Juniors work to prepare for ACT, AP exams during pandemic

While navigating a new style of learning, some high schoolers are also balancing preparations for upcoming standardized tests
Published: Jan. 26, 2021 at 10:15 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 26, 2021 at 10:29 PM CST
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PORTAGE, Wis. (WMTV) - In addition to adapting to a new form of daily learning during the pandemic, some students at Portage High School are also preparing for upcoming standardized testing and exams.

For juniors Grace Rabl and Brynna Malone, academic performance is important. Both students are in AP classes, and they are both keen on maintaining their good grades, performing well on tests, and heading to college after they graduate high school.

Something they both will have to do before they can reach their ultimate goal of furthering their education, however, is complete the ACT in March, and AP exams in May.

“The main difference is with not being in class every day, there’s less feedback from teachers, and making sure that I know what they’re teaching me and I am getting everything right, which is kind of difficult for me because I want to have straight A’s and things like that,” Rabl said.

Some students at Portage High School are learning entirely online, while others are learning in person for two days a week and online three days a week. Rabl is participating in hybrid learning, while Malone and her family made the decision to switch to completely virtual learning.

“I really feel like I’ve fallen behind and I’m sure that a lot of people feel that way because there’s just no way to really get the same quality of learning,” Malone said. “It’s no one’s fault for that, the teachers are really trying.”

While the learning format this year has changed, the juniors still need to take standardized tests. Rabl said she prepared for the ACT in class last year, as a sophomore in an advanced class. She said she also plans on doing additional preparation at home. Malone is also doing extra work at home, and bought an ACT practice book to get ready for the test.

“For English class we did do actual reviews where once a week we would have to read a passage and do the questions on it in like a 10 minute time period, and they were actual worksheets provided by the ACT test prep,” said Malone. Now, as a junior in advanced classes, she said less of that preparation is built into her classes, which is why she bought the review book to prepare.

According to Portage High School English teacher Nicole Giessel, all juniors in Wisconsin take the ACT exam.

“All students in the state of Wisconsin will take the ACT just like in a normal year,” Giessel said. “They do stress about that, that’s always been an, ‘I need to get into college.’ And we do have those talks of - well your resume says something about you too, and your letters say something about you too, it’s not just that score. I think the benefit this year is colleges have temporarily waived the requirement for an ACT score so that’s a little bit of a stress reliever I think.”

While some colleges waiving the ACT score requirement may provide some relief, there are also AP exams to study for. Depending on the college or university, some students can attain college course credits for achieving a certain score on those exams.

“I’m very nervous about taking those tests,” said Malone. “I think more nervous than I would have been if it was a normal year.”

“This year in AP Language, we’re really preparing for the AP Language exam, which they will take in May,” Giessel said. “We do a little ACT review, but because the AP exam is much more complex and higher level, a college level course, they’re kind of getting that extra practice anyway.”

Giessel said that this year, she’s been focusing on taking a deeper dive into a narrower range of topics, which she said is intended to help students focus on the skills they’ll need to know.

“I’ve been doing what I can do and what I normally do, and I’ve been improving that and I’ve been doing it differently,” she said. “So they still should be ok if they have been taking those opportunities and being honest with themselves and seeking help when they need it.”

Giessel said that with changes this school year, there will be gaps in learning.

“There will be some gaps, certainly. State testing is happening this year as it would any normal year, but the state understands that the purpose of testing this year is to identify those gaps,” she said. “They’re acknowledging there will be gaps, the schools know that, teachers know that, everybody knows that. If we can then give the students the test, look at the data, and then as we move back to some source of normalcy, maybe some point this year but definitely next year, we know how to better address those gaps.”

With challenges in mind, Giessel said she and other teachers have been reflecting on what growth looks like this year.

“We talk about what does student growth look like, what does learning look like, what does engagement look like and how do we know that students are learning?” she said. “We spend a lot of time talking about those kinds of things and looking at some of the data and reflecting on that, and then making changes to our instructional practices so that we are making sure that students can grow as much as they can.”

Both Rabl and Malone said they will continue working hard to keep their grades up and work towards getting into college next year, and both are staying positive about the rest of the school year.

“I’m really excited to start the second semester because I feel like it’s going to be a clean slate,” said Malone.

“I think I’m still doing everything I can and reaching towards my goals of going to college and everything,” said Rabl. “I think I’m hopefully on track. I haven’t experienced being a junior before so I’m not entirely sure, but I’m confident with where I am right now.”

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