AP changes decrease amount of trivia, increasing enduring understandings

January 23, 2011 — by Evaline Ju

AP Biology book? 1,250 pages. AP US History book? 1,034 pages. Knowing all of that information for the AP tests in May? Probably pretty painful.

Fortunately, the College Board has decided to implement measures that will provide more detailed information on the concepts necessary for AP tests. It hopes to cut down on redundant memorization and “stimulate more analytic thinking.”

For example, the number of multiple-choice questions on the biology tests will be shortened from 100 to 55, while a few free response and math calculation problems will be added.

When the College Board began issuing AP tests in 1956, it used concepts from freshman college courses. However as time passed, contributions to both science and history greatly increased the amount of material that college professors could choose to teach—resulting in a gargantuan amount of information that high school students would need to know to receive college credit.

Some trivial details could be argued as important when looking at small, individual cases. However, when looking at American history over the course of hundreds of years, names like Frank Norris, the writer of the “Octopus,” and John Peter Zenger, a journalist, could be dismissed.

Starting the 2012-2013 academic year the AP Biology and AP US History curriculum will be condensed. Teachers will be given lists of the important concepts along with a guide to what will not be on the tests.

Other science and history programs will receive alterations, only later, possibly in the 2013-2014 year. The College Board is experimenting this year with the AP German and French language courses, while English and math tests have been deemed “manageable” at the moment.

Earlier this year in May the College Board also eliminated the penalty for guessing on AP tests, which deducted ¼ of a point for every incorrect answer. (Sadly, the penalty remains on the SAT.)

The changes are favorable to students, who no longer have to lose sleep over meticulous details of history, though they may not fare as well on Jeopardy.

“I think that [giving more information on the AP tests] allows students to focus their studies on what exactly they are going to be tested,” said junior Vineet Jain, who is taking AP US History this year. “Based on what I’ve heard, APUSH and Bio are the more difficult tests, so it will only help students in doing well.”

Teachers can now avoid cramming in lessons from an entire textbook.

“It’ll be very interesting to see which parts they cut out,” APUSH teacher Kim Anzalone said. She said it would be greatly beneficial if the College Board began to specify time periods for the essay.

The cutting down of multiple choice questions justifies the elimination of the guessing penalty system. Even if students succeed at correctly guessing many problems on the multiple choice questions, they still have to get through the free response questions.

The test may not indeed become “easier” to some, as students may prefer multiple-choice questions to open-ended ones. Yet because of this new system, people can focus on larger ideas and analyze what came from those ideas, instead of pinpointing and memorizing minute names and actions that most students would not remember a few months after the test anyway.

It’s a little disappointing that the College Board will need a few years to implement their changes. While half of the current high school students will not be able to experience the altered AP tests before graduation, younger students have something to breathe a sigh of relief about.