doctor_ray (doctorray) wrote,

AP Euro Journal 5 - Coaching the AP

There are a number of different ways by which you can divide AP teachers.  One particular question, the one I want to talk about today, is "To what extent to you prepare the kids for the test itself, as opposed to the material that's on the test?"  On the one hand, the idea of 'teaching to the test' is odious to most teachers I know.  On the other hand, you've got these smart motivated kids, and they could test out of some GE classes, or even get college credit, if they do well on the exam, so don't you owe it to them to ensure they're as well-prepared as possible?

If you'd asked me this question several years ago, I'd have told you that I fell strongly into the first camp - and then I'd have probably segued into a rant about standardized testing, the tyranny of the APs, etc.  But as I've become more familiar with the AP test itslf, and the many very talented and hard-working teachers who strive to make it the best curriculum it can be, I've come to appreciate how the test encourages students to acquire mastery of a number of skills and habits of mind that are crucial to the effective study of history - critical analysis of sources, familiarity with a wide range of historical knowledge and the abilty to deploy that knowledge to construct an argument, etc.  The one thing you don't get in great detail is research work - but that's a posting for another time.

Once I came to realize that the students would benefit from a greater familiarity with and confidence about the actual test - that I was actually giving them the best opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, not trying to help them game the system, it surprised me how much my coaching background jumped up and took a key role in my teaching.

You see, the AP Test has a very specific set of physical demands and requirements, and if you aren't comfortable with those, then you won't be able to show all that you know as well as you know it.  Specifically, the AP exam asks students to:

Answer 80 multiple choice questions in 55 minutes
Assess a dozen documents for a document based question (DBQ) as well as select prompts from two groups of three to write two 'thematic essays - all in 15 minutes.
Write the actual DBQ in about 45 minutes
Write the two thematic essays - each in about 35 minutes

All this by hand - no keyboards.

So I decided that all the tests in my class would be taken under "game conditions" .   I don't have 3+ hours for each test, but I can break up the sections to mirror the pacing of the AP.  So students start out getting a minute per multiple choice question - they'll work their way down to the 40 seconds per question demanded by the exam as the year goes on - and they get 35 minutes to write an essay.  Later I'll give them an hour to do a DBQ.   Also, all essays are written by hand - whether it's an in-class essay or one written at home.  Sure, it would be easier for me to have they type their essays, but they need to get comfortable with writitng for long periods of time.  I know when I did a practice essay when I was at my own AP training over the summer, it felt like my hand was going to fall off after one essay - I'd have had two more to write on an actual test!  Sheesh!

This seems very famliar to me from my coaching background - establishing benchmarks, tapering down the pace as we move on, similating conditions they'll see in the game, er, I mean test.  It's probably not terribly earth-shattering - I'm sure most good AP teachers do something similar. 

But I'm surpised at how much my thinking has changed about this facet of the AP  - and changed for the better, I'd say.


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