Teaching a new test


Galen Alaks

Recently, the AP United States and AP European History tests have been rewritten.

Galen Alaks, Web Editor

For the first time since the test’s creation, the AP United States History test was reformatted last year. This year, the AP European History test followed suit and changed in similar ways. The test has now become more skill-based and is less dependent on memorization. Some students have taken the original test through AP European History and are now able to experience the new test of AP United States History, often referred to as APUSH.

“With AP Euro it was a lot of you either know it or you don’t,” Junior Camila Davila, a veteran of AP European History who is now taking AP United States History, said. “And with APUSH you really can go in depth.”

Most students agree with this statement and see that the test has become more in-depth.

“I think it’s more in-depth on different topics rather than a general sense which was probably more last year [in AP European History]” AP European History and AP United States History Junior student Nick Mascitti said. “Although even last year was in depth.”

The reason for these changes have much to do with the basic memorization required of the original test.

“When I took a seminar this summer, it was on the rewrite of the AP European History exam, which was rewritten this year” AP United States History and AP European History teacher Adam Gibbons said. “The APUSH exam was rewritten last year, but both courses had criticisms in the past. All the session leaders said that the course was a mile wide and an inch deep, and what that meant was the European History and the U.S. History course covered a lot of material but not in depth. It covered a large timespan but people weren’t getting the skills that some wanted them to gain, so the rewrite is an effort to go deeper into certain parts of history but to not cover as much as far as the events go. And so it would be deeper but less wide.”

These changes have led to adjustments in how the AP history classes have been taught.

“I used to rely more on just kind of giving them, giving the students, the information so they could be able recall all the details that were asked on the original test” AP United States History teacher John Fields said. “The test has moved to a more skill-based test, so students still need to know material, but there also has to be a mix of skill development.”

The AP tests have also put greater stress on the writing sections.

“In both Euro and US, there’s a slightly higher percentage of the exam will be based on writing now.” Gibbons said. “And that’s not a bad thing.”

Last year, the AP United States History test started off with a couple issues.

“The problem we had last year was the college board did not do a good job of giving us enough materials” Fields said.

Reactions to the rewritten test have been varied. Some teachers believe the changes are for the better, especially in how the tests are now more skill-based.

“I know that we’re going to go through a period in which the test scores are probably a little lower. But if the test is supposed to prepare you for the next level, then yes it is, it is much, much better,” AP United States History teacher Mark Gouwens said. “Because in college they’re going to ask you to do these kind of things and not just recall facts.”

Some students, however, believe that the questions requiring the use of documents are unnecessary to the test.

“I do not think these are good changes,” Mascitti said. “If the multiple choice is changing to a document-based question format, it turns into more of a skill test than a knowledge test.”

However, some teachers believe that there is still a fair amount of knowledge required for the test.

“I think that the original test relied on too much minutia, too many small details and I think the new test gives a bigger picture of American history, which I like” Fields said. “The difference is instead of just knowing facts, you have to take those facts and apply them.”

Finally, some are still unsure how the changes will impact the test.

“I think it’s too early to tell, I think they can be good, assuming they’re implemented correctly” Gibbons said. “But at the seminar this summer, I got a good feeling about those people, men and women, that rewrote the exam. I got to speak with one of them personally, and he definitely has good ideas about some areas he wants to emphasize in European History. He would say to create many historians in the classroom..”

Some have also appreciated that the test is moving away from solely memorization.

“Not everyone has the skill of being able to memorize things really quickly” Davila said. “I know few people who can take five hundred dates and have them all down and ready by the end of the year, and with APUSH I think it gives those extra people a little more opportunity to try to get the test and understand it, maybe have more of an opportunity to get the answers right if they’re not able to memorize every exact date with every exact person and time period.”

The AP tests may not be done changing. The college board has many different ideas on what to do within the test.

“The AP test has become a very, very political entity where different states are weighing in on it, that they all have their own views. Some want more content, some are unhappy with the content that’s being taught, and some think it should be more skill-based” Gouwens said. “I wish I could say definitively that his format was here to stay but I feel like there are forces acting on the college board that are kind of outside the core academics that should be the focus.”

The AP tests have gone through a drastic period of change leading to mixed reactions. For better or for worse, the test is now different, leading to a new test layout, different teaching styles, and a more skill-based learning style. The test may still experience more changes, but, for now, the rewritten test is here to stay.