AP Exam Season: Spring Sadness, May Madness

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Published: May 11, 2014 @ 10:00 PM EST

April showers bring May flowers, but with the start of May comes another annual phenomenon: the death of hopes, the birth of dreams, and the loss of sleep.

AP Exams.

What does this mean, you ask? Well, in today’s educational system, students are given the opportunity to earn college credit before they even step foot on a college campus. The popular approach to achieving this – and saving both time and money – is taking the Advanced Placement (AP) program route. College Board, a non-profit organization, manages and oversees any rules, regulations, and expectations relating to its program and its corresponding examinations. However, earning college credit as a high schooler does come at a cost. A student must not only take a more rigorous and strenuous workload in the classroom, but also prepare for the AP Exam itself. The exams are scored on a one to five scale: five being a perfect score, one being the lowest, with a three as a passing mark.

In Roselle Park High School (RPHS), seven (7) AP courses (Chemistry, Calculus AB, English Literature & Composition, United States History, Spanish Language, Biology, and French Language) are available to those who dare take them and face the fiery depths of hell – as some students may refer to them as. Enrolling in said classes takes its toll on the students, many having also joined extracurriculars and/or sports.

However, don’t pity the students who take on the harsh realms of College Board’s curriculum, but rather, focus on the people who are in charge of teaching them. How on earth do the teachers handle the stress of the dreaded AP world?  As if teaching honors and college prep classes, running student clubs, and juggling a personal life wasn’t hard enough, seven exceptional individuals manage not only the regular workload of being educators, but also handle the expectations of preparing future college students. For example, Vincent Fucci, the AP Spanish Language and Culture teacher, manages multiple honors classes, overseas the Interact Club, and also heads the production of the school’s yearbook.

For those who haven’t taken an AP class, it’s like preparing for war — and at $81 a test, it’s a war everyone wants to win.

Teachers have to be able to cover the topics with typically just weeks to spare, and even then, it’s a struggle trying to predict what may or may not be on this year’s exam. Speaking to Tiffany Bain, the AP United States History (APUSH) teacher, on the subject of preparing for the exam every year, she responded, “It’s difficult trying to guess what’s going to be on the test every year. I can only prepare my students with the knowledge and trust in them to do what we practice.”

APUSH, for those of you who might scoff at history, is difficult to say the least. It requires the memorization of centuries of facts, the cognitive reasoning to be able to see how events have their lasting effects, and the synthesis of logical, concise documents and their impact on the history behind it. Katie Jenkins, a Junior at RPHS, describes her experience: “I like APUSH, because now, I know a lot more about where we came from, and I can see where our current day problems come from. History is like some big mystery waiting to be explored.”

Students like Katie, motivated and engaged, give Mrs. Bain the will to finish another pile of Free-Response Questions (FRQ) and Document-Based Question essays (DBQ). When asked about her hopes for this year’s AP survivors, she responded, “Over my years of teaching, my passing rate keeps going up. Last year I had more than 60% passing, with three students getting a perfect score, and I am sure the trend will keep going up.”

The average passing rate is about 50%.

While APUSH gives many students nightmares, AP Calculus AB is a class few stomachs can take, and few students pass. AP Calculus AB covers what would typically be Pre-Calculus and Calculus I classes in college. Ranging from limits and theorems to the applications of integrals and derivatives, Melissa Rinaldi juggles it all as a teacher and AP Calculus AB veteran. With a well-thought out curriculum and enthusiastic attitude, she inspires her students to strive to pass the exam. She turns what seems like an impossible exam into another rudimentary do-now problem, and after a while, Calculus becomes almost second nature. When asked what she enjoyed most about teaching an AP class, Mrs. Rinaldi replied that she enjoys that “most of the time students are motivated and the material is thought-provoking.”

If the math jargon and centuries’ worth of history didn’t make you shudder and respect AP teachers, let us throw you into the realm of life and matter: Chemistry.

For the past four decades, Raymond Bangs, has been  molding young minds and preparing them not only for the struggles of four-hour labs, but also preparing them to ace the AP Chemistry exam. Mr. Bangs, a man of few words, was not available for an interview; however, when interviewing his students, only praises were being sung about his diligence on exam preparation — one student went so far as to say, “It is like he sleeps in the school to make sure he doesn’t miss the opportunity for further instruction.”

Though many mistake it as an easy class, AP English Literature and Composition is anything but. The course requires thorough inspection of classic novels and analytical writing skills. However, English AP students aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty as they divulge into ‘The Color Purple’ as well as other literature. The burden of the class is significantly lifted with the positive demeanor of AP teacher, Lori Disarro.

“I feel like she’s my second mom,” an anonymous student remarked, “And like all moms, Ms. Disarro refuses to see her students fail.”

All in all, it’s a task few individuals would dare to undertake, but the ‘Magnificent Seven’ get the job done with grace and panache. This year’s AP season commenced with AP Chemistry on Monday, May 5th, and will conclude with APUSH on Wednesday, May 14th.

Good luck to all the students taking them!

Alyssa Bellomo and Victor Suarez are both graduating RPHS Honors students who have taken a motley of AP courses throughout high school. After graduating, both will be pursuing a five-year Master’s Degree in Biotechnology through Kean University’s New Jersey Center for Science, Technology & Mathematics (NJCSTM) Program.