Jared Gibbs is a sample size of one.
The recent Skyview High graduate took on a rarely approached workload this year, completing 12 Advanced Placement tests — exams where students can earn college credits.
Typically, even the most ambitious students take only a few of the tests each year, and usually take an associated year-long class. Gibbs tackled subjects from U.S. government to statistics, his favorite.
“I’m kind of good with numbers and patterns and trends,” he said. “It’s where math and human behavior meet, in a way. It’s really interesting what you can tell about large populations with really well-taken samples.”
That could describe Gibbs' ambitious decisions to take so many AP tests. Trying to take courses that earn college credit makes mathematical sense for high school students; it saves money and looks good on applications. But those courses are typically more rigorous, and AP courses are dependent on passing the final test.
Billings high schools have nearly doubled student enrollment in Advanced Placement courses, often considered the gold standard for high school…
"In general, they are pretty rigorous," said School District 2 executive director of curriculum for high schools Chris Olszewski.
"The tests themselves are multi-hour tests, multiple step ... Even the multiple choice are higher-level rigor; it's not just read this simple little thing and here are your four questions."
Gibbs took four AP classes but relied on other high school courses and his own studying for other subjects.
It paid off: Gibbs earned a high enough score on 10 of the 12 tests to get credits at the University of Montana, where he planned to enroll this fall.
He plans to study economics, then go to law school and become a constitutional law expert. Much like his attraction to statistics, he sees the field as an intersection of rigid, unyielding rules with complex human situations.
“That one sounds fun? Yes, fun,” he said.
Most students cringe when thinking about the workload of an AP course. When Gibbs told people that he planned to take four courses, then 12 tests, he said they usually "got that death look in their eyes."
“I think half of them were starting a betting pool,” he said.
But after the initial shock, he said people were supportive.
"I thought, 'of course he is,'" said AP Statistics teacher Kerry Gruizenga. "Jared always finds ways to challenge himself in things that no one's thought of."
Gibbs got the full AP curriculum for statistics, U.S. government, calculus and physics. For some other courses, he fell back on his other high school courses in the subjects.
“They don’t go as deep, but they give you good general material to work from,” he said.
He examined online course descriptions and used study guides for the tests. He still participated in debate and academic teams. He did actually sleep, he said.
Gibbs has excelled at understanding complex topics quickly, said Gruizenga, who also coached him on the debate team. And he doesn't lack to ambition to take them on.
During the exam period, he took 12 tests over about 9 days, doing either half-days at Skyview when he had one test or taking the full day for testing if he had two.
Billings high schools have nearly doubled enrollment in AP courses during the past four years, and passing rates on exams have hit about 60 percent. But only about half of students enrolled in an AP course take the exam.
Gibbs' undertaking is the most Olszewski had ever heard of. Olszewski just finished his first year in SD2, but in nine years as an administrator in Great Falls the most tests he'd heard of a student taking was six. Deb Black, Skyview's principal, said it was the most she'd ever heard of as well.
For Gibbs, it paid off. He'll start at UM as a sophomore. He hopes to finish his undergraduate degree in three years.
“I really wanted to reduce the tuition costs for college,” he said.
His eclectic subject selection for the AP tests mostly targeted credits that he can apply to college general education requirements, he said. But he never wanted to specialize in one subject either.
“I would have gotten bored really, really quickly.”