Apr 12, 2019

Preparing Students for AP Exams

AP teachers often wonder if they are doing all that they can to best prepare their students to take AP exams.  We developed a unique and effective approach at Bergen Tech in Teterboro to help students prepare, that may provide insights for other schools.

A critically important school-wide decision we made at Bergen Tech was to give the final exam for each AP course about a month before the AP exam itself…not after the AP exam.

We would make the final exam for the course a full three-hour test comprised of either actual released AP items, or newly written versions of released items. We would have the final exam proctored by another teacher, as would be the case during the actual AP exam. Ideally, the students would even take the test in the room that they would be taking the AP exam.

As a result, each student experienced the pressure of taking a “high-stakes” full-length AP exam under conditions close to those they would encounter the following month when they sat for the actual exam. Seeing test items from across the breadth of the course delivered in this context took away much of the pressure of experiencing that for the first time during the actual AP exam. It would also get them used to taking a several-hour-long test, which requires physical and mental stamina.

When the faculty graded the exams, we would use the prior year’s formula for blending the grades from the multiple choice and free response sections using the actual curving formula that was used the prior year. Each student would see what score they would achieve based on what they knew and could do at that point.

That would be enough to improve the students’ scores on the exams.  However, we went a step further by using the weeks between the final and the AP exam to have the students work in small groups to study and tutor each other on the topics on which they thought they could improve. They could then retake tests or quizzes from those units to raise their final exam score.

The result was that when the students sat for the actual AP exam, they felt confident and well-prepared. They would invariably achieve a higher score on the AP exam than they did when they initially sat for the final exam…sometimes by as much as a full point. This also led to camaraderie as students supported each other’s efforts and it also helped them develop the skills they would need in college or university to prepare for challenging exams.