AP Exams Take Center Stage at Pinnacle High School

Preparing students for college and shaping futures


AP exams arrived at Pinnacle High School (PHS) on the first Monday of May and dominated the campus for the first two weeks of May, just as they do every year. Pinnacle holds a reputation as one of the strongest academic schools in the state due in large part to its AP program, the biggest in the Paradise Valley Unified School District and one of the biggest among Arizona’s public high schools. It is important to know what the AP exams are and how they work, because scores on the exams can impact the future for hundreds of PHS students.

College Board, the same group that gives the SAT, offers 38 different courses and exams for high school students to take in order to prepare for college and try to earn college credit while still in high school. Students worldwide take these exams beginning the first Monday of May every year. This year the AP testing season ran May 1st through May 12th, and each day during these two weeks, mornings and afternoons, AP seemed to take over the PHS campus. 

“We have 546 kids taking 1,098 exams [this year],” said Cindy Willittes, PHS counselor and AP coordinator.

Not all AP tests look like traditional tests. Some can take very different forms. For example, AP Art assesses students in a very different manner compared to what many typically expect a test to consist of. 

“It’s not a traditional test where you’re answering questions or bubbling in the correct response,” said Kelsey Greenland, PHS AP Art teacher. “Students spend the entire year creating a portfolio of artwork, and then they defend the portfolio in writing and submit that to the digital platform.” 

AP Art students submit 15 images, made up of processed photos, experimentations, sketches and finished artwork. The tests are assessed on the inquiry they use to guide their work, and they usually have a general theme or question that the students address throughout the year with their artwork. They are also graded based on their use of materials and ideas. This year there are 16 PHS students in AP Art who are took the AP Art exam.

AP French Language and Culture is another of PHS’s course offerings with a more traditional test. This test, proctored in two parts, consists of a reading comprehension section with multiple-choice questions in the first part. The second part requires students to answer conversation questions and give a cross-culture comparison presentation, all in French. This course, taught by John Trenton, is one students take in their fourth or fifth year of French classes.

The scores students earn on the exams can save them college tuition money if they score high enough to be granted credit for that course and thus exempt from taking the equivalent course in college.  Another benefit of taking AP classes is that they raise a student’s GPA because these classes are weighted, regardless of the score earned on the AP exam.

Knowing what the AP tests are and how they operate is crucial, especially since the future may depend on how well a student performs on them. PHS offers open enrollment in many of the classes and College Board encourages everyone to take at least one AP course and exam in high school, to better prepare them for their future college experience.