The testy waters of testing out


Senior Francesca Duong is no stranger to the feeling of taking an exam. However, going into her freshman year, she decided to test out of Economics. Instead of taking the course, she took the final exam with only the help of a trusty textbook and a class guide.

“I’m already in AP classes right now as a senior,” Francesca said. “I kind of knew going into high school that I’d have a very intense schedule. Because I already knew some of those subjects, I could get the credit for those and take more classes I was more interested in.”

Students who want to excel academically or wish to not take a class face the task of passing an exam. Michigan laws state that testing out requires a student to gain at least a C+ on the exams which are created by the faculty at the school. At FHC, that means scoring a 77% on an exam written up by district administrators. As long as a student scores the required grade on the exam, they get the credit for the class without having to worry about the exact grade on their transcript.

For Francesca, she wanted to free up her schedule by testing out. Economics is one of the mandatory social studies classes for freshman year. By testing out, she had more freedom to choose classes her first year of high school– a freedom not many freshmen get.

“I definitely am [glad I tested out],” Francesca said. “I guess I do think it is good for people to take those classes, but because of [testing out] I do have more flexibility to take other classes. I’m able to take AP Macroeconomics online or AP Government.”

While many students attempt to test out for similar reasons, Francesca is one of the few who successfully did it. The difficulty of the exams and studying in a short period of time, usually a week or two, can create snowstorms of stress. Passing the exam for the credit can quickly become a daunting task.

“[Testing out] was pretty stressful,” said Francesca, who has successfully tested out of two one-semester classes. “[Studying] paid off because I passed, but it was extremely stressful. For Health, you only get a syllabus, but for Economics, they gave you key points to look at.”

Despite having background knowledge of health and economics, it was still difficult for Francesca. For her, she wanted flexibility; but, others might test out to advance.

However, some students test out just because they don’t want to take the course. By doing this, they may miss out on key information and never learn it. Because of this, testing out is usually only recommended if you need the flexibility or already know the information so when you test out, you don’t miss out.

“I don’t think I missed out,” Francesca said. “Personally, I think if you’re willing to do the work and you demonstrate that you know that knowledge, I don’t see the point in having you sit through a class and waste an hour that you could be doing something else that you’re more interested in.”

Counselor Rick Bolhuis agrees. While he doesn’t discourage testing out, he recommends that students have background knowledge in the class. This way, you don’t lack information about a crucial class, and you aren’t just cramming.

“The intent of the test out law is not to cram and study and try to get ahead,” Bolhuis said. “The intent of the test out law is to say, “Hey, you know what? I already learned this for some other reason. I already have this knowledge; I just want to demonstrate that I have this knowledge so I can move on to the next course.a��”

Students can test out without knowledge, but it can be detrimental. If a student tests out of too much, they can become very advanced. This, in turn, can harm them instead of help them. When they become more advanced, classes they can take disappear. There are only so many math or language class offered. Once they advance too far in these sequential classes, it can be harmful.

“We’ve had students that test out of something and get so far ahead that they literally run out of courses to take,” Bolhuis said. “So whenever we have students that are thinking about testing out of something, we want them to have that discussion with us about the pros the cons, the good and the bad, so that they can see the big picture moving forward and what that looks like.”

While sequential classes aren’t recommended to test out of, others are rather popular. Almost all classes can be tested out of with the most common being the freshmen requirements: Health, P.E., Economics, and Civics.

A perfect example for testing out of these classes is needing flexibility or already knowing the class. Francesca already knew much about Economics and Health; therefore, testing out allowed her to spend her time on other classes. In instances like that, Bolhuis agrees that testing out is beneficial.

“I think [testing out] is appropriate,” Bolhuis said. “I think there are times when it’s used very well, and it allows kids to accelerate; it allows kids to create space to take something else that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to– maybe kids can test out of a course and take more music or more arts or something. [It can] create more flexibility in their schedule.”

This flexibility is also useful for late transfers. Although Bolhuis never usually brings up testing out due to the difficulty, for students who have transferred he will bring up the topic so they can meet the requirements.

“Truthfully, I don’t put [testing out of a class] out there a whole lot just because I know how difficult it is to do,” Bolhuis said. “I can probably think of a handful of times where I’ve said, “Hey, you should probably try to test out,a�� but that’s usually for someone who transferred in, and it’s going to be hard to fit everything in. Those are the times I’d suggest it. Otherwise, it’s usually people have brought it to me trying to figure it out.”

Personally, I think if you’re willing to do the work and you demonstrate that you know that knowledge, I don’t see the point in having you sit through a class and waste an hour that you could be doing something else that you’re more interested in.”

— Francesca Duong

Testing out can benefit late transfers, but for those doing it to avoid classes, they can miss out on in-class experiences. These experiences can include projects, discussions, and activities that can give one insight on the subject.

For some students, studying from a book can replace important experiences, but not all students can truly learn from text on a page. Much of the most tested out of classes contain what many think is important information about the government and health.

“Think about the courses I named. It’s Health, it’s P.E., it’s Civics, and it’s Econ,” Bolhuis said. “Truthfully, testing out and getting a 77% isn’t the same experience as sitting through the course with 30 something of your peers. I think there are times where kids are missing out, and that’s one of the discussions that we have.”

Bolhuis isn’t the only one who believes kids can miss out in the future. Civics teacher Jared Lowe has the same mindset. For Lowe, teaching students about the government is crucial and important to him.

“Civics is important, I feel like, more so than a lot of classes that you take in high school because these things are things we deal with on a day-to-day basis in the world around us,” Lowe said. “I always tell students if you truly know your rights, then you can protect your rights. We’re always engaged civically in the world around us on a day-to-day basis.”

Civics is a one semester social studies class that goes into depth about how the U.S. government works and how the people play a role into this. It covers structure and function of the government and how it plays a role into the everyday life.

To Lowe, Civics is a pivotal class that shouldn’t be tested out of. This is due to its contents and how important they can be to understanding voting, your rights, and much more. Missing out on the experiences within the classes could cause a lack of knowledge for the student.

“The experience that you’re going to get in the classroom, and really this goes for any class not just a civics class [is irreplaceable],” Lowe said. “I feel like the activities you’re going to do in class, the productive class discussion, the projects, and the interaction with your classmates and with the instructor is going to add much more value than you’re going to be able to get through the test out process or even an online experience.”

Within the class, the importance of the curriculum is what matters to Lowe. Voting and taxes are what students will have to deal with when they graduate, and learning in the class can make these processes more understandable.

“I feel like being in the classroom [allows you] to grasp some of those concepts and apply that information when you are of voting age or you are paying taxes and civically participating in democracy or the world around you,” Lowe said. “I think that’s important.”

Despite civics being important to Lowe, he recognizes there are situations in which students would need to test out. These situations are when students can’t take the classes they love. In these instances, they test out of the requirements to continue on with their passion. Many of those courses are arts, music, or language.

“I can see from a student standpoint it would be, “I don’t have any room in my schedule to take some of the elective classes that I’m very, very passionate about or very, very interested in or things that may even align specifically with my future career choice,a��” Lowe said.

Being able to take the courses you love is important, but it comes with the cost of testing out– which can either be good or bad. However, even if you fail the test out exam, it can only ever teach you.

“Definitely [test out if you have background knowledge],” Francesca said. “You should always just try because if you fail, nothing is going to harm you. If you think you know it well enough or it’s a sequence like math and you have that good foundation that you believe you could test out, go for it. Life is too short not to.”