Should seniors be required to take their AP exams?


Lucy Jaffee, Editor-in-Chief

After leniency over the last two years due to COVID-19 irregularities, LJCDS has returned to requiring all seniors enrolled in AP courses to take AP exams, prompting discussion among students, teachers, and faculty about the function and purpose of mandatory AP exams.

Seniors were first notified of this decision via email in late March. The email, titled “AP Exam Expectations for Seniors” was sent on behalf of the Head of Upper School, Mr. Trocano. The email references the “expectation” in page 13 of the Family Handbook, which states that “Any student taking an AP course is required to take the AP exam.” While the pandemic had created flexibility surrounding this policy, the return to in-person learning officially reinstates it. Mr. Trocano wrote that sitting for a challenging exam is a preparative experience for college-bound students, offers an opportunity to earn college credit, and can provide “personal satisfaction” associated with “demonstrating mastery” in a subject. Furthermore, he advised students who do not wish to fulfill this requirement to contact their teacher and college counselor “so as to be fully informed regarding the impact of not taking a particular AP exam.” At the time the email was sent, it was unclear whether there would be any consequences for seniors who missed their AP exams. 

To seek clarification on the email, which calls the AP exam requirement listed in the handbook an “expectation” I spoke with Mr. Trocano. The word “expectation” was an intentional choice made after a couple faculty meetings to discuss the varying opinions among AP teachers about the exams. Mr. Trocano explained that using the word requirement did not feel ideal as AP exams are more of an understood commitment made during the enrollment of an AP course as opposed to a strict graduation requirement. Furthermore, he chose not to include any concrete consequences to missing an AP exam as none had been articulated prior to the notice, and a consequence could be interpreted differently among students. For example, some students may consider a potentially strained relationship with their teacher a consequence whereas others may not. He wanted to offer students the flexibility to evaluate their unique situations carefully before making an individual decision. 

Mr. Trocano also noted that the language in the Family Handbook regarding AP exams will be updated next year to provide greater clarity. The language continues to be evaluated and is not final yet. 

This year, AP exams were given in-school between May 2nd and ending May 13th. Each exam is given at a standard national time and date. The exams are typically 2-3 hours long. The format of each AP exam varies, with most having some multiple choice questions and some type of free-response or essay question. Receiving a 3 on the exam is considered passing, but many colleges only accept credit for a score of a 4 or 5, or sometimes only a 5. Some specific majors or universities do not accept AP credits at all, or will offer credit for classes a student is not interested in taking. 

I spoke to three seniors enrolled in AP classes and heard similar negative opinions about the exam requirement. One student was very blunt about whether or not we should take AP exams, “We shouldn’t,” she eloquently said. As a student who won’t receive credit for AP scores, she considers it merely “wasting time.” Another student pointed out that doing well on the exam often requires extra preparation, which piles up in addition to spring exams and other final projects happening in senior classes. The third believes seniors should focus on having fun and graduation events at this point in the year, and that AP exams just add “one more thing to stress about as seniors.” She noted that given the emphasis LJCDS places on mental health and wellness, the extra burden of AP exams is counterproductive. And, in response, to the school’s justification for AP exams being the valuable experience of sitting for an assessment, all three students believe LJCDS offers plenty of test experience as is. 

Moreover, the first two students felt secure in their knowledge of the class subject and would view a low AP score as a “bad testing day” or a fluke. The third student, while predicting she wouldn’t feel sad about a low AP score, would feel slightly more insecure about her knowledge of the subject. 

Teachers had varied opinions about whether the AP exams should be required for seniors. 

Mr. Shulman, who has taught AP Government, AP U.S. History and AP World history told me that “if the school is going to expect it [AP Exam for seniors], then I [Mr. Shulman] am going to expect it,” though he strongly feels that the AP curriculum as a whole is “holding the history department back.” He further adds, “Students should not underestimate their influence and should take the initiative as early as the fall if they want to be a part of a discussion of this policy before it is re-implemented in the spring of 2023.” 

Offering a different perspective, AP Psychology teacher Mr. Prychun believes that given many seniors are about to enter adulthood or adults already, it should be their decision whether to take the exam or not. Also, he added, since the exams cost $96 each, students who are uninterested in taking the exams should not be forced to pay. He commented that many teachers feel disrespected when students choose not to take their AP exams. “I don’t feel that way,” he clarified. He would only feel disrespected “if a student acts disrespectfully towards me personally,” and not about their AP exam decision. AP Biology teacher Dr. Wolfe says she feels the same way as Mr. Prychun.

Mr. Prychun also discussed the irreverent student behavior that occurred during the AP Psychology on May 3rd, a few days before we spoke. Students were reportedly rude to proctors and not following exam protocols, as well as drawing profane images on the exams. As a student who took the exam, I observed many students putting one-word answers for the Free Response portion and selecting the same letter for every multiple-choice question. Similarly, a junior who took the AP Spanish Literature exam alongside many seniors noted their distracting behavior. The proctors of the AP exams were attempting to create a distraction-free environment, but unwilling students persisted. It’s likely that this negative experience would have been avoided if seniors were not required to take the exam. 

Cover photo credit: Santa Monica Daily Press