With just one four-hour exam, Jack’s nine-month process of intensely memorizing facts about European dynasties and Christian wars came to a close. (Did you know the Jesuits were the original anti-science apologists in the 17th century?) But Jack’s real test came after he turned in his AP Euro booklet and pulled out his phone. “When I take College Board tests, a big part of me is just excited — because afterward, I get to make specific memes for the test I took,” says the 17-year-old from Pennsylvania.
The first half of May is AP exam season, when high-performing high school students vie for college credit through rigorous testing. But because results don’t start arriving until July 5th, the second half of May and all of June is AP meme season, during which thousands of stressed-out students across the country collectively commiserate through memes about their data-based questions (DBQs) and how no one knows what the hell “colloquial” means. “I’d rather laugh over memes than cry over a bad test grade,” Jack explains.
Even still, Jack is risking it all. The College Board has issued a much despised anti-meme moratorium, and many of his peers fear having their test scores voided if their memes fall victim to the crackdown.
Ah Shit, Here We Go Again
Like college kids posting on Facebook that they’re “blessed” to have made the honor roll, AP memes are high schoolers’ self-flattering way of announcing academic achievement masked as insider comedy. “I love showing my friends who didn’t take the test those memes; they always get so confused,” says Kayden, a 17-year-old from Ohio. He was first introduced to AP memes after taking the PSAT his sophomore year and attempting some witty test commentary. Now a senior about to head off to college, Kayden feels sad that his AP meme days are behind him.
What he won’t miss, though, is test anxiety. If Kayden performed well on his AP Chem test, he might qualify for college credit. And if he qualifies for college credit, he can maybe graduate from college early. And if he can graduate early, he may not have as much student debt. All of this makes AP tests feel life-defining.
So to aid his post-test nerves, Kayden laughs at a one-second video about whale noises. “I really like that one because it was talking about the first question on the test, and it was kind of a confusing question,” he says.
Academic testing is highly competitive (just ask Felicity Huffman), but post-test discussions are communal. The most viral memes are self-deprecating jokes. For example, the AP English test had a prompt to reflect on something considered “overrated,” and many teens rushed to respond with in-depth analysis of the James Charles-Tati Westbrook YouTube feud. “I felt it fitting and timely to include,” says Claire, a high school junior, who asked to be anonymous because she’s not sure how much she can talk about her test. “Apparently, I wasn’t the only one.”
Absolutely no one:
A few years ago, the College Board started cracking down on students who shared memes about test questions and prompts. Students posting “test content” on Twitter or Reddit violate the non-disclosure agreements they must sign before opening their booklets, according to the College Board. Most teens are well aware of the no-sharing rule, and they know Big Brother is watching — but they’re still willing to mock the College Board for telling them to delete their memes.
The College Board is “like the kid who reminds the teacher there was homework the previous night that needs to be checked,” says Jack. He’s been “caught” several times by the College Board, though he doesn’t always comply. He deleted the thread where he and a friend discussed their responses to short-answer questions, but Jack won’t waiver on the GIF he shared about students immediately flocking to Twitter post-test to share memes. “I felt like I couldn’t be held accountable for making a joke that didn’t even come close to revealing what was on the test,” he argues.
It’s common practice for teens to take down a tweet if they’re caught. A student named Ang, who asked to be anonymous, quickly deleted his post after the College Board slid into his replies. He took seriously their threats to void his test and ban him from taking the SAT, which the College Board also runs. He still won’t discuss the subject of his meme. All he’ll say is his tweet was a reaction to the AP World History free-response prompt. “I’m going to be stressed until July when the scores get released,” Ang says.
Those who get by without tipping off the College Board take great satisfaction in their subversion. “There’s also a hint of forbidden-fruit syndrome: You have to reference as much as you can without angering the College Board and getting your scores canceled,” says Sudarshan, a 17-year-old from New Jersey.
For other students, angering the College Board is itself the goal. “When the College Board responds, it only adds fuel to the fire,” says Hanna, a 17-year-old from California. It was only after her second AP test that Hanna started questioning why she wasn’t allowed to tweet about her exam. “The College Board is taking down memes when there seems to be no reason to,” she explains.
The College Board’s website states sharing exam information “compromises the integrity of the exam.” However, a representative for the College Board refused to clarify publicly to MEL how sharing AP memes violates exam integrity.
The International Implications
It’s rare, but occasionally test memes become actual study tools. For international students applying to U.S. colleges, the APStudents subreddit (filled, naturally, with amusing memes) can be a vital source for understanding the country’s school system. “I mostly talk about test-taking in the comment sections of the memes,” says Rick, a 16-year-old from China. He learned the importance of GPAs for American college applications (China relies on a single test for college admission). He also received help studying for his AP Physics and Calculus tests. “I just love this community,” he says.
Then there’s Jake, who runs an AP Euro Memes account, which is passed down to one sophomore every year at Culver City High School in California. “I had to apply by making memes to prove my eligibility,” he explains. Jake’s memes are derived from study guides and old tests posted online by the College Board. He’s especially proud of one meme he created about Louis XVI, who was executed during the French Revolution. “Instead of using my knowledge of the 19th century to write an essay, I can make people laugh, and there’s some beauty in that,” he says.
For now, though, as AP students settle into summer and await their results, those taking the ACT are in the home stretch for their June 19th exam. Afterward, many high school juniors like Jack will have completed both tests. And though they have double the stress, they also get double the memes. “They’re helping me get through studying. It’s like the light at the end of the tunnel,” Jack says. “Test memes are funny as hell.”