I went to a high school that was pretty lax about class requirements. Students were strongly encouraged to take at least three years’ worth of every major subject: English, Social Studies, Math, Science. But the word “encouraged” is key.

My guidance counselor was just too sweet for her own good. Or I guess for my good, really, because once I realized that the requirements were flexible, it was goodbye to Math and Science. Anything with numbers or facts? Peace out, see ya later.

What I loved was English. I was always reading. You know that phrase people (it seems like only old ladies, actually) always say, like: “That Billy always has his nose in a book! Such a bookworm!” I was that bookworm. Literally, though; at almost all times, I walked around with my big nose in a little book. I would read on the bus, step down, and keep reading as I walked across the parking lot to class. I looked like Belle in The Beauty and the Beast, walking through the halls like I was strolling around Paris with a book in front of my face and a croissant in the other hand. If mentioning a non-Pixar animated movie is too archaic, by the way, and the reference has been lost on you, go to 1:45 in this vid. The chick ecstatically sliding across the bookshelf, that’s me.

I also loved languages. Beginning in seventh grade, we had to take a language and our choices were Latin, Spanish, or French. The hot girls took French, the apathetic masses took Spanish, and the parent-pleasing “intellectuals” took Latin. Which one do you think I chose?

After three years of Latin, I liked learning a language so much that I added Spanish, too. I dropped Math in order to do so. Then, junior year, I dropped Science, too, in order to double up in English. Our choices that year were Classical Lit—in which we read Homer, Aeschylus, and other dead Greeks, or AP (Advanced Placement) Lit, which involved Joyce, Dickens, Dostoevsky and blablabla, you know those dudes. The literary giants.

I couldn’t just choose one. I elected to take no Science, no Math, and to make up for the void by adding something called an “independent study.” For my independent study, I sat in a small storage closet with my favorite English teacher (poor, kind man) and we would discuss short stories from the 1800s.

So, to reiterate the list here: I was taking two sections of foreign languages, two sections of English, and a special private study of Hawthorne and Poe. I was a huge fucking nerd.

Senior year, I wanted to do it again—no Math or Science. But my guidance counselor insisted that colleges might not like the discrepancy, and that I should really choose at least a Science class. Of all things, we went with AP Biology, based on the logic that I had taken regular Bio freshman year and scraped by with a B, and hey, it was just memorization, after all. Kingdom, Phallus, Order, Genius, right? Lots of lists and stuff.

On the first day, the teacher announced to us, “This is AP-level Biology, I expect AP-level work and commitment.” Fuuuuck. Then she passed out a huge book and said we would cover a chapter a week and have a big multiple choice exam every Friday.

For the first test, I studied for a little while, memorized the bullshit, and felt pretty good after taking it. She handed them back Monday, and I got an 85. I was pretty happy with that. 85 was a B, and hey, if I could get a straight B in the class, that was okay.

I felt really good after taking the second test. I felt like I maybe even brought up my score from the first one, maybe got into the 90s range. But on Monday, she handed them back and I got a 74. “Hmm,” I thought, “That’s a bit of a drop. But it’s not so bad, and I’ll pull it up next time.”

For the third test, I studied harder than before. I made flashcards, and had my parents quiz me. I felt good. After actually taking the test, though, I didn’t feel so good. I just wasn’t gettin’ this science stuff! We got the test back Monday, and sure enough, I got a 65. Uh-oh. That’s like a D, right? I was upset, to say the least. I wanted to burn my Bio textbook. A year later, in college, I would get the chance to burn a book, but it would be Eccoci, my text from first-year Italian. As I held the flame to its angry pages, I closed my eyes and thought about AP Bio. Note: No books were harmed in the making of this TNB post (nor even in the photo below; after holding the lighter there long enough for a picture, I wussed out).

Meanwhile, we were nearing the deadline to drop a class. Soon, I’d be in too deep. But I also knew I couldn’t really drop the class, because I needed a science corurse.

So, for the fourth week’s test, I really kicked into high gear. I started studying a week in advance, read through each chapter twice, and tried to think of any surprise, trick questions. This time, I wasn’t fucking around.

At this point, you know where the story is headed, don’t you?

I took the test, and boy, it went great. I knew all of the questions with confidence, and walking out of class Friday, I thought that if anything, I had been overprepared!

After completing the test, I felt so good about it that after school that very afternoon, I actually went to the Science office to approach the teacher. I wanted to find out my grade, and I knew that even though we didn’t get tests returned until Monday, they were all graded with the Scantron machine (“Use #2 pencils only! Darken each rectangle fully! No errant pencil marks!”) and therefore took a teacher thirty seconds and zero effort to score each one. She had probably already graded them.

The teacher’s name was Miss Tyson. “Hi Miss Tyson!” I said when I walked into the Science office. “Hello, Daniel,” she said quietly. She looked grim.

Hey, so, I know we won’t get back them til Monday, but I thought maybe if you had already scored them, I could find out my grade from today’s test now? I just feel really good about it and wanted to see mine early!

She looked at me, and said, “Are… are you serious?”

“Yeah!” I said with genuine, doe-eyed enthusiasm.

She looked around the office at the other science teachers like she was embarrassed, and she said, “I’m going to write your score down for you on a piece of paper.”

“Gee golly, okay!” I said, excited to see my A+ grade.

Then she took a little corner of scrap paper and brought out her pen. I still remember it today; it was a purple Le Pen. Felt tip, gorgeous ink. A really nice pen! She wrote something on the scrap of paper and then slid it over to me with her hand covering it. Then she slowly lifted her hand.

On the piece of paper, she had written the number 47.

I gave her a puzzled look and asked, “Oh, was it graded out of 50 this time?”

“No, that’s your score out of a hundred,” she said.

I smiled, and thought for a second. I probably thought about what I would eat for my after-school snack. Then I looked up at her and said, “Okay, will you sign this drop sheet?”

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DANIEL ROBERTS is a grad student at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and will finish up in May. He writes for PopMatters and the New York Daily News. Before journalism school, he went to Middlebury College, where he wrote a weekly newspaper column called "In My Humble Opinion." He has a web presence at www.danielbroberts.com and tweets @readDanwrite.

15 responses to “The AP Bio Experiment”

  1. Rohan says:

    🙂 As good as this is, I don’t think it compares to you narrating it in person.

  2. Uche Ogbuji says:

    Was good aloud. Is good in print. You know, though, at least your Bio book was titled “Eccoci,” which is a dead ringer for an Italian textbook. You could say “Si, bella, eet’s a all eccoli this-a, eccovi that-a, non e vero?” That might have been good to pull at least one of the hot girls from French? No? Yeah, I know better, too.

    Anyway, as I said in the other post, I know exactly the feeling of that last chapter in the episode. You just know you aced the damned test, then you get it back, and you’re like “Hey, teacher, funny thing. Your ‘As’ look just like ‘Ds’…”

  3. Simon Smithson says:

    I actually did burn my maths book after finishing high school. I probably thought I was being cool, when really, I just didn’t want to take the class.

  4. Daniel Roberts says:

    Hah, I forgot Brits say “maths.” Well, my friends in Ireland too actually. Good stuff Simon

  5. kristen says:

    Loved it then (Friday), love it now.

    Really does suck, though. To be sooo convinced you’ve nailed something, only to be brought down w/ a smack. As Mary aptly put it: ouch.

    At least it was in math and not, like, some *truly important* lit comp test. Now that woulda hurt.

  6. Irene Zion says:

    Aw Daniel,

    This totally sucks.
    No one is good at everything, though.
    No one!
    I think you’re mighty good at writing funny stories.
    Sorry I couldn’t hear you read it!

  7. Damn.

    I was hoping for the A+ while reading this. At least you knew to drop that bad boy. I love education. Hate the testing part, even when I was a professor.

  8. Daniel Roberts says:

    Thanks Kristen. I liked what you read Friday, too. And yeah, nah, I never had trouble with lit. heh

  9. Daniel Roberts says:

    Everyone on this thread seems to be commenting with sad, pity-party apologies, like “Aww” and “oh no, that must have been so hard,” or “this is terrible!” Thank you, but seriously, it wasn’t a tragedy. One of those personal failures that, even as it was happening, I thought was funny. I’m still laughing about it today, obviously.

    And I’ll never use biology again. Or WILL I?!

  10. Marni Grossman says:

    You’ve got to play to your strengths. Which is why I never took physics or calculus. Or AP bio. Dropped science senior year and, instead of continuing on the advanced math track, scaled back my ambitions with AP Statistics. Where I earned a solid B+.

    And I wonder why I’m unemployed.

    Also- we should play “do you know?” I’ve got Middlebury AND Columbia J-school people I’m dying to know if we have in common. I know. Lame.

  11. Finally caught this in text! Happy I did. I like the extra-textual enhancements. Nice picture.

    I loved the line about who took which language classes, on Friday when you read it as now. Oddly, the one you mention wouldn’t have been my guess. I mean, not that you don’t strike me as an intellectual, but hot girls.

    If life were just an eternal game of rock-paper-scissors, even with the addition of lizard and Spock, well, hot girls still trump all.

  12. Sara TNB fan says:

    LOVE that you linked to a Beauty and the Beast clip. you are ghilarious

    • admin says:


      You need a gravatar.

      That way you can get a little photo to show up next to your comments.

      You just go to the gravatar site, sign up for a free account, upload a photo, and voila.

      Just be sure to use the same email address at gravatar that you use when commenting here at TNB. (That’s how gravatar knows where to feed the photo.)

      Many thanks for reading.


  13. Carl D'Agostino says:

    I taught AP American History. I told my students what the essays were for the test. Learn six two page essay answers, I pick three on test day. Of course I gave them the blank paper to write on for the test. Their pre written answers which they planned to turn in were useless. They also learned there was no way to cheat in my class. I was so angry and told them haven’t I helped you cheat already in a sense by telling you the questions? Shucks I was the master of cheating. In college me and a gang of six had almost every test, mid term and final several days ahead of time. Had no moral conflict here because they were flunking us left and right and if you dropped below a 2.0 you went 1-A into the draft pool and would be leaving school to play jungle with Ho Chi Mihn’s legions in The Nam. These tests were so esoteric the best we could get were C’s and we couldn’t even find the answers with a week to do so. Thomas Jefferson could not pass the government test. In one class, Advanced Grammar, which was like algebra and language mixed(?) I got an 8 on the pretest and a 67 on the final(same test) and the professor still gave me an F because it wasn’t 70% or greater. I got a 92 in world history final exam, the best score out of 250 students , and that prof gave me a B because it was not 93%. So you see we had to cheat any way we could because the deck was stacked against us. In Old Testament Survey anything below 88% was an F!

    I retired in 2006, 34 years high school history teacher. These educators taught me one thing – how NOT to grade. My grading scale was Very Good = A, Pretty Good = B, Really Tried = C, Kid Needs A Break = D. If you never did anything or did not attend you got the F with no hesitation.

    Many came to high school three to four years below grade level so why give tests at all? They would all fail. So we did history through art drawings, made maps, and acted out events in plays. I was able to help them graduate with A’s, B’s and C’s because I could justify that learning did indeed take place .Now that’s a teacher, eh.

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