For over 50 years, Advanced Placement (AP) testing has been a way for students to earn college credit while still in high school. The tests have been geared mainly toward the memorization of facts, and with thousands of pages of content that is all fair game on the exam, teachers rarely have time to cover any one topic in depth for fear that they will not adequately cover everything. The sheer volume of work required to complete each course, along with the boredom associated with memorizing content, often discourages students from taking AP classes.
That’s why the College Board, a non-profit organization that creates and administers the AP exams, as well as the SATs, is seeking to revamp most AP tests by 2015. The first subjects to be addressed will be US History and Biology, which have the densest subject matter. The goal of the new tests will be to focus on critical thinking skills, which students will need for upper-level college classes, instead of memorizing facts. This reorganization will change the format of the tests, reducing the number of multiple-choice questions and adding more open-ended ones. The College Board also plans to publish lesson plans for teachers to follow in their classrooms in order to better prepare their students for the exams. The new focus will be on themes more so than specifics.
The College Board decided to rethink the AP tests after noticing that fewer universities are giving credit for scores of 3 and 4 out of 5, which used to be considered standard passing scores. Universities have begun to question whether AP tests are an accurate reflection of how students will perform in upper-level classes because they do not thoroughly test critical thinking skills. Mean scores have also been dropping since 1997, possibly because while new information is added each year, none is removed from the curriculum.
The College Board hopes that the new AP curriculum will give more power to the students in terms of choosing how they learn. The company is creating professional development programs for teachers to help them transition toward new classroom dynamics. The College Board hopes that the new AP tests will lessen some of the burden placed on both students and teachers to cover a lot of material in a limited amount of time.