Keep calm, and prepare for your AP exams
Even though AP exam season is just starting, students everywhere already have to start thinking about their course schedules for next year. “AP Mania” refers to the feverish study practices of high school students during the month of May as they try to prepare for AP exams. Others also use madness to describe the extreme workloads some students take on in order to gain admittance to the college of their dreams. Students are not the only group experiencing this “mania.” Some high schools are starting “AP for All” initiatives, making AP courses for everyone, not just the “smart kids.” In reaction to this increase in the number of tests and test-takers, others have had opposite directions. Some have actually called for tougher screening processes for AP students in response to what they consider high failure rates. They also are concerned with the accuracy of the College Board’s statistics on AP successes and advantages.
Although many students can (and do) handle incredibly heavy course loads, I do want to put forth another valid alternative—being more selective with AP courses. Some high schools already have such constraints on course schedules, but others are far more permissive and may even have open enrollment for AP classes. If you are especially ambitious and your school does not offer a class you want, you could even try self-studying for an exam. Considering the effort and time that goes into AP courses, you definitely want to nail the exam. Before you sign up for 4-6 AP courses, be sure that you can balance them all while also maintaining a few outside interests (both for your own stress relief and to enhance your college applications).
It is also important to think about the teachers and resources available for each course. Does one course have an instructor who is well-known for their teaching abilities? Does another course have a useful textbook or on-line resources that will help you prepare for the test? In other words, know what you need to be successful and try to find the courses that offer you those pieces of the AP puzzle.
Certainly, one of the key perks of AP classes is the chance to amass a number of credits before actually starting college. What I am calling for is a more deliberate approach to which classes a student decides to take. Students need to consider their own strengths, interests and career goals. Cal Newport has put forth the idea of the Zen Valedictorian. Through a number of case studies, he has observed that students achieve more by doing less. Instead of indiscriminately piling on extracurricular activities and a slew of difficult courses, he has found that the most successful students make deliberate choices about their free time. They underschedule so that they have time to focus, think and innovate. I recognize that this style may not fit with everyone, but it is definitely a theory worth considering!
In a nutshell: AP is an excellent opportunity to stretch yourself, but not overextend yourself. Be smart about your course choices and spend your time as a student!
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