How I (Barely) Survived 7 AP® Exams in High School

by Alayna Vernon

I had no idea what I was in for.

When I was in high school, I was an overachiever. I pushed my guidance counselor more than he pushed me, and that meant I insisted on taking a full roster of of AP® classes. The truth is, I bit off more than I could chew. During my freshman and sophomore years, I performed well enough in honors classes to enroll in AP® classes during my junior year. With the blessing of my teachers, I dove into four AP® classes headfirst. I had no idea what an AP® class was other than “challenging,” and I was under the impression that the AP® Exam was a super secretive final exam at the end of the course.

I had to learn to manage my time.

I was right about one thing: the classes were challenging! My AP® classes assigned a lot of homework, and every teacher had his or her own lists of demands. Between four AP® classes and a part-time job as a lifeguard and swim teacher, I had to learn to manage my time. On any given day, I could be found studying on the bus, before school, at work, at the dinner table, in the cafeteria—basically during any open time I could find in my hectic schedule. This was all on top of three other non-AP® classes. Taking on this much taught me the hard way how to manage stress, sleep, my (barely existent) social life, AND my academics. I came out doing pretty well for myself that year and was able to pull off all As and one B in my classes.

The AP® exams were HARD. I should have adjusted my schedule beforehand.

But then came the real AP® exams. Honestly, I think my teachers just crossed their fingers with us, hoping that academic talent alone would deliver that coveted 4 or 5. Practice tests and drills just didn’t exist for me back then. I was also wholly unprepared for how mentally exhausting it would be to sit through a difficult three hour-and-longer test. FOUR times over. On top of that, it didn’t occur to me to adjust my commitments during the week of the exams. I didn’t tell my other teachers or my boss that I would be taking AP® Exams, so I lost out on the opportunity to make my life a little easier. Instead, I did everything as normal and became thoroughly drained as a result. Looking back, I could have asked to complete assignments a little earlier or later. I could have asked my boss to shuffle around some of my working hours. All of those things could have really improved my testing experience, but lack of preparation left me none the wiser to the rigors of my first AP® Exams.

I really wish I could say that my senior year was vastly different, but it wasn’t. I decided to take some more AP® classes. Although my junior year AP® experiences had taught me WHAT to prepare for, I still didn’t have any great AP® resources to show me HOW. Now that I’ve been a test prep tutor for some years, I’m happy to say that students no longer have to figure it out for themselves. Due to my own scarring experience as an AP® student, I have become dedicated to making sure that my students have easy access to quality, proven resources.

In the end, I only have a few regrets about my AP® experience.

One is that I did not prepare for my AP® Exams.

The other is that I didn’t investigate which courses would be interesting and helpful to me in the programs I was exploring for college. In hindsight, I probably would have benefited much more from AP® Chemistry than from AP® European History.

I also could have tried to teach myself enough to test well in the AP® Psychology Exam without taking the course.

Overall, I have so many more positive things to say about my AP® experience than negative. I learned how to juggle a full course load, keep up in a college-level course, study and take intensive notes, and write well-developed essays on the drop of a dime. My AP® English Literature teacher made us write 52 full-length essays in one school year. (You read that right, that’s ONE essay for every week of the WHOLE calendar year, but crammed into 34 weeks!) All of these skills—ones that helped me through college and still do in life —I owe completely to my AP® experience in high school, and I’d never give that up.

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