Summer vacation and graduation are on the horizon for high schoolers in May, but first, many have to make it past one more hurdle: Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate testing.
AP exam season is a stressful time for students, says Erica King, a school counselor at Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy in Erie, where most students take two to three AP exams each year – though a few take four or five. Along with AP exams, some students take Pennsylvania’s state assessments in May, and there are extracurriculars and graduation activities going on as well, she says.
Students need to master a wide breadth of material, one or two year’s worth, ahead of these exams.
And the scores students receive on AP and IB exams can determine whether they will receive college credit. For IB exams, their scores can also determine whether students will receive the IB diploma.
Parents can help students succeed during AP and IB testing season by doing the following.
• Help with the basics: Parents need to make sure that their student starts studying early for AP exams, says King, rather than cramming at the last minute.
Make sure students have all the materials they need to study, whether purchased or from the library, and that students have a quiet place to work at home, says King. Parents could also encourage their teen to study in groups and should make sure they prioritize studying over other activities.
Before the exam, parents should ensure teens get a good night’s sleep and eat a good breakfast, King says, as well as make sure their children get there on time – they may not be able to take the exam if they arrive late.
• Avoid adding extra pressure: Parents shouldn’t tell their student that they expect him or her to ace the exam – that can add extra pressure, says King. But they also shouldn’t suggest that the exam will be easy because that belittles the student’s experience and the student could be a little resentful.
“Just be positive and supportive,” says Jane Dittus, a school counselor at International Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where students are preparing for IB exams. That’s probably the key thing that parents can do because these students put enough pressure on themselves, she says.
Dittus also suggests that parents help their student by making sure expectations at home aren’t too high, in terms of what the student has to do around the house.
“Keep it calm at home, if possible,” she says. “Because the students, they are stressed. You know, they want to do well.”
That’s something she thinks parents at her school, where students have been participating in the IB program for four years, understand.
• Trust that students know what they are doing: Especially at this stage in students’ lives, parents need to trust that students know what they have to do to prepare for the exam and are doing that, says Dittus.
“Most of these kids are going off to college in the fall,” she says, so hopefully they have pretty good study skills already.
And don’t doubt or question students too much about how much they are studying, she says. Just because a parent doesn’t see his or her child studying doesn’t mean that the student isn’t – many study in groups or at the library, she says.
In a lot of ways, it’s no different than being a supportive parent in any other difficult phase of a child’s life, says Dittus. Parents should be their child’s cheerleader, maintain positivity and not drag students down, she says.