Catonsville resident's success on AP exams means head start in college

Among the 57 students at Mount St. Joseph High School who earned awards for their achievements on the College Board's Advanced Placement Program (AP) exams, one student stood out.

Catonsville resident Joseph Szczybor scored a 5, the highest possible score, on each of the exams he took.


"To get fives in every one is pretty special," said Josh Vicchio, the AP psychology teacher at Mount St. Joe who taught Szczybor last year.

"There's always going to be one test where you weren't on the ball that day," Vicchio said. "It's like throwing eight no-hitters in a row in baseball. Everything has to line up.


"Even if you're extremely smart, you might hit one of those tests where you didn't study something as much as you thought you should," he said.

Out of all the students at the all-boys Catholic high school on Frederick Avenue in Baltimore who took an AP exam in 2013, 83 percent scored a 3 or higher on each of their exams. The national average for students scoring a 3 or higher is 63 percent, according to the school.

A score of 3 or higher means high school seniors can have those courses count toward their college credits.

"I think the biggest challenge in the test itself is you can cover so much during the school year but it's kind of the luck of the draw with certain AP classes, like AP psychology, in that you have free responses," Vicchio said. "If there's a topic on the free response that you didn't cover as much as someone in another part of the country, or when you were studying you didn't go over it as much, it's kind of the luck of the draw."

There are 20 AP classes offered at Mount St. Joe and 10 other seniors, in addition to Szczybor, have taken eight or more AP exams while at the school.

Szczybor took his first, AP European History, as a sophomore.

"It's a little harder than honors," said Szczybor, who will attend the University of Maryland at College Park this fall. "I wanted to take it. I wanted the challenge, and I like history."

He took two AP classes as a junior, including AP U.S. History.


"U.S. History (test) was harder than European, I thought," he said. "But I felt like I had a system: Work hard during the year, keep up with the reading, do the review at the end of the year with the book and don't go overboard (studying before the test). It doesn't do you any good to cram."

He nearly missed out on getting into Vicchio's AP psychology class that year.

Vicchio said he gets 100-125 applicants for the class and can only accept 50-70.

"I usually don't take any juniors. I didn't accept him at first. I just took all seniors," he said. "But his counselor came to me and said Joe really wants to take AP Psych but he can't take it his senior year because he's one of those kids who has everything mapped out for years ahead of time.

"I let him take it his junior year, knowing what kind of a worker and what kind of a student he was," Vicchio said. "I knew that he would do well. I didn't want him to miss out on that class."

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As a senior, he took AP Physics, AP Spanish Language, AP U.S. Government and Politics and AP English Literature.


"I was happy with my schedule this year. There were a lot of classes I enjoy," he said.

His appreciation for the diversity of his classes was matched by that of his extra-curricular experiences. He played rugby for four years, took part in the peer education program for incoming freshmen and was involved in the choir and campus ministry.

"There was a lot of overlap (of student members). But there were a lot of different guys too. I'm glad I was not with the same one group of guys," he said.

He said he plans to major in Spanish at Maryland with a minor in Arabic as part of his goal to be a physician's assistant. "That's the plan," he said. "We'll see how it goes."

Reporter Julie Baughman contributed to this story.