The Countdown Begins: Malden High Prepares for AP Exams

Jordan Caplis also contributed to this article.

AP exams, hosted by the CollegeBoard, are coming up in just about a month. After a year of preparation, Malden High students are nearing the end of their courses to take their exams. If students receive a qualifying score of 3 to 5, certain colleges and universities accept the scores as a test-out for classes in colleges.

AP courses, short for Advanced Placement, are the hardest classes Malden High offers. The courses are rigorous and are designed to be as difficult as a college-level course. “You can have more fun in the class than in CP or Honors. It’s a lot of work, but you can enjoy it,” Paul Marques said. Marques teaches the AP Computer Science A course and is looking to expand the program to include AP Computer Science Principles in the future. Marques is in his third decade of teaching at Malden High and highly recommends his courses to any students interested in Computer Science. 

AP Chemistry is known to be one of the hardest AP exams, with one of the lowest national pass rates. Katherine “Kate” Haskell has been teaching AP Chemistry for years and it is by far her favorite class to teach. She also teaches honors and college prep chemistry, but her students who take AP Chemistry are “much more motivated and want to be here.” Despite the exam being infamous for its difficulty, last year, even her most worried students confessed to overstressing. “Last year, they came to me and said they were totally prepared for it and felt like it was easier than anything they ever did in my class.” Like many of her AP colleagues, her strategy is to make the class as hard or harder than the test so students are fully prepared for the rigor of the exam. 

Although she believes AP Chemistry is viewed as more difficult than it is, she acknowledges that the test is skewed against students who do not speak English as their first language. “College Board tends to throw a lot of words in there that are not necessary, [they’re] meant to trip them up and throw them off.” Haskell elaborated, “The students understand the chemistry behind the question but the question is phrased in a way that they cannot understand.” To prepare for this, Haskell spends the last month or so of the year just focused on reading and answering questions, not the chemistry and math of the questions. 

Most teachers are done teaching the curriculum by the last month before exams and use the final few weeks as test prep. “It’s not good to have too much time to review, it stresses them out. But when there’s too little and you’re rushing and panicking it drags it out for too long,” AP Economics and AP World teacher James Hill described. “I think that the challenge is just remembering everything. We get through a lot in both of my classes, but AP Economics is two APs in one.” Throughout AP Economics, students cover both AP Micro and AP Macro Economics, with two exams at the end of the year; the course is one of the more rigorous ones, especially as most schools teach it as two classes rather than one. However, Hill is confident his students will do well in this upcoming exam.

Christopher Giordano, the only AP Statistics teacher, has been teaching the class for the past six years. When he first started, however, he felt underprepared. “I had to teach a lot of the content to myself the first few years. I felt like I was reading the chapter the night before the kids were and I had to do every single activity to make sure I understood how to help them.” If Giordano could go back in time and tell first-year AP Statistics teacher Giordano anything, it would be that it gets easier. “I feel like I have gotten to a point where I know what I am doing. I can dive into an activity and lead the discussion and pull out relevant examples that students can connect with.” He elaborated that the more times he teaches the course, the easier it gets, so he has high expectations for his students this year.

AP US History is regarded as the hardest AP History course, with less than half of its students passing the exam nationally in 2023. Kurtis Scheer is the head of the history department and has been teaching AP US History for two years at Malden High. As the lead teacher of the history department, he oversees AP Modern World History the other sections of AP US History, and all other history courses, AP or not, offered at Malden High. For Scheer, he believes that a majority of the AP exams are not about understanding history, but how to take standardized tests. “The students that I see doing the best on the tests are always the ones most comfortable with test taking.” While it may not be what students are looking for going into these classes, Scheer believes test-taking skills are crucial for students to learn. “You’re always going to have to take standardized tests in your life, whether that be a driver's test or something else. Test-taking skills are important for students and adults to understand, so I’m glad we have found a way to teach it in school.”

Jennifer Clapp has been teaching AP classes at Malden High since 2001, changing over the years between AP Seminar, AP Literature, and AP Language and Composition. This year, Clapp teaches AP Seminar and AP Literature and is excited to see how her students do on the exam this year. Pitching for her classes, Clapp believes that anyone and everyone should take AP Seminar. “It’s the kind of writing you have to do no matter what your academic field is: science, math business, law, anything.” Clapp wants students who take her class to leave feeling confident in their public speaking skills, regardless of their AP score. 

For her AP Literature course, the only change she would make is to teach two sections instead of one. This school year, two teachers are teaching AP Literature, each teaches one section, and each section has over thirty students. For Clapp, “I can’t give students the individualized attention they deserve with so many students in the room.” She believes her students will do well regardless, but hopes to see scheduling changes made in the future to accommodate the large population of the school.

With only a month left until exams, Clapp wants AP students to believe in themselves. “If every student looks over their notes and is confident going into the exam, they did the best they can, regardless of score.” Like many other AP teachers, Clapp acknowledges that AP scores are not an indicator of the intelligence of students, but their ability to take standardized tests and apply class knowledge to them.

As the AP exams draw near and students at Malden High School gear up for the culmination of a year's worth of rigorous preparation, the dedication and passion of their teachers shine through. From Computer Science to Chemistry, Economics to History, and Literature to Statistics, each instructor's commitment to guiding their students through challenging coursework and test preparation is evident. Despite the reputation of AP exams for their difficulty, these educators foster an environment where students are empowered to excel, not only in mastering subject material but also in honing essential skills like critical thinking and effective test-taking strategies. As the countdown to exam day begins, the message resonates clear: with determination, confidence, and support from their teachers, Malden High students are well-equipped to tackle the challenges ahead and showcase their academic prowess on the national stage.

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