As AP Exam Season Looms, Students Feel the Pressure

As AP Exam Season Looms, Students Feel the Pressure

Sorina Condon and Jane McGuiggin

SHS students who are enrolled in AP classes are expected (and encouraged) to register for the corresponding AP exam. However, in recent years, some students, especially seniors, have decided against taking the exam in May–some students even elect to skip the exam after they have paid $97 for this opportunity.

This sparks a question–why would students choose to skip or miss an AP exam after they’ve worked hard all year to prepare?

Currently, SHS has a partnership with Mass Insight, a non-profit organization that provides extra support for AP students and teachers. On November 17th, Julie Alexander, Senior Content Director of AP English at Mass Insight, visited SHS to teach some English classes and meet with students during a press conference.

During this press conference, we were able to understand more about how students benefit from taking AP classes and AP exams. When asked about AP exams, Alexander explained that originally AP classes were never meant to be taken as much as they are today. The intent was to expose students to a college level course through maybe one to two classes.

For students today, there is an overarching pressure to take four or five AP classes to feel prepared for college. In fact, when we asked students if they thought taking more AP classes gave them a better chance of getting into college, nearly every student said yes. 

This exam-oriented environment, which is promoted by teachers, often makes students feel pressured to take AP exams–even if they know they won’t earn a score of 3 or above, which is the minimum score accepted by most colleges. This creates conflict with students, as they don’t want to spend money if they will not earn credit for their score. (Every college is different, but a score of 3, 4, or 5 is typically given consideration.)

According to Alexander, “It’s not about the 5.” She explained that taking an AP course is “about gaining the skills.”

During the week of AP exam sign-ups, some SHS teachers directly asked their students why they did not register for the course’s AP exam. Unfortunately, in some cases, students’ reasons were personal or private. Students shouldn’t have to explain their reasoning for taking a course and not the exam, as taking the corresponding AP exam is optional. However, some students feel they are letting their teachers down if they don’t sign up for their AP exams. 

To clarify this matter, Alexander explained how “if students don’t take the exam, they technically don’t finish the course.” While this reasoning is completely understandable, the cost of the AP exams creates an obstacle for some students. With a standard fee of $97.00 per exam, some students may incur a financial hardship when they register for multiple exams.

At SHS, some students may not be aware of the AP exam fee waiver that is available for those who qualify. A quick conversation with your guidance counselor can potentially alleviate some of the financial struggles that can be extra challenging, especially for seniors, who are also facing college application fees ranging from $50 to $85 dollars per application. 

Senior Abigail Norris, who is enrolled in three AP classes, commented, “It is beneficial to take the exam when it comes to classes that will push students toward future goals.” She went on to say that for a student looking to become a medical professional, “a biology exam could be beneficial.” But Norris also emphasized that she doesn’t think it’s necessary “to take the exam if the class does not apply to your possible major or if you don’t feel strong in the subject.”