The Top 5 Misconceptions about the New AP Euro Exam
The Top 5 Misconceptions about the New AP Euro Exam
We talk to a lot of AP Euro students these days. We've discovered that many of them have misconceptions about the new exam and how to study for it. Here are the top 5 misconceptions that we're hearing from AP Euro students across the country, followed by the truth about each topic.
#1: Essay scores are a game of chance.
Misconception: You can't count on the essay section for a high score because the score you get is based on the opinion/interpretation of that one reader.
Truth: We work very closely with AP readers, one of whom is Tony Maccarella. We asked Tony, author of the recently released Mastering the Essay for AP European History (for the new AP exam) to respond to this common AP Euro misconception. Maccarella explains how essay scoring works: "The AP readers who score your essays are high school teachers and college professors—people not often known for their mysterious origins. Even less mysterious are the standards by which the essays are assessed." Tony went on to explain that the the College Board® (the organization that writes the AP exam) has created very clear guidelines for assessment, and the test-makers spend many hours training each reader to apply these standards accurately and consistently when scoring the essays. Maccarella added, "In fact, your essay will almost certainly receive the same score regardless of which of the AP readers assesses it."
#2: The multiple-choice section is the only part of the exam that I can actually study for.
Misconception: Because the multiple-choice section is not open to the interpretation of some random people, I'm relying on it to carry my score.
Truth: You will not score high on the exam by doing really well on the multiple-choice section. Let's look at some stats released by the College Board® themselves. Did you know, for instance, that more than half of all students who scored a 4 or 5 on the old AP exam actually scored lower than 60% on the multiple-choice section (the part of the test in which content seems to matter most)? This means that the majority of students whose scores qualify them for college credit get almost half of the multiple-choice questions wrong. They did, however, score 7–9 on each of their three essays.
At the same time, many students who scored better than 50% on the multiple-choice section ended up getting a score of less than 4 on the exam overall if their essay scores were low. The bottom line: the key to a great score on the AP exam is good writing! So please, do not rely on the multiple-choice section to carry your score. It simply doesn't have the scoring potential to carry that sort of weight, even if you get the majority of questions right.
#3: I'm terrified about how much info I need to memorize!
Misconception: I am going to spend the bulk of my time studying details (dates, names, places) and using memorization techniques to try and remember enough information to score high on the multiple-choice section.
Truth: First, let's tackle the deepest fear expressed by most AP European History students—I won't be able to memorize enough details for the MC section of the exam. The reality is that nobody knows enough. Most of the highest scoring students in the country barely get half of the multiple-choice questions correct. So how do they get those 4s and 5s? It's simple. Writing!
Great essays add up to great scores.
Secondly, the new exam is testing your ability to think like a historian. While this will of course involve having knowledge of historic events and details, the real emphasis is on thinking. The new exam is focused on testing a student's abilities to think critically about history (i.e., like a historian). As a result, the new exam is more writing and less dependence on multiple-choice style questions.
#4: Details matter more than writing ability.
Misconception: I am not being tested on my ability to write, therefore, it's much more important that I know details (dates, names, places) than it is that I am able to write a grammatically correct or clear and concise response.
Truth: This is partially true and partially false. True: You are not being tested on your ability to spell or write beautiful, or even grammatically correct sentences. HOWEVER, you will have to be able to communicate your knowledge through writing. So, although you will not be under the subject-verb agreement scrutiny experienced in English class, you will have to develop statements that directly respond to specific prompts. Doing this—developing your thesis/argument—especially under the time constraints of the exam, will require practice. Precise writing in response to a prompt does not come naturally to even some of the best writers. Exam readers, including Tony Maccarella, report that many students who do not practice responding to a specific prompt can receive devastating scores as a result. They often lament the students who score low, despite writing impressive, strong, and sometimes eloquent essays that simply did not answer the question.
It's false that it's more important to know details than it is to be able to write a strong response. Yes, you do need to study facts—there is no mistaking that—but this is not where your sole focus should fall. Again, the new exam is focused more on critical thinking, not memorization, evidenced by the new document analysis prompts. The fact that you are now given "documents," which in and of themselves will offer many details, speaks to the fact that the redesigned exam is not all about recall.
#5: I can cram for this.
Misconception: In the last few weeks before the exam, I will really start cramming. I'm thinking flash cards.
Truth: You are insane. Did you skip over misconceptions 1 through 4? This is not a test for which you can cram. You'll only retain a fraction of what you need to know and you will very likely tank this thing.
Now read 1-4 again and start practicing writing and don't stop. You'll have a much better chance of retaining details that you cover in your practice essays than stuff you put on flash cards.