By Joyce Lee, 17, La Cañada HS
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Last year I took one AP class and this year I decided to take three. AP classes are known to require more hours of homework than regular classes and as a result, cause stress and sometimes, anxiety. One of the hardest parts about the classes is the test at the end of the year. This is my experience of preparing for and taking multiple AP tests, which were difficult and time consuming.

One week before the U.S. history test

It’s here; the week that is so dreaded but still inevitably arrives. The AP class teachers are steaming ahead at full speed and nothing and no one is going to stop them. I am taking three APs this year: AP U.S. history, AP environmental science and AP language and composition. The AP teachers have taught me a lot this year but when testing time comes, everyone is stressed.

In my AP U.S. history class, Mr. Cartnal, one of my favorite teachers, holds review sessions that cover events from the 16th Century to more recent years. Mr. Cartnal will usually write key terms on the whiteboard and ask students to come and define them. Everyone wants to let him know they are studying. There is a lot of focus on competing with each other; one student will stand up to define a term and another will have already gotten to the board. There isn’t any hostility but I felt a bit disappointed when I knew the term and someone else beat me to it. It’s pretty hard to remember things from September and I get nervous when I can’t remember what the Hamiltonian Economic System was or when the name of the 34th president slips my mind.

It seems like the majority of my nights don’t allow me much sleep; on good nights, I usually get about five hours, but usually it’s more like three and a half or four. I’m nervous and I feel like there isn’t enough time to prepare or make sure I know everything. I’ve become progressively irritated and I know I can attribute this to my sleep deprivation. I also think my lack of sleep is causing a state of mental hyper-activity; I find myself constantly making and revising my mental schedule and desperately wanting to check off at least one to-do on the list. OK, if only I can finish my math homework in class, I can spend that half-hour studying for Friday’s AP U.S. history exam, which is in eight days. Eight days. Is that enough time for me to be 100 percent prepared? Then I have to study for Tuesday’s AP environmental science exam which of course, has to be followed up with Wednesday’s AP language and composition exam. Ahhhh.

Three days before the AP U.S. history exam

I am really, really nervous. Will all of those days reading about Roosevelt’s New Deal stick in my mind? I don’t want to stress myself out by setting ridiculous goals, but I would like to get a 4 or a 5 on my tests. I think a big part of the reason why I want to perform so well is because I know how much time I put into studying during the year and I want to see the results.

The digital clock on my bed stand blinks 11:59 p.m. and I blink in disbelief. I’m sitting at my desk, which faces my bed. Wrong place for the desk … My eyes should be focusing on my book but instead I feel them moving towards the cushiony, fluffy, white comforter on my bed. It felt like I had just sat down to read about the Civil War only 20 minutes ago but it had actually been about three hours. I feel like I am pretty much ready for the test but I am annoyed because I really need to get some sleep if I want to function normally at school tomorrow … wait, it’s 12:01 a.m., actually, today. I’m going to try to go to sleep.

One day before the AP U.S. history exam

I am sitting in my AP U.S. history class, participating in one last review session before the showdown tomorrow. I’m concentrating but suddenly I feel myself drifting off into a daydream.

I see myself sitting in a white chair at a plastic white table. The air is thick with anxiety radiating from the 100 some students awaiting their College Board test booklets. Sweat droplets form on my palms and slightly dampen my booklet. I sit on my hands to stop them from shaking. Kids’ eyes dart anxiously around the room and at the clock. Almost time to start.

Ring. Ring. Ring.

The school bell rings obnoxiously and brings me back from my brief reverie. I know I am nervous … extremely nervous. In approximately 14 hours, I will be sitting in a white chair at a plastic white table—this is undeniable. The part I can control, however, is my anxiety. I know I need to calm myself down and simply take the test to the best of my ability.

Day of the test; showdown!

I wake up at 6:30 a.m. and wash up. I eat a breakfast of toast and peanut butter because I heard peanut butter really fills you up. I’m supposed to be at school by 7:30 but I’m nervous I’ll be late so I leave half an hour early. As I walk up to the stairs of the gym, where all the AP U.S. history students are to take the test, I feel the butterflies in my stomach start to stir. I soothe the flutter by thinking about how relieved I will feel after taking the four-hour test. My friends and I look at each other, smile unsteadily, and hug.

“Don’t worry,” they all say with uncertainty, “We’ll be fine!” We are all nervous.

The doors of the gym open. With five pens and two pencils ready, I step through the doors. Here it goes …

I take my seat at a wobbly table and ready myself. The counselors pass out the test booklet and the answer sheet. I whisper “thank you” to the nice lady and she smiles back at me. At least that was a bit of comfort to my near palpitating heart.

“Ready, begin.” The woman at the front of the gym said into the microphone. I hear a flutter of paper as everyone begins. I realize I haven’t opened mine yet and hurry to do so.

Oh gosh … who was president during the 1940s? The fact has slipped my mind. MY WORST NIGHTMARE! I breathe in, calmly, and then proceed to try to sift through the corners of my mind.

An hour and a half has passed. “You may now take a five-minute break,” the woman at the front of the room said. With a granola bar in hand, I walk out of the doors. Fresh air. Finally. I try to clear my mind before going back to continue the test.

Noon, end of the exam

I’m alive. I’ve survived. I’m healthy and breathing. Surprisingly, I feel I’ve done relatively well. My friends and I laugh with relief and make plans for our “relax session.” “What do you guys want to do?” I said.

“Sleep,” my friends yawned.

“Oh my gosh, come on, we need to release all of our past stress build up! Come over and we’ll watch movies and eat,” I said with excitement.

We ended going to my friend Erica’s house and watching How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.

Too bad I have two more exams to go. I’m not excited; I’m tired of sitting for four hours at a time, bubbling in tiny, tiny ovals.

After all of my exams

The AP environmental science and AP language and composition exams both ended up being fine. I realized I psyched myself out and made myself too nervous. Because of my fear of not doing well on my exams, I think I totally scared myself.

My advice for future AP exam takers? Don’t panic or wig out. If you’ve paid attention in class and done your work, you’ll be fine. But take heed—AP courses may cause side effects like nervousness and a bit of stress. Your job is to reassure yourself; you’ll be fine.