May. A month filled with sunshine, sports and …. summatives. But for a few members of the student body, something even more daunting exists:

The AP exams.

Offered every year in the month of May by the College Board, an American non-profit organization, the AP exam are a series of rigorous exams that test high-school students for knowledge far beyond normal secondary school proficiency. Despite the clear benefit of these exams’ being offered at Garneau, many students still don’t know what these exams are, or how to sign up.

Here is some information on just what the AP exams are all about, straight from the driving force of the program at MGCI: Mr. van Bemmel.

What is the AP Program about?

The Advanced Placement program was started in the 1950s to help able young students who could make a preparation in high school to get them basically one year ahead in university as a reward for becoming competent ahead of their time. I believe it was driven at the time by the Cold War education boom, but it has maintained itself since because many people believe that the standard public system doesn’t offer adequate challenge for students of ability, and so we have now about 2.5 million exams being written every year as students are trying to either improve their abilities so they are sharper for university, or to get into universities of promise, or ultimately save a bit of money when they get there.

Who is it targeted towards, and offered for?

It’s targeted towards high school students who are headed towards a university and it’s offered to any high school student in the world (I suppose) where the facilities will support that. Most people prefer to have some kind of preparation before they write an AP exam but some people can manage them without: perhaps if you speak the language already or you are competent in music or something you might be able to manage without a course. But, many courses require legitimate preparation before the student can be competent. And so then it depends on the local school and or school board et cetera facilities whether they will support you writing these exams. For MGCI, anyone can write it, and there is no process except they have to pay the fees ($95). Anybody in the building who decides they want to give it a go is most welcome to do so. There is no pressure from myself or any of the other administrators or teachers for the students to write the exams even if they take an AP course, however, if they so choose to write it we expect them to be there.

What motivated you to run this program?

Well, it’s a tricky business in the sense of all the detail and they (CB) are very specific about the security and I guess I kind of enjoy doing those types of details and I have a great respect for the students who have made an effort to learn these, to write these tests. I want to support those young people. I feel in many cases they don’t have anywhere to go. I had a student who had to come all the way from Ottawa just to write a physics exam just because he couldn’t find a test anywhere else. I think that helping this group of students the same way as a certain program is just an extension of what I do.

What are some of the benefits offered to students who choose to participate in APs?

The advanced placement examinations… the basic logic behind it… let’s say you’re just going through the AP process, whether you write or not is secondary… you can become more competent in a subject and prepare more effectively for being there at the other end (Post-secondary). Or you can write the exam and save some money and not have to take certain programs in university, or if nothing else, making your first year a bit easier because you could avoid having to take a rigorous math or science course and take something a little bit easier than that, which might help your average. And I think the third reason sometimes people do it because it’s an interesting challenge for them and there’s that kind of a logic. But I would think the first two are primary reasons.

What are some of the ways students can prepare for AP examinations?

Well the most obvious case is the work that Ms. Thava has been doing to prepare the calculus students, and it’s been some years since she started teaching the AP Calculus course in concert with Mr. McMaster and Mr. Soltes, but of course that ends in January, and that’s a long time from May. So, to refresh the student’s memories, she runs a seminar series after March break after school, in which the grade elevens primarily can sharpen their calculus skills and be ready for the exam. That is the most structured version that we use. The other options that students have available include going to Chapters and finding one of its many workbooks, other released exams and so forth. It is a similar process to the way one may prepare for SAT exams whatever else that has a similar resource pool. Those methods are all quite reasonable, but in the end, the person who’s writing the AP exam is ‘driving the bus’, and so they’re the ones responsible for finding their own way of advancing things.

Who would you recommend take APs?

I try to keep the doors as open as I can, in the sense of the students who choose to take an AP course within the course aside from the other courses we have scheduled within the school. A student has to recognise that these exams are typically a lot more sophisticated and demanding than the standard grade 12 courses, so the student has to take a really good look at their own academic circumstances, and whether this is appropriate for them, unless they enjoy doing more academic type labours and so on, but that’s a personal decision. What I’m basically saying that this enrichment is available for you here in certain areas, and if you feel that this is something you are ready and worthy for, I would certainly try my best to arrange an opportunity for you to do it. In terms of how it affects the school workload, let’s take the AP Calculus course. It is a course that is substantially more involved than the regular course would be, but you don’t have an extra credit or something like that, so you have to recognize that you have to manage your time more efficiently so that you have time to do the extra obligations the course might entail, because it might take you longer to do the homework because you have to think about it more, because it is harder.

How many students participated in the AP examinations at MGCI this year?

About 96, double the amount of last year. There are a few students from others schools numbering at approximately 10. There were 209 exams scheduled to be written this year. Now, there’s times when some people don’t show up and other circumstances but that was the original setup.

Do you expect this number to rise?

It’s hard to say. I was quite surprised to see the number double this year. When we first did it, there were about 20 or 30 of them, but in 2006, the American universities became much more open minded about giving the students grants to attend them, to making the tuition obligations more in-line with what you have to pay here in Canada. This of course has created substantial interest especially in the TOPS community for students to consider studying abroad and to do so while having some AP credentials really makes a difference. I would interested to see it at least maintaining itself for a while, but I think the policies down south (USA) are what`s driving this.

Is there anything you would like to add?

This school has tremendous opportunities in so many different areas, and I suggest to students that are considering a serious academic program in university to get as much preparation as they can in all areas, and I think that these types of programs provide that. Many of the teachers that do this really know what they are doing, and are keen to support the students that are doing this, and I think that this is a very unique opportunity. In my case, from what I have been told about AP Physics C, that I may have the only class this large outside of Vancouver. It is pretty challenging to find a place that provides these opportunities.

For more information, go to