A Guide to the Hardest Classes in High School
November 20th, 2021
Between spending hours laboring through math equations, poring over minute details in essays, and cramming history dates, high school students are exposed to a variety of different course material. In light of mental health and the danger of rising stress levels, questions arise: which classes have been known to cause the most stress, and is student burnout a real risk as a result? To get to the bottom of these questions, Junto sent out a poll to high school students asking which classes were both the most demanding.
The polls were unsurprisingly predictable. AP and Honors classes were all marked as the most time consuming and challenging. The clear front-runner, AP Biology, won the notorious title of “most difficult,” closely followed by AP World History and AP Chemistry. (This reflects the views of a sample of our student body, the majority of which choose to take these courses. This is not to say that AP courses that are not as popular are less difficult.)
Collectively, the most common contributor to the stress of these courses was credited to the content, as well as the sheer speed in which material was delivered throughout the course. A close second was the ever-increasingly rigorous system through which teachers judge a student’s work. Together, these factors contribute greatly to a student’s mental state and well-being.
AP Biology was voted the most difficult class, with students reporting the most work and stress. Natalia Chu (12) identified “self-motivation" as one of the key elements making the course so demanding. “Motivation in keeping up with the intensive reading, homework, and exam preparation was key to success for students enrolled in the class.”
Natalia further recommended students to “review the information periodically to prevent oneself from forgetting the previous units lessons,” noting its significance in “acing the end-of-year AP mock exam.” She recounted that the labs were the most memorable aspect of the class, specifically indicating “the cellular respiration lab.” Despite the difficulties, she noted that prevailing over the challenges in their lab groups assisted in strengthening her friendships with lab partners.
AP World History
A close second was AP World History, infamous among high school students for its challenges. Sonia Tam (12) explained that the largest contributor to AP World’s difficulty was the enormous quantity of subject matter taught. The difficulty lay in the fact that they were learning centuries worth of history in the mere span of one school year.
Considering the obstacles with which students taking the class face, Sonia shared a few tips to cope: starting with a suggestion to “always complete the assigned readings,'' she concluded by urging students to “ask the teacher for help when it’s needed, especially when it comes to Document Based Questions (DBQs), and Long-Essay Questions (LEQs).”
AP Chemistry rounds out our list. Sonia explained that a big part of stress stems from the overall difficulty and rapid relaying of content. She recounted that students were expected to keep up with the fast pace at which the course moved, which invariably resulted in a heavy load of homework. “In terms of intense content, the jump between honors and AP Chemistry is very deep, and since it was my first AP, it was that much more challenging.”
Sonia encourages students to complete all homework that is assigned, otherwise, falling behind is a likely consequence, which creates another set of unnecessary challenges.
When asked about the most notable and enjoyable aspects of the course, she mentioned the various labs they did, specifically a detective-work based end-of-year lab that centered around Sherlock Holmes.
Despite the difficulties that arise among the plethora of classes available to students, none of them, regardless of impact on GPA or appearance on college applications, should overtake their lives. Yes, AP classes are notorious for their challenges, and are accordingly rigorous, but students should not deprive themselves of taking moments to relax and strive for a semblance of ever elusive work-life-balance. Stress, although both unavoidable and inevitable for students who strive to succeed academically, should not be such a dominating pressure that it impedes them from enjoying their youth, and more importantly, their life.
In other words, finish your homework, double-check your papers, study for your summatives, but don’t let them keep you from living. At the same time, however, it has to be acknowledged that those who experience and endure these ultra-demanding courses, and the challenges they present, deserve praise and respect.