A guide to Foothill’s 4 most brain-racking courses


Credit: Josh Ren/The Foothill Dragon Press

Rachel Sun

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AP and honors classes at Foothill prove themselves to be very challenging and stressful. Photo Illustration Credit: Josh Ren/The Foothill Dragon Press

Foothill is known for its outstanding academics, so one can bet the courses are just as challenging and teachers expect just as much. Students can be heard all around school chattering about how difficult their classes are, whether they’re a freshman or a senior.

Now the question is, of the classes offered at Foothill, which ones are the most grueling? Which courses cram 90 minutes of continuous knowledge into the brain and prevent one from acquiring the nine hours of sleep recommended for growing adolescents?

A survey given to 238 students in grade levels ranging from freshmen to seniors asked students to name, in their opinion, the hardest class to take within their grade. Although all classes offered at Foothill are challenging, the courses listed below were voted the most brain racking of them all.


Having had their first taste of what high school classes are like, students voted Honors English 9 to be the most challenging course for freshmen; the results came out to be 48 percent of the 58 students surveyed.

English teachers Melissa Wantz and Wendy Dowler share the overall students enrolled in Honors English 9. According to the Dowler, the hardest part of her class is the jump from middle school English to high school English during the freshmen’s adjustment period.

Credit: Canela Lopez/The Foothill Dragon Press
Credit: Canela Lopez/The Foothill Dragon Press

“It’s just getting used to how you analyze something versus just simple comprehension of what happened in the story,” she said.

The expectation for literary analysis is also another challenging part of the Honors English 9 curriculum. Sometime during the year, she will give her students prompts from the AP exams.

“I don’t just throw them a prompt and say ‘good luck with that’, that would be horrible. So we brainstorm it together as a class, which they won’t be able to do when they’re a senior,” she said.

By the end of the year, students will have learned how to read analytically and to not only identify different figurative languages, but also analyze how the material is important to the novel as a whole. They will also learn how to write a basic analysis essay, but Dowler hopes her students “move beyond what [she teaches] them during their sophomore and junior year.”

“If my kids come out of this class better readers and writers and speakers and thinkers, then I have done my job and hopefully they’ve learned a lot about themselves in the process. That’s our ultimate goal,” she said.

Freshmen Helen Hatfield finds understanding concepts and prompts to be more difficult than annotations. She advises incoming freshmen classes to “do your homework, because if you get behind on annotations, it’s really hard to keep up because they’ll talk about it in class and you won’t know what’s going on.”

At the end of the year, Dowler gives her students a survey asking them what their advice is to the incoming freshmen class. The most common responses are: “always pay attention”, “listen to her directions and advice” and “write down the homework.”


Of the 60 sophomores asked, an overwhelming 63 percent wrote that Honors English 10 was the most difficult class to take.

Honors World History, taught by Cherie Eulau and Claire Adams, and English, taught by Jason Dinkler, come in a package, and lessons tend to correspond with each other.

“The class is about literary analysis and analysis is something that doesn’t have one right answer. It takes a lot of time to interpret things and explain things eloquently and I think that can be really challenging. It just takes practice,” Dinkler said.

Literary analysis requires critical thinking and concentration, as authors like Charles Dickens tend to use more words than necessary to get their meanings across. Students often times lose focus and forget what they’re reading.

“10th grade Honors English is very difficult due to the level of writing that you are thrown into. From 9th grade honors to 10th grade honors, there is a huge jump in the maturity of the writing we are to complete,” sophomore Jason Najera said.

By the end of the school year, students will have learned how to integrate quotes from novels into their essays effectively and persuasively, as well as bettering their understanding of literary analysis and devices.


“Physics requires a lot of complex and high level thinking, so each piece might be straightforward enough but when you have to combine all the different pieces together in a problem solving strategy, that’s difficult,” AP Physics teacher John Weldele said.


“I hope they are able to think critically, that’s like the big umbrella of everything and writing eloquently […] It just takes the constant practice and time and willingness to come in for extra help sometimes,” Dinkler said.

Students will also be able to identify literary devices on sight and concoct a well written essay that analyzes the devices used. Sophomores will have finished several densely packed books by the end of the year, as well as have participated in socratics and discussions based on the novels and their historical backgrounds.

“I think the extra challenge that is involved in an honors level english class is really worth it because it’s going to stretch their potential to be logical thinkers,” Dinkler said. “The advice would be that the challenge is worth it, but it’s going to be something that, in the beginning, is going to stretch their perseverance a little bit, or tenacity, because they really have to work through the struggle.”


Junior year is the year of anxiety and angst caused from heavy preparations for SAT, ACT and AP exams, as well as keeping grades in good shape for the sake of college admission officers. When asked about the most difficult course for a junior to take, out of the 60 students questioned, 51 percent answered with AP United States History, commonly known as APUSH.

Alumnus Victoria Bonds took four AP classes, one honors class, and an online college class during her junior year at Foothill, all of which she said contributed to her stress level. Credit: Aysen Tan/The Foothill Dragon Press
Alumnus Victoria Bonds took four AP classes, one honors class, and an online college class during her junior year at Foothill, all of which she said contributed to her stress level. Credit: Aysen Tan/The Foothill Dragon Press

Just as it is for sophomores, AP US History and AP English 11 come in a package called AMEX (American Experience). One aspect of the course that contributes to its difficulty is that the lessons are fast paced and tests are difficult . In just eight months, US history teacher Dan Fitz-Patrick has to power through 42 lessons and ready 98 students for AP exams in early May.

“I think the elements of this class that make it difficult is the amount of information that needs to be retained and the college level text reading and the density of the text and not only just remembering ideas, facts, dates, people and the history, but also remembering that information and being able to apply it to complexities of the bigger themes and interpreting it,” he said.

Test questions are often times directly taken out of the textbook, so Fitz regularly reminds his students to read the chapters word-for-word before exams. Not to mention, some of the multiple choice questions have multiple right answers, which causes hair pulling for most juniors.

“The amount of points you get for homework isn’t nearly as much as you get for tests and the tests are so detailed and really hard. They can ask a question based off one sentence out of a hundred pages that the test is on and if you didn’t read that one sentence or remember it, then you’ll [most likely] miss that question,” junior Spencer Wittrock said.

AP US History is a challenging course that forces students to think outside the box and analyze history instead of constantly memorizing facts and dates. By the end of the year, students will have learned how to manage their time well enough to write an essay in 40 minutes, as well as deciphering documents and charts to include in in-class essays and document based questions (DBQ).


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“If you find [history] interesting and you’re willing to work really hard and be able to set aside the appropriate amount of time to be actively engaged, by all means, please take [AP US history]. It’s such a higher level of thinking about US history than you’ve ever done before,” Fitz said.

Wittrock advise students who are considering taking APUSH to either study hard or “don’t do it at all.”


Out of the 60 seniors surveyed, 28 percent voted AP Physics, taught by John Weldele, to be the most challenging class.

Although the course is open to juniors, it is strongly recommended for seniors because it requires a well-built math background. AP Physics is presumed to be one of the more challenging courses because it focuses on mathematical equations combined with difficult-to-grasp concepts.

“The thinking is that the stronger your math skills are the easier the class will be because of its math component,” Weldele said.

Although senior Chrystal Guzman hasn’t been struggling with the course as much as previous students have, she found the new definitions and concepts difficult.

“We’re only in October right now, so we’ll have to see how it goes. But from all the hype and everyone saying how stressed out and how much work they’ve been doing, it hasn’t been that bad,” Guzman said.

AP Physics is a combination of various concepts mixed with math formulas and equations, making it a more difficult class to take.

“Physics requires a lot of complex and high level thinking, so each piece might be straightforward enough but when you have to combine all the different piece together in a problem solving strategy, that’s difficult,” Weldele said.

Throughout the year, students will learn various concepts and be able to combine their knowledge of those concepts with mathematical equations to solve a problem.

Weldele advises students who are planning on taking AP Physics, whether junior or senior year, to have, or begin developing, a good study habit because “they need to deal with material as [they’re] progressing, not procrastinating or putting it off and trying to cram at the very end.”

“Weldele will almost always give you reading from the textbook and I know that for all of you who took honors chemistry, you could get away with not reading the textbook, but many times there are things in there that he doesn’t discuss in class and it just elaborates on things [and] really helps,” Guzman said.

Background Photo Illustration Credit: Josh Ren/The Foothill Dragon Press 

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