Preparing for the Advanced Placement test is tedious, frustrating, and often quite boring.
It better be worth it.
We have been writing an average of four AP essays per week. These essays take about forty minutes each, not to mention the fact that they take my writing ability and morph it into a rambling, pleonastic diarrhea of the pen.
Some of the prompts are ridiculous. Go find the poem "Meeting at Night", and tell me how the shift in rhythm and sound help to create a shift in the speaker's emotion. It should be easy, but for one minor problem: I can't locate a shift in any kind of form. So I just made it up. Unfortunately, AP essay readers don't like fiction. That creates somewhat of a problem. Then again, very few people seemed to have the same problem, so maybe I'm just not AP material.
Occasionally I get very lucky and receive a prompt that actually makes sense and incites intense, brilliant thought. Here arises the problem of organizing my genius into clear, concise paragraphs that the average reader can comprehend. Rarely, I manage to force my enlightened energy from my brain down through my arm and squeeze it through the tip of my pen.
The essays are rough, but they are the least of my AP crises. Despite my complaints, and my convictions that I write nothing but crap, I usually somehow surface on the upper half of the rating scale. Multiple choice questions, which examine the testee's ability to comprehend and analyze a difficult piece of prose, are an entirely different matter.
The author of the questions provides five answers, at least three of which seem correct upon a cursory glance. After minutes of careful deliberation and mutilation of the mind, the possibilities can be narrowed down to two. By this point, time is rapidly running out, and the test taker is forced to close his or her eyes and point. The ridiculous part is: both answers are usually right -- but only one is officially "right". The task of the test taker is to get into the mind of the test writer and choose the best answer. Now, when I took the test my teacher wrote, it was pretty simple because I know him well and I understand (as much as one human being can understand another, that is) how he thinks. It took awhile, but I could deduce an answer with a 50-100 per cent degree of confidence (depending on the question; I was pretty certain about most), and a 97 per cent success rate.
But when some guy in Pennsylvania writes the test, I'm screwed. Maybe I'd do better if I had ESP, but my brain just doesn't work the same way as those of these obscure old men who analyze each letter in a piece of prose and deliberately make up more than one answer that they KNOW is right, specifically to throw off the testee and make him fail. According to our teacher, failing is just cause for suicide (or studenticide, depending on who gets the scores first).
These test writers have another trick: they throw an extremely simple question (we're talking second grade level here) into the jumble of answerless questions. Again, the answers can be narrowed down to two. One is the right answer, plain and simple, and the other one is the answer that everyone wants to choose because it's ridiculous and reads far too much into the piece. Isn't that what the test writer has done with every other question? Transcended all simplicity to boggle the minds of young English scholars who just want to pass the test they've prepared so intensely for? So when he throws in an honest, straightforward question with an honest, straightforward answer, it's an AP student's instinct to follow the pattern and read into the work. BZZZT!!! Another wrong answer, another strike against the rest of your life. The answer was so damned simple. What were you thinking?!
That the question was like every single other question on the test.
I still have a month of these tedious, exasperating tests before the real thing. I've spent the entire year studying and learning and understanding that no two human beings can ever completely understand each other. A sign claiming "No two people ever read the same book" hangs in full view in the English classroom. It bores laser holes into the back of my head while I'm murdering a multiple choice test. Then my brains leak out.
If I've learned anything this year, it's that a single work of literature, even a single word in a work of literature, can be read as many different ways as there are people to read it. So why the hell am I expected to get into the mind of a man I've never met and read a work exactly the same way he reads it just in order to get any credit, any merit, for the year I've spent learning, growing, and understanding literature better than ever?
It's not even that I, personally, need the credit. But if I fail this test, I will disappoint my teacher, my class, and my school. And myself. If I don't pass this test, every person in this world will think that I do not understand literature or English or that anything I have done in my class this year is worth anything more than peanuts. In the eyes of my peers, and most likely many other revered and respected English scholars, and probably rightfully so, I will be stupid. All because I cannot fully understand a person I have never met. All because I cannot transmit the brilliance in my head to perfection on paper in a matter of minutes. My whole future is based on achievements which the thinking man has found to be impossible since the beginning of time.
It better be worth it.