Between sophomore and junior year, students tend to devote more of their time into achieving academic success as colleges use these two years to represent students’ overall G.P.A. While uncommon for sophomores, juniors at Mills tend to take one or more A.P. classes in hopes of boosting their G.P.A. While Mills offers a variety of A.P. classes, some courses and subjects are notoriously known for being more difficult than others. After interviewing several students who have taken these classes, I can say without a doubt that science A.P.s tend to be especially difficult. As someone who has taken A.P. chemistry and is currently taking A.P. biology, I can provide a firsthand account of my experience–and yes these classes were excruciating, however, I personally found completing A.P. chemistry and the first semester of A.P. biology enjoyable.
In the midst of writing this article and having the opportunity to interview Mr. Wang, who teaches A.P. biology, it became increasingly clear that teachers may have a different perspective on the difficulty of A.P. classes. On the question of whether or not his own A.P. class is difficult or not, Mr. Wang the varied feedback of his students by stating: “We all have different upbringings and academic backgrounds that warp our perception on which classes we perceive as difficult or challenging. Plus we all like to learn from different styles.” The reason why the difficulty of science A.P.s tends to resonate among students could be in part due to the classes’ ability to exploit common weaknesses. Science A.P.s, in particular, prove to be especially demanding when it comes to areas where students are generally weak at. For example, the curriculum for science A.P.s covers a wide range of topics that challenge students to stay at the top of their game by cramming formulas, concepts, and theories into students who choose to take the A.P. test in May. The sheer amount of memorization necessary to do well in an A.P. science environment combined with, based on my experience, an average of four to five hours per week of laborious homework can prove to be deadly with teenagers’ struggle with procrastination and what Mr.Wang describes as “mental health degradation.”
After hearing about the potential repercussions of taking an A.P. class, it’s easy to assume that when confronted by the rigorous and demanding academic environment that emanate from the classrooms of A.P. biology, chemistry, environmental science or physics, many students immediately assume that they’ll perform poorly under pressure–but the question of whether or not a student will succeed in an A.P. environment isn’t as cut and dry as you might think. After proposing the question of whether or not there should be an entry grade requirement that had to be met by students in the lower transitional classes such as standard biology or chemistry, Mr. Wang answered “It shouldn’t be fair for students to lose the ability to enroll in a certain class based on how well they did in the past and teachers shouldn’t need to have taught certain students a year prior in order for them to be eligible to take their A.P. class the next year.” Furthermore, he adds, “No matter which teacher you end up with for lower level science classes, students should end up equally prepared to take the advancement into an A.P. science class.” Ultimately, whatever grade you receive during freshman year biology or sophomore year chemistry shouldn’t persuade or dissuade you from taking the respective A.P. class. A major part of success in a challenging academic environment is whether or not students feel like they signed up for the right experience. More often than not, I’d sit in the back row of Mr. Paul’s chemistry class and hear about my classmates complaining about how they stayed up grinding the entirety of last week’s text questions on Sunday night only to realize that the kids who were complaining were at the top of our class consistently setting the curve for the rest of us during tests. All in all, it’s all about a matter of perspective. You can find the experience grueling but still succeed in the form of maintaining a high grade or you might even feel like you loved the class but ended up with a C. The bottom line for many students is that there are many honorable grades other than an A and if you feel like you want to be there, you’ll succeed. On the other hand, if you don’t want to be there, then you shouldn’t have to push yourself and instead choose to not take the class in the first place. Citing raw statistics, Mr. Wang describes the phenomenon of maintaining minimal Ds and Fs all the while boasting an impressive pass rate of higher than 90% on the A.P. test by commenting the following: “I’m always here to help you as long as you’re willing, students should never feel shy about asking for extra attention in the form of afterschool and before school tutoring, emails or one-on-one clarifications. Even if you’re not comfortable being taught by others I can teach you myself during flex…I cannot offer you an unfair advantage over other students but I can set you up in a position where you’re able to succeed.” Admittedly, based on personal experience, most teachers at Mills are willing to go the extra mile and help students who actively voice that they are struggling and would like help. From the perspective of a person who regularly feels stressed and alone in this academic toil, maintaining an active teacher-student relationship can prove to be enormously helpful in preserving the well-being of the student psyche as most teachers want you to succeed and are able to provide uplifting support. Mr. Wang provides the following closing statement: “As a teacher, I can only help you as much as you the student are willing,” to sum up his relationship with his students. In retrospect, taking an A.P. class proved to be challenging at times, but being placed in a stressful environment allowed me to develop self discipline and a stronger sense of motivation. My advice to students who plan on taking A.P. classes is to set realistic expectations for yourself and choose a class that best fits your interests.