Inside AP Euro: why students sign up to take the hardest class at Blythewood

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Avery Romriell takes notes in AP European History.

Avery Romriell

On the first day of school this year, Scott Auspelmeyer greeted his new 5th period students with the sort of speech most teachers give new students on the first day. He introduced himself, the course, and what the year would be like. The one difference was, he was teaching what is widely regarded as the hardest class at Blythewood High: AP European History.

The college-level class encompasses European history from the 1400s to the present. This year, there is only one AP Euro class with 29 students. The low enrollment is partially due to the requirement to be recommended for the class by a previous teacher, but also because of the fear that surrounds the course. 

Students across the school know AP Euro as a grueling, difficult class that is impossible to get a good grade in. Even AP World History, another college-level class taken at the same grade level, is thought to be easier than AP Euro. 

“I don’t know what rumors you’ve heard about this class,” Mr. Auspelmeyer told his students on the first day, “but they’re all true.” 

So if it’s so hard, then the question is, why does anyone take it?

In the words of Mr. Auspelmeyer, the content covered in AP Euro is “wide, yet deep.” A course like World History covers a lot of content in a small amount of detail, while a course like U.S. History covers less content in a lot of detail. AP Euro lands in the middle, covering a pretty large amount of content in fair detail. 

This is challenging for obvious reasons. Students have to memorize many different concepts and events, not only in a broad sense, but also the particulars. Coupled with all this, they also have to learn how to write a new style of essay for the AP Exam at the end of the year—the dreaded Document-Based Question, which requires students to analyze primary sources from as far back as the 15th century and use them as evidence in their essay. 

With so much to cover, Mr. Auspelmeyer has students do activities and take notes at home from videos of his lectures. This—the homework—is many students’ biggest issue. 

“It’s just kind of a lot of work sometimes,” said Ava Swindler, a current AP Euro student. “Like, day by day, it’s probably more homework than I’ve ever had for one class.” 

However, students also appreciate that this system allows them to take things as slowly as they need to, rather than rushing to fit all the instruction into short class periods. Abby Kaczynski, another student currently in the class, said, “I like how it’s self-taught and self-paced. Like, if he lectured in person, I’d be rushing to keep up, but with the videos, I can just pause it.” 

But the class is still stressful, and that can’t be avoided. Along with in-class work and tests, students have to keep in mind that at the end of the year they will take the AP exam, which will grant them college credit as long as they don’t fail. The exam, rewritten every year, is purposefully difficult and designed for only about 50% of students to pass—that’s out of everyone in the country who takes it.

To help students prepare, Mr. Auspelmeyer writes AP Euro tests and quizzes to resemble the type of questions asked on the AP Exam. This style of questioning is unfamiliar and confusing for many students.

“The tests are what I don’t like about it,” Kaczynski went on to say, “cause I don’t understand them. Which tells you how well I’m gonna do on the exam, I guess.”

This is especially hard for students who haven’t taken an AP class before. AP Euro is taken in the tenth grade, and many students opt out of jumping into AP classes as a freshman, so some AP Euro students come into the class without prior AP experience. This can make the experience even more stressful. 

Given how difficult the experience is, one might wonder why any students actually want to take the class. This actually may be directly related to how scary the course seems. 

“Not even my family believed I could pass it,” said Tahira Gerald, a former AP Euro student. “I wanted to prove everyone wrong.”

To a competitive student, AP Euro’s frightening reputation can come as a welcome challenge. Many students even end up finding that they actually enjoy the class despite its difficulty. 

“It’s become one of my favorite classes,” Caroline Nutter said. She is currently in her second quarter as an AP Euro student. “Yes it’s challenging, but it’s very organized, so it’s manageable.”

Ava Swindler also spoke about why she came to enjoy AP Euro. “I really like the material,” she said, “and Auspie [Mr. Auspelmeyer] is a really good teacher. He’s really understanding, like, if you can’t get something done for some reason, he gets it.” 

While AP Euro is not an easy class by anyone’s standard, for the motivated student, it can be an encouraging challenge and a chance to improve important skills. And—as attested by many former AP Euro students—it is not, in fact, impossible to pass.