On Assignment

The AP Calculus integral packet towers over other assignments, making it the most notorious and perhaps one of the most useful challenges students face in high school.


photo by D. Crickets

Today marks the end of the struggle for AP Calculus students. The 14-day integral packet assignment is due.

Arguably the most notorious assignment in the entire school district, the dreaded annual integral packet has finally been handed in. Every year, AP Calculus students have exactly 14 days to complete at least 75 percent of the eighty problems correctly.

“I think it’s a worthwhile exercise,” said AP Calculus teacher Mr. Solenday, who teaches the course alongside Ms. Volpe. “The students learn a lot from this packet.”

The integral packet can be frustrating and time-consuming, but few students would disagree with Solenday’s assessment.

“I really didn’t know how to do an integral before the packet, so it forced me to study,” senior Michael Taffe said.  “The problems in the packet are supposed to be a lot harder than the ones we’ll face on the AP Exam, so that’s a benefit.”

It might not seem that the packet contains many problems, but no problem comes easily. Each one can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour depending on how quickly the student figures out the method to use. And sometimes all the effort is in vain.

“One integral took my entire forty-minute study hall,” said junior Daniel Schaub. “When I checked it, it was wrong.”

Solenday appreciates the struggle.

Not many things linger at NA.  It’s normal to expect change as we keep up with the times, but the integral packet never changes.”

— Mr. Solenday, AP Calculus teacher

“The kids get upset with themselves because they care enough and they invest so much time,” he said, “but they are challenging themselves and teaching each other. It’s worth it in the end.”

Whether due to its challenging nature or narrow timeline, there’s no doubt the integral packet is notorious. Everyone knows about it. Siblings older and younger are aware of it. Sometimes even parents or neighbors remark upon it when it is brought up in casual conversation. 

“My parents and siblings all knew about it when I first brought it home,” said senior Kyle Davies. “They all said they were happy they weren’t me.”

But the packet will likely remain here for years to come.

“It’s a rite of passage, a staple of North Allegheny,” Solenday joked. “It’s been mentioned in at least three graduation speeches – one time by a kid who hadn’t even taken calculus.” 

Solenday has a way of turning philosophical when thinking about the packet.

“Not many things linger at NA,” he said. “Because we are a competitive school, it’s normal to expect change as we keep up with the times, but the integral packet never changes.”

Solenday’s students, however, are focused on the gritty present.

“We were doing a tissue box drive,” senior Julia Moose said, “and I told Mr. Solenday I needed the extra credit but I also needed the tissues for my tears.”

Senior Lauryn Pergal couldn’t help but turn to dark humor.

I know I will do well on the actual integral test, and the AP test at the end of the year should hopefully be a breeze.”

— Kyle Davies, senior

“The integral packet is where sleep schedules go to die,” she said.

There’s little questioning that the student consensus seems to be that the integral packet is a loathsome endeavor. 

“It’s the most painful thing I’ve ever done,” said senior Sanath Panicker.

Senior Alex Negrini added, “Sometimes you just integrate down the rabbit hole, and it takes way too long to finish.”

Still, there is a good reason behind the arduous assignment. 

“At least I know I will most likely get a five on the AP test,” said Pergal. “North Allegheny usually does really well on those so I have hope.”

Senior Kyle Davies agreed.

“I know I will do well on the actual integral test,” he said, “and the AP test at the end of the year should hopefully be a breeze.”

The annual rite comes to a close today, as Solenday’s students will turn in their packets during class.  Volpe’s packets were due earlier this week.

“The best way to learn is by teaching someone else, and the kids do that with the packet,” Solenday added. “The beauty of math is when you can take the simple concepts and apply them to more difficult problems. They get to challenge themselves and will be better off because of it.”