As the end of the year approaches, many students are looking forward to a bright and relaxing summer. But for some, this time of year is the most dreaded for one big reason; AP test season. Whether striving for fives or pleading for a passing three, the season weighs heavily on the mental health of students who will spend the coming days cramming to review for the extensive exams.
This year we have seen an unprecedented increase in the number of teens who are struggling with their mental health. While it’s clear that the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in new stressors to the teenage mind, such as isolation and academic disruption, the youth of America had been struggling long before that. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), feelings of persistent sadness and hopelessness in young people increased by 40% in the ten years leading up to the pandemic. The already prevalent mental health decline coupled with rising issues in social media, mass violence, and political unrest has led the past few years to be especially challenging for teenagers. According to a study released in February by the CDC, the number of teen girls who had seriously considered attempting suicide jumped to a staggering 30% in 2021. As AP test season comes upon us, students’ already vulnerable mental health is being threatened by the weight of the academic pressure the season is sure to deliver.
While the end of the year comes to a close, many students and teachers alike are straining to prepare for the impending AP tests. When interviewing Micah Sage, a sophomore at Santa Barbara High, and John Tormey, an AP World History teacher, both said they were “stressed” as the exams draw near. Sage is taking three AP classes this year, and when asked how the upcoming AP tests are affecting her mental health, Sage said, “I feel like my life has been consumed by them […] I try to make time for myself, but I don’t think I manage the stress very well.” Sage also said the AP exams put lots of pressure on her mental health because of, “ …the whole idea that you get graded specifically [on a] tier system of if you get a five then you’re excellent and if you get a four then you’re great, if you get a three you just pass, and […] it’s hard to manage the stress (and know) you’re going to be okay.” Tormey said preparing his students for the AP test has been especially difficult under the block schedule, since, “ …we have less time to teach the course […] in the past when we had a year-long schedule we had two and a half weeks of class time to study in class for the AP test, now there’s zero time to prepare for the AP test, so kids have to do it all on their own or in seminar.” As the mounting stressors weigh on the minds of students and teachers, the school and many of its students are attempting to lighten the load AP exams pose.
Though the stress of AP test season can appear inescapable at times, many resources here at Santa Barbara High work to provide liberation from the pressure of the next few weeks. Mental Health Awareness Club co-presidents Caroline Rogers and Lexi Horton said they originally started the club because they “ …noticed that there seemed to be a lack of resources on campus for increasing well-being […] and we wanted to provide a place for anyone interested […] to make an impact.” Rogers and Horton have noticed the stress of AP exams affecting many of their peers, saying, “For some people it affects sleep, which affects your mood […] people are anxious, and I’ve definitely noticed friends being more overwhelmed than usual.” The club will be partnering with Love on a Leash to bring therapy dogs on campus on May 19 at Dodson’s Meadow in order to eliminate stress for students during AP and finals season. Dr. Brenda Clarke, the Assistant Principal for Student Outcomes and Curriculum and Instruction, recognized that as AP exams approach, “The biggest challenge for students is just balancing their current course load with also doing outside work for their AP tests which are very rigorous […] the need for support systems, families, counselors, and therapists here at school is definitely increased, especially at this time of year.” In terms of the school’s efforts to limit stress levels in AP students, Clarke said, “We have review sessions we’re working on and also the homerooms are redesigned to help students and be a little more supportive. The administration’s […] trying to show empathy and concern and share with the teachers […] an overall compassion for students […] We have tutoring after school both in person in the library and on Zoom through the PEAC tutoring to help support classes, and the Wellness Center for students who feel they’re in a crisis situation.” Mental health resources on campus are a vital aspect of lowering the stress levels attached to the most threatening test season.
As the remaining school days begin to dwindle and students prepare for summer, many are facing added academic pressure that weighs heavily on their mental health. Resources within the school are vital to helping students navigate the extra tension of AP season, but no matter what the month of May is guaranteed to bring unwanted stress for Santa Barbara High’s AP students. While long summer days and beach visits are not far off, students will need all the help they can get in these next few weeks to endure the stress AP tests are sure to provide.
[Image Credit: Mary Moses]