Are Practice APs Good Practice?

This marks the first year the GDS high school did not hold traditional midterm exams. In a November letter to the GDS community, high school principal Katie Gibson wrote, “This change in our schedule will allow students and families to enjoy their winter breaks, with a firm end-date to the first semester falling prior to the departure for winter vacation. In addition, it allows us to add seven more teaching days to the calendar.”

In the spring of last year, when Quinn Killy announced that GDS would not be holding midterms for the following school year, it seemed pretty surreal. Could our nervous tension that consumes the second half of winter break finally be put to rest? Was there really no catch?

The administration successfully followed through on their promise, and GDS students had a more relaxing winter break. Although there were no midterms, on January 11th and 12th there were two in-service days that allowed students who are enrolled in single-block AP classes to take practice cumulative assessments. These tests were graded, but they were not factored into semester grades. In the weeks before the practice tests were about to be given, students had many questions including if the tests were mandatory and if their classmates were preparing. After two days of testing, the question arose as to whether or not these AP tests were a good substitute for midterms.

Upperclassmen saw both advantages and disadvantages to these new AP practice tests. Junior Danielle Soto said, “the AP tests were definitely a lot less stressful than midterms,” and “I liked them because I was able to get a sense of what the final AP is going to be like.” Junior Nina DeCola agreed with Soto about the reduced pressure of the practice APs but pointed out that she learned more from the official midterms than from the ungraded exercises. “Since we didn’t have a lot of time set aside to study for them, I didn’t set aside the time to review any of the material,” said DeCola. Soto and DeCola both admitted that, because the tests didn’t count for a grade, they did not put a lot of effort into preparing for them.

The classes of 2018 and 2019 have experienced multiple years of midterms already, so missing out on midterms this year was a nice change. That said, should underclassmen never have to experience the taxing two week period of midterms? “I think the underclassmen should have the experience of midterms,” said DeCola. “Having midterms and finals can really help prepare students for college,” she continued. DeCola mentioned the idea of having the school oblige the freshmen and sophomores to take midterms, while allowing juniors and seniors to not take midterms with the option of taking practice AP exams. “Despite the fact that you don’t want to take a really long test, it will be beneficial to us in the long run to have the experience of studying for a really big exam,” DeCola concluded. It’s important for underclassmen to have the “midterm experience. It seems questionable to send GDS kids off to college without them having ever taken a major mid-year exam.

For the juniors and seniors, these practice APs were worthwhile substitutes for midterms. Nevertheless, it is important for underclassmen to have the experience of midterms. Even though juniors and seniors must take practice APs, the absence of midterms makes winter break substantially more relaxing, it’s crucial that the class of 2021 have the experience of studying for a mid-year cumulative test before they go off to take APs and college exams.

By Ilana Zeilinger ’19