Teachers work to prepare online AP students for upcoming exams

Risha Chada | Staff Writer

With the upcoming Advanced Placement (AP) tests in May, online AP teachers face the challenge of preparing their students virtually. 

Come May, students of a variety of advanced subjects will face a grueling test covering the information they have learned throughout the course of the entire year. The timed test consists of a multiple choice section and a free-response section. Depending on the subject, students will get four to five choices on the multiple choice, and the free-response may be in the form of a written essay, finding the solution to a problem, or a spoken response.

AP tests were notoriously challenging for many students even before the challenges of the pandemic, but with the new virtual learning format, online learners must prepare without daily face-time with their teachers. Teachers who teach this material, must be prepared to use new online tools and resources and still connect with students virtually.

AP Statistics, Calculus AB, and Calculus BC virtual teacher Jere Clark has worked on establishing routines with her students throughout the first semester. Clark said that being prepared for the test in May starts with virtual students holding themselves accountable for their own understanding.

“Establishing their own routines of when they were going to do what was definitely a difficult adjustment,” Clark said. “They have to make a decision and they have [to] stick to their own schedule.”

Junior Jessica Li, who has to balance five AP classes with her schedule, found that planning out her time allows her to better focus on the task at hand. After attending some review sessions with Clark first semester, Li now uses Clark’s pacing guide to help plan her time so she has more free time available.

“Mrs. Clark has pacing guides, which are just google spreadsheets with the due dates and suggested pacing, but for the most part we can work at our own [pace],” Li said. “This semester it’s more of a Monday to Friday format, which I find  remarkable because that’s when my in-person friends are off, so I get to hang out with them [regularly].”

Clark said that students talking to their neighbors in class, or relying on one another to help solve problems, also helps them prepare for the upcoming AP test. Clark has facilitated this communication by putting students in breakout groups to review past material, and assigning them group assignments.

“That’s the other thing that’s missing, when you’re in class you get to turn to your neighbor and be like, ‘Did you get five for this question?’ or ‘How’d you get past this part?’,” Clark said. “Working together and collaborating is how you learn, but you don’t have that when you’re all by yourself.”

Clark has taken advantage of one-on-one online communication as well, so her students can ask questions and get more practice for the AP test. Since students only meet with their teachers twice a week, Clark utilizes time outside of her scheduled office hours and meets with her students over Zoom.

“Everybody’s on a different schedule; some people have in-person extracurriculars and others have jobs or other responsibilities,” Clark said. “If I set up a Zoom meeting with them, it usually becomes kind of a weekly [routine]. They can ask me questions and they don’t have to feel judged for asking too many questions.”

AP American History teacher Mindy Corradi is also working outside of her scheduled hours to make sure her students feel prepared for the AP tests in May. After teaching Honors World History in person for 12 years, Corradi is still navigating the online format and trying to gauge her students’ level of understanding through a computer screen.

“I always say that if I could have one superpower it’d be to read minds, because then I would know where they were struggling,” Corradi said. “In the online world, it’s even more important that students communicate well with me. I need to know when they need help so I can reach out and communicate one-on-one with them.”

One student who has taken advantage of this additional one-on-one time is sophomore Sam Cao. With the online format, students get far less time with their teachers, which also means less time to directly ask questions and review material. Cao, who had a tough schedule the first semester, attended extra review sessions to gain a better understanding of the content.

“I attended every possible one-on-one session because we had one essay per week [first semester], but now it’s more manageable,” Cao said. “Mrs. Corradi reshaped the course and is getting more involved with the content. She’s writing and teaching us how to write a DBQ more thoroughly and is giving us more [feedback].

Despite the efforts of many virtual teachers, some students still feel the differences between online and in-person methods of teaching. Li, for example, said she finds the lack of interaction between students, and studying from her home, can make it hard to focus at times.

“It’s not exactly frustrating, but it’s kind of hard to be in calls where the teachers start to speak, because everyone’s muted and it makes you not want to [participate],” Li said. “The fact that there isn’t a classroom environment makes it so different from learning last year.”

While there is frustration in the different approach to learning, Clark said that this alternate method can be a benefit to many AP students who struggle with the traditional school format. 

“It’s been really cool because I’ve seen a lot of students who don’t really succeed that well in school, flourish [virtually],” said Clark. “They’re doing really well and they’re learning, because it’s at their pace and works with their schedule. They’re flourishing when, before, they might have been overlooked, or they might have been miserable.”

Ultimately, Clark said that she believes that the online school format presents an updated way of learning that is more well suited to the modern student. In all of the uncertainty this school year has presented, she said she still sees it beneficial as a whole and wants to continue to see schools’ approach to learning improve and adapt from this experience so that they may continue to offer it even after the pandemic. 

“The way of learning where you just sit through the classes we tell you to sit through, or doing something when we tell you to do it doesn’t work for everyone,” Clark said. “The structure we have in the United States is old and outdated. It’s really cool seeing this other option that we are providing for them, [especially] when it works.”

Graphic by Rachel Cai