Honest Reviews of STEM AP Classes + How to Take Care of Mental Health with APs

By Ethan Tam '22 and Keira Tam '22

As the 2020-2021 school year wraps up, many rising juniors and seniors will take STEM APs for next year. However, students need to remember that these courses are college-level, meaning that they require a much higher level of work than even honors classes. This article delves into honest reviews of STEM APs from the editors and some tips for taking care of one’s mental health while taking these classes.

As the 2020-2021 school year wraps up, many rising juniors and seniors will take STEM APs for next year. Advanced Placement courses such as Calculus AB/BC, Biology, Chemistry, Physics C, and Computer Science A are popular choices at SI, especially for those seeking a career in STEM.

However, students need to remember that these courses are college-level, meaning that they require a much higher level of work than even an honors class. Since SI will be returning to in-person classes for the 2021-2022 school year, it is more important than ever to be aware and actively prepared for the rigor of these classes. Students should be conscious of their own mental health while taking these courses. A 2019 study published in “The Journal of Human Resources” found a correlation between increased stress levels, lower grades, and decreased confidence in success with AP Biology and Chemistry students. However, the researchers also saw that the AP students had increased scientific skill levels compared to those in regular/honors classes. Taking these courses can pay off academically, but students need to take active steps to ensure a healthy mind.

Here are some honest reviews of a few STEM AP classes from the editors. All student experiences are different, but this is to give a general idea of what to expect.

AP Biology (Ethan Tam)

“It’s honestly a very challenging class. There’s a lot of concepts and vocabulary that need to be memorized for tests and labs, which can be daunting. However, if you like the life sciences, it’s easy to fall into the rhythm of it all. Make sure to ask questions, go to office hours, and self-review concepts if you need to.”

AP Calculus BC (Keira Tam)

“Calc BC is a very fast-paced and rigorous class to take. There are many difficult topics covered in a short amount of time that must be memorized and mastered, which can be quite overwhelming. Also, I would say that in class lectures (at least for this year) are relatively short and you’re mostly self studying, whether it be completing homework, practicing past year’s tests, and doing review sheets. If you are able to keep up with the work and put in a lot of time for practice, you can do well in the class and be prepared for the test. If you ever need help, remember you can always ask questions in class and attend teacher/TA office hours.”

AP Chemistry (Cara Yean)

“Chem is honestly fun! It’s really interesting and the teacher is very empathetic and excited about the material. It makes me more excited to learn.”

AP Computer Science A (Cara Yean)

“Comp Sci is very similar [to AP Chemistry]. The teacher is so kind and understanding. The work can pile up sometimes, but he’s always there for you. It feels like you and the teacher vs. CodeHS.”

AP Physics C: Mechanics (Ethan Sam)

I really liked all of the demos we did in AP Physics because they helped me connect the formulas I was using in class to real world situations. Although I was often confused by the results of some take home labs, we’d often go over our findings the next day in class. After discussing our labs in class I saw the mundane formulas I was using for worksheets in a completely different way.

Tips for how to do well in these classes while being mentally well

- According to the National Council of Mental Wellbeing, some habits students can consider to implement are focusing on one’s strengths, finding healthy hobbies, exercising, and talking to someone trusted.

- It’s important to take regular breaks because it will help prevent study fatigue. It also allows you to refresh your mind, maintain focus, and regain motivation to keep going!

- Though it is difficult at times, getting a good night’s rest is more important than staying up late to study a little more. With a decent amount of sleep, you can optimize your alertness, which will help you perform better during exams.

- If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask questions in class, go to office hours, and ask a classmate! Sometimes it’s nice to have a small study group or a study buddy you can turn to in preparation for upcoming exams.

- Managing your time well by keeping a healthy balance between academics, extracurriculars, and self care will help you do well in AP classes and in your lifestyle in general.


Dylan Conger, Alec I. Kennedy, Mark C. Long, and Raymond McGhee, Jr. The Effect of Advanced Placement Science on Students’ Skills, Confidence and Stress J. Human Resources 0118-9298R3; published ahead of print June 7, 2019, doi:10.3368/jhr.56.1.0118-9298R3

“Five Tips to Help Teens Cope with Stress.” Mental Health First Aid, 26 June 2019, www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/2019/06/five-tips-to-help-teens-cope-with-stress/.