Sunday, April 19, 2009

Reviewing for the Exam

Multiple Choice Review

Last week I had a discussion on the Free Response section of the AP Government and Politics Exam. I hope you found a few ideas that were useful for sharing with your students. I don't pretend to know everything about the Exam, but after Reading for seven years, serving on the Question Writing Committee one year, and teaching AP for what seems an eternity, I have a pretty good handle on how students can be successful. To sum up my advise from last week: read the questions carefully, follow the commands exactly, be neat and organized, and write succinctly.

This week I wish to have a short discussion on the multiple choice section of the Exam. This, as we all by now understand, is a 60 question test. The students have 45 minutes to complete the test. This is different from some of the AP Exams that give the students 100 minutes. They need to work very efficiently to get done in time. During the year I give my students 20 question quizzes on each unit and give them 15 minutes to do the quiz. I try to prepare them for the time limit. Every year I have students return from the test saying they did not feel they had adequate time to do the multiple choice. I believe some of this is test anxiety, but some of it is good kids struggling to complete a very difficult exam.

A couple of things to remind your kids before they begin on the multiple choice section of the test. First, and most obvious, read the question carefully. I tell my kids to be an active reader. Underline key words, circle words that would be critical to the answer (such as "except" or "always"), and look for patterns in the answers that help to understand the question.

Second, be sure to tell the kids that guessing is not always the best policy. One quarter of a point is deducted for each wrong answer. If a student can not narrow the selection of answers down to two and make an intelligent guess from the two possibilities, then guessing may be costly.

Leaving too many unanswered questions is also a problem however. While the student does not get penalized for an unanswered question, it cut away from correct answers. I always tell my students that they need to get at least 40 correct answers on the multiple choice. If you leave 10 unanswered, that means you don't have much room for error on those you do answer.

The multiple choice questions fall into three basic types of questions. The simplest and often easiest to answer are the identification questions. These usually are asking students if they understand a principle, concept, or term. Reviewing vocabulary and basic facts will help in the studying for these types of questions. The next type of question are the analysis questions which go beyond simple identification and ask for interpretation, compare/contrast, or cause and effect. Like the Free Response Questions, the multiple choice questions are scaffold. AP test writers include easier questions, moderately difficult, and very difficult questions. The higher threshold of questions determines the "5" student from the "3" student.

The final type of question, those that ask for interpretation from graphs, charts, political cartoons, or other data sources can be the most difficult and time consuming of the questions. These questions will give a data input and expect students to use their understanding of the topic to interpret the data and find the correct response to the question. During the year it is important to give students charts, graphs, cartoons, quotes, and other data sources and have the students respond to these in writing. At this point in the year, a short lesson on reading charts and graphs would be a good reminder of these skills. It is also good to go do a short lesson on analyzing political cartoons and give students examples.

Sample AP multiple choice questions are not hard to come by. AP Central has 20 or 25 sample questions (see the hyperlink) for you to look at. I have found several useful sites online also. Alisal High School Social Studies Department in California has some great test taking strategies. They break down multiple choice questions into categories and discusses how to answer these types of questions, and have a breakdown of the percent of topics covered on the Exam. I highly recommend looking at this site. I do not know who is responsible for developing the information, but it is very complete and should be helpful to your students.

60 question tests are also available from the many AP study guides available at your favorite book store. The Princeton study guide has the best tests in my opinion. I do not like the Barron's tests as well. The questions are less "APish" and actually more complicated and more difficult than the actual test. Peterson's tests are pretty good and look much like an AP Exam. REA's guide is also good, and they have come up with a CD with tests that are good. I have a small library of these books that I have purchased and lend to the students to use in study groups. Browsing the study guide section of Borders, Barnes and Noble, or local book stores will give you an idea of the large number of offerings available for you to suggest to your students. Sparknotes also has a 4 page quick study guide that I recommend to my kids for the last minute cramming session. It only costs a buck or two and has all the important facts of government in chart form. I suggest to the students to get in groups and quiz each other on facts from the charts.

May4th is fast approaching. We should all be in review mode pretty soon. We have had the year (or for many of you only this semester) to impart knowledge, now it is time to prepare the students for the exam and review those areas most covered by the test. We all have a busy two weeks ahead!! The picture this week is the convention center in Daytona Beach where 600 or so Readers will begin the grading process in the first week of June. If you happen to be there this year look me up. I will be doing a daily blog keeping you posted on what is happening at the reading with pictures and interviews from Readers, Table Leaders, Question Leaders, and hopefully the Chief Reader. Until then...

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