Web site helps students cram for advanced placement tests
By Diego Bunuel, Knight Ridder Newspapers
It's worse than a final exam, as important as the SATs and it's becoming a rite of passage into college.
It's the advanced placement test, which thousands of high school students will take over the next two weeks. The series of tests can give sophomores, juniors and seniors extra college credit, allowing them to graduate from college up to a year early and save thousands of dollars.
For the first time, students are using the Internet to prepare for the test and calm their fears. In fact, two seniors from Houston have created The Great American Cram Web site -- www.cy-fair.net/great/index.html -- to help fellow classmates prepare for a test that some colleges consider crucial.
``The AP test is a very good indication of where the student is in their understanding of subjects,'' said Dr. Phil Arbolino, director of the secondary school program for the College Board, the New York-based organization. ``Colleges feel that advanced placement shows that students can structure their ideas in essays, unlike the SATs.''
So, the pressure is on and anything that can help produce better scores is bought, attended or read.
The Great American Cram, developed by Ron Urwongse, 18, and Daniel Liebling, 17, lets students review U.S. government and history, economics, calculus and biology. It provides the same type of information that most review books do -- mock quizzes and course outlines -- but also offers audio files of teachers' lectures, chat rooms and database searches.
The site has received more than 3,000 hits since its inception last July, and has caught the attention of students at Palmetto Senior High School in Florida. In the school library last week, six juniors from an advanced placement history class could be found hovering around the computer, studying the site.
``Usually what you find on the Internet doesn't correspond with what you study in class,'' said Adam Barnett, 17, a junior at Palmetto who is studying American history during the Cold War. ``But this one does. It's really good.''
For Meredith Chin-Sang, one of Barnett's classmates, the site offers another advantage.
``I buy review books that each cost up to $20 to study for these tests,'' said Meredith, 17. ``Going on the Internet is less expensive and they have the same thing as the books do.''
Liebling and Urwongse donated more than 3,000 hours to develop the site for their Houston school, Cypress Falls High. With the help of their U.S. government teacher, Janice McNeil, they developed an interactive outline where students can look up just about anything related to the tests.
Need information about the Great Depression? Click on the history link and choose the ``Lecture Hall'' to hear a teacher's lesson. Test what you've learned with a multiple-choice quiz, then try to put together a cogent response to a tough essay question.
``The real beauty of this site is the interactivity of what we offer,'' said Liebling. ``Originally the site was to serve only our school but now we went global.''
Indeed, Liebling and Urwongse have set up their own company, Premiere Web Design, and are creating business Web sites.
The Great American Cram is not likely to replace the classroom experience, said Palmetto High history teacher Darrell Christie.
``There is no proof that putting computers in every classroom leads to excellence,'' Christie said. ``I want to teach ideas that might not exist on Web sites, but in books.''
Liebling agrees: ``The teacher connects the ideas together.''
But he puts in a plug for Great American Cram: ``The site connects those ideas with people.''
At Hollywood Hills High School, Frank Gulla, a calculus teacher, said most of the 150 advanced placement students have spent five weeks preparing for the exams.
``I don't think that they are scared because the test is part of their curriculum,'' Gulla said. ``But what they fear most are the essay questions that count for 50 percent of the test. Unlike the SATs, you have to justify your answers.''
Arbolino, the College Board director, said the Internet is changing the way students prepare for the test.
``It gives them the ability to search vast databases and build on their knowledge,'' he said. ``They need to be well prepared because advanced placement tests are crucial.''
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services. ********************************************************************* Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Fax: (618)453-4244 Phone: (618)453-4241 (office) E-mail: JBECKER@SIU.EDU