AP teachers strive to find work-life balance amid new exam challenges


Image courtesy of College Board


Almost every student in the country has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. But, unlike every student now navigating distance learning, Advanced Placement students now have new challenges to face: the uncharted territory of online AP exams.

The AP exams are held every year to test students on their college readiness and reward them with college credit in a variety of different subjects from U.S. government to English literature. In the past, they have been taken over several weeks. Each test could last over two hours, and students would be tasked with multiple choice questions as well as several essays and short response questions.

However, because of the recent developments and closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the College Board, the organization that administers the exams, has decided to make each exam a 45-minute short response writing test that will be taken online.

The exams are scheduled over a two-week period beginning May 11 and running through May 22. Exams will be hosted throughout the afternoon for those in the Eastern time zone, staggered at 12 p.m., 2p.m. and 4 p.m. For those students who are unable to take the May exams at the set times, there will be makeups offered in June. 

The fact that students will be able to test at all in this current climate is a relief to some teachers.

“Although it cuts our exam by three-quarters, I like that students will be able to type up their essays and will be testing at 2 p.m. when they are awake,” said Kathryn Kammeraad, an AP Language teacher. “What I don’t like is that their whole score is based on one essay. [The AP Language exam] is historically and nationally the hardest essay to pass.”

This is a tremendous change to what AP students have been working toward for months, Kammeraad said.

Traditionally, some students would need to prepare to write up to three essays and answer an hour’s worth of multiple choice questions. While it might seem like an easier test, AP teachers said they are worried that students may have less of a chance to pass, since they are being graded on one element instead of several.

It’s not just the students who are struggling with the change; teachers have had to chart new courses in their classes. With distance learning, this means creating new content that can be done from behind a computer screen, without the one-on-one instruction they are used to.

Plus, many teachers are parents as well, and said it’s difficult to homeschool their own children as well as teach their students.

“I have to balance my responsibilities as a teacher with having to teach my own two children who are in elementary school. It’s pretty much like I have three full time jobs,” said Shayna Hron, another AP Language teacher at the school. 

This work-life balance is especially difficult for AP Calculus teacher Saida Griesemer, who in early March delivered her first child. She said she is facing some tough challenges with balancing taking care of a newborn as well as preparing her students for the upcoming AP Calculus exam.

“The current pandemic has shifted my world. I have returned off of leave from having my baby to help my students in this digital learning crisis and to make sure they complete the school year,” Griesemer said. “I was cleared by doctors to work strictly from home so that I can still be with my baby boy and take care of my students.”

For any AP student struggling with the change, the College Board has released a string of daily Youtube videos with review lessons and questions. The organization has also unlocked free review materials for students on their AP College Board account.

Despite the challenges, as students prepare to start their exams, the message from their teachers is a positive one: stay strong, and don’t give up.

“I know that they can do this,” Griesemer said. “t’s all of a question if they believe they can.”