Teachers and students alike hate the Advanced Placement exams. Students have to write long grueling essays and then the teachers have to read them. But this May, a single sentence broke the usual pattern. The phrase was simple, yet it caused confusion among exam graders with three words—“THIS IS SPARTA!”
Last December, seniors Jake Bryant and Kevin Xu of Ward Melville Senior High School in East Setauket, New York came up with this idea and put it into action on their English Regents. Their idea was simple—to get students to write the iconic phrase “This is Sparta” from the movie “300” in capital letters in the middle of their Regents essays, and then cross it out with one line. This way, no one could be penalized, as the phrase would have to be counted as a mistake.
In May they decided to take it a step farther. Xu created a Facebook group “to spread this to the rest of the country (and the world) including college students getting ready for finals and essays,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Facebook users flocked to join the group “Everybody write ‘THIS IS SPARTA!’ on your AP and school essays.” Today, 32,156 people are in the group. “The goal of the prank was to freak out AP graders and teachers, relieve stress before and during the AP exam and have a really great laugh,” Xu wrote. He felt that AP graders could appreciate the prank since “it must stink to be grading hundreds of exams during the summer,” he wrote.
The mission was clear. By the first day of AP week, 10,000 students had joined the Facebook group. Over 30,000 had joined by the next Sunday. Now all that was left was for the students to take their tests—a challenge in and of itself—and to write the famous words in their exam booklets.
One of these students was junior Henry Lin, who wrote “THIS IS SPARTA” on his AP World History exam. “I thought, ‘Why not?’ It was a fun, spur of the moment thing to do,” he said.
Most students simply crossed the phrase out so that it wouldn’t be counted, but some found more creative ways to work it into their tests. Senior TJ Hart from Milton High School in Milton, Georgia, used the phrases “THIS IS SPARTA” and “This is madness” as variables on his AP Computer Science exam. Brian Stern, a junior at Radnor High School in Radnor, Pennsylvania, took the AP Music Theory test last May and had to come up with an alternative method to slip the words into his exam.
“While there is no essay section, part of the [AP Music Theory] exam requires the test-taker to write out chords for a song, based on musical notes given. I titled the first one ‘THIS IS SPARTA.’ For the second, I wrote lyrics to the melody: ‘This is Madness,’” Stern wrote in an e-mail interview. “In addition, there are two sight-singing sections […] so for them I sang softly ‘this is Madness,’ and for the second I responded by shouting in tune ‘No! This Is Sparta!’ The exam proctor was speechless, and as I left the room, various students who heard me applauded my efforts.”
Students feel that the phenomenon demonstrates the power of students when they are organized with a common goal. “Since tens of thousands of students have had to take APs, SATs, etc., it only makes sense that they would want to ‘get back’ at the College Board by showing that the students have the choice to completely screw up their tests, and that the students are in charge,” Stern wrote.
The effects of the stunt have been expansive. AP readers nationwide had a good laugh, and the coordinators of the prank are already planning for next year. Two articles have been written in The Examiner about the phenomenon. Students who took part this year were pleased with the results as can be seen on the Discussion Boards in the Facebook group. Subjects include “SUCCESS!!!!!!!”, “Best Usage of ‘This is Sparta’…” and “Next Year?”
“Reader reactions to the prank were varied,” head of College Board communications Jennifer Topiel wrote in an e-mail interview. However, according to an article published on The Examiner’s website on June 16, 2008, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive and made the grading process easier. “I hope to do it again for the next AP exams but I need a new line,” Xu wrote. What will this line be? Wait till next May to find out.