The school year of 2014-2015 was my first year of high school and of course my freshman year. Being new to high school, programs like Advanced Placement (AP) are usually out of reach for a first-year high school student, not to mention the increased rigor brought to once mundane courses like English and History. As a GT student in my school, I take Humanities 1, or basically the hardest English and World Geography classes for 9th graders. They were quite grueling, and piled on with my other AP classes, I felt it would be a recipe for disaster.
Taking AP Biology and AP Computer Science A … as a freshman?!
Initially, I chose to take two AP courses at my school, AP Biology and AP Computer Science A. In May 2014, when I was only an eighth grader, my soon-to-be AP Biology teacher introduced us to the curriculum at my school and explained what was needed to prepare for the upcoming semesters. In addition, there would be a comprehensive summer assignment we had to complete. The same month, I emailed my soon-to-be AP Computer Science teacher if I could skip Pre-AP Computer Science and take AP Computer Science, a class which usually serves as a second-year computer science course. However, I had already known a few programming languages and I felt going through Pre-AP would be a waste of my time. Along with my closest friends, who happened to be passionate in computer science and programming as well, we emailed the teacher and she responded with a “yes!” We were excited, but it was time to prepare.
After a two-month vacation, I arrived back home in August to find that I was severely behind on my AP Biology summer work. I spent every waking day completing every single summer assignment, and by the time I had tested the first unit, I obtained an extremely high test score, due to my studying, the teacher’s generous grading curves, and a friend of mine who provided necessary data for the summer assignment. In addition, I read some of the AP Computer Science summer assignment, which was actually never enforced and basically useless, and practiced object-oriented programming principles using the programming language which I was already familiar with, PHP. By the time I got to class, with the help of my friends, I was able to quickly catch up on the principles of Java necessary for mastery of AP Computer Science.
Signing up for the AP Chinese Language and Culture exam … without taking the class
This year also happened to be the year the Chinese foreign language program was rebooted, and as such, a Chinese teacher arrived at Boyd. I have been able to fluently speak Mandarin Chinese since I was a child, and although my English skills have greatly surpassed those of my Chinese skills, my Chinese is definitely good enough to have a comfortable conversation with native Mandarin speakers. Nonetheless, I chose to take French, because as my French teacher says, “taking Chinese would be like taking ESL as my second language.” Consequently, I didn’t meet the Chinese teacher in my normal daily schedule. When my classmates who took Chinese said “we’re starting a Chinese Club, you should come join!,” I met the teacher and spoke my fluent Mandarin. She recommended me to take the AP Chinese exam that year. Although I was not in any Chinese class, I decided to keep the recommendation in the back of my mind.
In McKinney, not many Chinese people who actually speak Mandarin are around. Nonetheless, I happened to meet a Mandarin speaking native of Tianjin, China in my AP Computer Science class. He told me to take the AP Chinese exam as well, saying “it’s really easy, with your level of Chinese comprehension, you’ll get a 5.” He then cited the fact that he had also taken the exam the previous year and felt it was easy.
The combination of the Chinese teacher and a taker of the AP Chinese exam led me to sign up for the AP Chinese exam along with the expected registration of my two other exams that were associated with the classes I took,
How did I survive my AP courses?
Although I had not taken any computer science class before, AP Computer Science was relatively easy. Coupled with the fact that my friends took the class with me, help was always at my disposal, and my help was always at their disposal as well. There was no homework in the class, and when it came time to learn concepts, I just learned them easily. The labs that we completed in the class helped us unite elements of Java and establish their practical uses.
AP Biology was, however, a completely different beast, but one that was still manageable. Along with homework that made life quite saturnine, the tests given in class were filled with concepts that were not properly linked together in preparation for the AP Biology exam, not to mention the class test questions were hard. The good news is that curves ranging from 15 to 25 points were applied on every test, and my test score was always above a 90 after the curve. It wasn’t ideal, but I worked with what I had.
Which course was most useful?
I am deeply passionate about the practical applications and possible things that one could make from computer science. However, when it comes to learning something, I am a jack of all trades, and the concepts taught in AP Biology allowed me to understand all the concepts of life. Everywhere I went, I applied my knowledge learned in AP Biology and I understood how something worked. It might have been a result of intense homework assignments, but it gave me new knowledge and understanding of life as we knew it. I think AP Biology was the most useful course I took in my freshman year. That might be because AP Computer Science was pretty simple and added to my already vast knowledge of programming, but I think learning something new makes something interesting.
Reflecting on my AP scores
Although the AP Biology exam was tough, I was not pleased to receive only a 4, but I’ll accept that over a worse score. (Yes, I am a stereotypical Asian who feels the highest score is always the goal, and anything less is a disappointment and a failure.) Only 6% of students obtained a 5 on the exam. I bet I was in the 7% who was stuck in the upper 4 range. To be fair, I studied intensely the weekend before the exam (also known as cramming), which made me more confident I would receive a 5. Unfortunately, although I did not receive a 5, I was still good enough to be well qualified for the course. This would be the worst AP score I received out of my three AP exam scores.
Interestingly enough, my time management for the multiple choice section of the AP Computer Science A exam was terrible, and coupled with difficult multiple-choice questions, I felt I did not do so well on that section. However, I had much better time management on the free-response section, and it was pretty easy. I am almost certain the free-response section allowed me to achieve the 5 score for which I was hoping.
Finally, but definitely not least, is my AP Chinese Language and Culture exam. Ok, it might have required the least preparation, considering I natively speak Mandarin Chinese, but I nonetheless picked up a book and reviewed the type of questions it asked. This is definitely the most unique test I have ever taken. First, nobody else took it with me. Only my history teacher accompanied me as a proctor. The exam is actually administered on a computer, and because my Pinyin input skills are great, that was not an issue in the exam. In fact, the multiple choice and writing sections were quite easy. However, the AP Chinese exam also expects you to listen to a question and then immediately begin responding with a relevant response for 20 seconds. Not only is this harder than real-life conversations, this was by far the hardest part of the exam. I think 5 seconds should be given in between the question recording being played and the recording of the response. But I digress. Even the “cultural question” to me was hard. I had to explain the interesting characteristics of the Chinese character system, or something similar. Thank goodness for Chinese school, which taught me all I needed to know. Nonetheless, I obtained a 5 score, just like the 65% of students who took the exam this year with me. The hardest part of the exam was the ability to answer the questions as they asked, and this was something for which I did adequately prepare, making me very happy.
In conclusion, this was an exciting year for my AP classes. I even did something unique that nobody else in my school did this year. Although next year is harder, I’m looking forward to my unique experiences.