry, AP Calculus BC, and AP US Government and Politics this year. The AP veteran had some advice to share with anyone that might have an interest in testing in the future,

“The most difficult test I’ve taken was probably the AP Bio test but that was more due to a lack of preparation on my end than the actual test,” Knoop said. “Look over the [old] questions and study the information that the question expected you to know. I find that to be the best way for me to get a well-rounded and thorough review of the most important topics.”

Hoel believes that there are two good ways students can decide whether or not to take an AP exam,

“They have researched some colleges that they might be interested in and…with a satisfactory score on that test, that might exempt them from some college work or it might allow them accelerate some college work,” Hoel said. “If that’s important to them, then that would be a reason to take the test.”

Conversely, Hoel wants students to be aware that not all colleges accept AP scores for every test and that some colleges only accept scores of a certain caliber.

“If you are going to be going to a college or colleges that don’t accept AP or don’t accept AP in the areas you’re considering…you’re going to want to think twice about whether you needed to or wanted to take the test,” Hoel said.

While there are many factors that come into play where AP courses and AP testing is involved, Melanie Gibbens, AP U.S. History instructor, would like all students to remember one thing: they are more than just a test score.