Last Updated: Aug 20, 2015
Should you take a summer intensive "class" to prepare for the tough AP or honors classes ahead? This student did. Here she explains why and what she learned.
You’re lounging on the beach, your worries blown away with the wind, when your phone goes off. A text from a friend glows. They’re asking about the summer work for your upcoming AP U.S. History course. You feel a pain in your chest, and you’re stricken with panic. You begin to question why you let your guidance counselor convince you to take four AP classes and where your sanity was while in their office. Visions of the piles of work that you’ll have daily begin to flash in your head, turning your relaxing vacation into a worrisome delay.
Okay, maybe that story was a bit embellished, but I am in no way ashamed to say that I become jittery with nerves when I think about the school year ahead. That person lounging on the beach? That was me. And, yes, I agreed when my guidance counselor suggested I take four AP classes this year. I definitely considered the time and effort they would require before I signed off on my junior year schedule . . . but a little part of me still thinks I had a momentary lapse in sanity that day.
If you aren’t familiar, the ultimate goal of an AP course is to prepare the student for the AP exam. Doing well on those exams often leads to earning college credits, which can lower tuition and workload in the long run. But with the weight of an entire school year of knowledge on a single test, the stress level is definitely high.
Related: Should I take AP courses?
This upcoming school year will be my first encounter with AP classes, so I was wide-eyed and clueless as I started the summer work they required. A few friends and I actually made a routine of meeting at our local library to work on assignments, helping eliminate the traditional “wait until two days before school starts to begin all work and have 47 mental breakdowns” approach.
During one of the first meetings, someone brought up the AP U.S. History prep course she was taking in the end of the month. She said it was $40 for a four-day intensive course, where the instructor shares proper essay formatting, thematic principles, class structure, and other things that would be expected of us come September. It was a prep class for a prep class, but it got my attention, since as I had been told repeatedly to expect a heavy workload and high standards. Within the matter of hours, I was enrolled in the class.
Fast-forward to the last week of July: I put together a notebook with all my AP summer assignment guidelines and rough outlines for my essays. Then I headed off to pick up my friends to go to the first day of the AP prep class. (It was 7:00 a.m. on a Monday in the middle of summer, so you can probably guess how much energy I had.)
We were lucky, since the instructor happened to be the APUSH (Advanced Placement U.S. History) teacher at our school, which let us experience her teaching and editing style in advance. The first class revolved around handouts: the class syllabus, a guideline of what the graders of the AP exams are looking for, and a sheet of key vocabulary words to use throughout our work. The two-hour period exposed us to what we would be learning and how fast we would be learning it.
From the end of the first class into the second was a series of practice essay evaluations, done in small groups. We were given essay questions, and asked to find evidence in the online textbook. We then had to compose a solid paragraph that featured analysis and one key concept from a provided list. The instructor critiqued each group’s work in the beginning of the third class, giving everyone praise and changes. (According to her, our analysis was strong and plentiful, but our comparison was weak.)
We kept the instructor’s advice in mind when going into the final class, where we were given the entire time to work on the long essays we had received for our summer assignment. We were also given an additional book to use as a resource for evidence, which made writing the essay much easier.
I left the class on the fourth day with a different outlook. AP U.S. History is known to be one of the hardest Advanced Placement courses, with an intense curriculum and almost painfully high expectations. I do not think the class will be an easy sweep, but I do feel much more comfortable with it after taking the prep course. Having the opportunity to go into the curriculum in detail and see how the class is run has definitely made me feel more prepared. The class does not seem as daunting as I once envisioned it.
When I asked my friend Sabrina Dunn what she gained from the class, she said that she appreciated being “pushed to work on [her] summer assignments and [she] now feels prepared for the class in the fall.” Tara Han, another friend and student of the APUSH prep course, said she “found the class to be really moving and helpful to get a jumpstart.
A new school year means new classes, new teachers, and new classmates—and it can be nerve wrecking. Whether you have a schedule racked with honors courses or are taking electives you aren’t too familiar with, I suggest preparing over the summer as much as you can. That might mean finding a class to enroll in like I did or watching an online prep video. In any case having a rough idea of what you’re going to be learning can really ease your mind and help you avoid feeling overwhelmed. We might never be fully prepared for the future, but we do our best to feel ready.