Creating A Better AP Test (Part 4): the AP Number Labels

This is the final installment of our “Better AP Test” series. If you’ve missed the first three parts, you can catch them here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

I promised I’d cover them: the infamous AP sticker book. Yes, for those of you not aware, you actually get a small booklet with 18 or so labels on a sticker sheet inside.

What’s the problem with that, you ask? Isn’t using a bar-code sticker sort of a good idea? DON’T YOU LIKE STICKERS?! WHO DOESN’T LIKE STICKERS?!

So, let me just say: yes, it is. It’s an absolutely brilliant advancement that I’m sure speeds up scoring and also removes entirely the need for students to bubble in anything. Since you’re probably dead-tired as you read this, let me redirect you to that last part: “removes entirely the need for students to bubble in anything.”

I mean, after you’ve bubbled in your info once, and it’s tied to your label, why do you still need to bubble in your name, school, grade, date, blood type, etc. on every test you take? Shouldn’t the label solve for all that?

Now, you might argue that if you use the AP number label and bubble in your name, it helps prevent scoring errors. And you’re probably right. But, really, if you can’t manage to place a sticker in a clearly outlined and labeled box, then you probably shouldn’t be taking an advanced placement test anyways.


Well, that concludes our 4-day series on reforming the entire way we take AP tests. While I’d love to hang these 95 (minus 91) theses on the door of CollegeBoard come Halloween, CollegeBoard’s security would probably keep me from getting too close. At the very least, however, I’ll leave you with this: the tune to “Yellow Submarine,” stuck in your head for a week.

Of course, if four posts in four days wasn’t enough for you, you should check out the greatness we posted last year in May.

Creating A Better AP Test (Part 3): the Atmosphere

This is part 3 of a series on creating a better AP test. If you’re just tuning in, or missed a post, you should read the first and second parts, well, first and second.

While turning the AP test process into a live musical would go a long way into making it almost bearable, that isn’t the only reason you become instantly depressed as soon as you sit down in the testing room. Another problem is the general atmosphere.

Normally, for any other test, you’d sit in a familiar classroom, sitting close enough to your peers that you can make jokes about how little you each studied. (“Dude, I went home and slept for six hours! Then I woke up, and went to bed! I’m so ruined for this test.” “Man that’s nothin’, I went home and actually un-learned half the info, then ate seventeen burgers, and then partied with my pet bird all night. I’m totally gonna fail hahaha.”)

For AP tests, however, you’ll sit alone at a table or desk, far enough away from your peers that a cruise ship, and half the Atlantic Ocean, could fit between you.

Now, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing as far as anti-cheating policies go, but it makes it pretty lonely and depressing.

Obviously, then, CollegeBoard should take a page from the “How to Keep Dental Patients from Screaming Every Six Seconds: For Dummies” book. If you’ve ever been to a dentist’s or orthodontist’s, you’ll notice they’ll have seasonal decorations all over the place. Sure, they’re usually left over from a season or two ago, but as they drill that tooth it’s still nicer to look at smiling, sunglass-wearing suns rather than plain gray walls as the snow piles up outside.

I mean, CollegeBoard isn’t exactly poor; they’ve got a literal monopoly on the AP test business, SAT market, and oil industry*. Surely they could afford to buy some crepe-paper and paper cut-outs to decorate the room with. The only downside I can see is that some students might try to hang themselves with the crepe paper during the FRQ section, but that’s why they make crepe paper so flimsy.

*Surprisingly, few people seem to know this. Perhaps because some people don’t think it’s true.

Tomorrow we’ll post the final installment to this earth-shattering series, and the part you’ve all been waiting for: the AP Number Labels. (Update: it’s been posted.)

Creating A Better AP Test (Part 2): the Proctor’s Dialogue

This is part two of our brief set of posts on how the AP test system could be improved. If you haven’t read the first part yet (about fixing the FRQs), I’d suggest you read that first.

The FRQ section might be bad, but at least it doesn’t come until the end of the test. First comes the half-hour of bubbling, but, worse even than that, comes the required speech.

Now I understand that being an AP test proctor isn’t the most glamorous of jobs. It’s probably somewhere right between “Garbage Collector” and “Speaker of the House.” I don’t expect the proctor to be as happy as an NFL cheerleader, nor as excited as a local news crew that just received some “BREAKING NEWS” about who stole the cookies from the cookie jar (probably the Free Syrian Army).

But when the speech that the proctor must give is about as depressing as running out of gum on a Thursday morning, it doesn’t help things.

For those not familiar with the speech, it goes something like this. Obviously, this dialogue is paraphrased, because possession of any official CollegeBoard document outside of the testing room is an international violation of human rights:

(For re-creation purposes, read this in the voice of that slimy green secretary from “Monsters, Inc.” if possible.)

“Turn to page one on your answer booklet. Do not open your official test packet yet. Take an AP Number Label* and place it in the blue box on your answer booklet where it says ‘Place AP Number Label Here.’ Move on to section A. It says to read the statement. Read the statement. Then sign your name and date. Do not open your official test packet yet. Move on to section B. It says to write the school code. Write the school code. The school code is behind me on the board. Move on to section C. Since you likely can’t read, it says to fill in your name. Fill in your name. Move on to section D. It says to fill in the test start time. You buffoons probably can’t tell time either so I’ll tell you that the test will begin at 8 AM. Do not open your official test packet yet. Move on to section F…”

*to be addressed later. I promise.

By section “J,” you’re usually suppressing a scream that’s a combination of your frustration at being treated like a baby and your hyper-ness from drinking eight coffees that morning.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. No, I suggest we re-write the proctor’s required dialogue to be a cheerful song. Sure, this might somehow aid in cheating on the AP music theory exam, but otherwise it’s a brilliant idea:

(To be sung to the tune of “A Yellow Submarine,” since it’s a song you should know.)

“On page one, your answer sheet
Place a label, nice and neat
Now move on, to section A
Read the statement, sign name and day
Next please shift, to section B
Write the school code, that’s behind me
Then segue, to section C
Fill your name in, then go to D

Make sure that you don’t open your test book
Don’t open your test book, don’t open your test book (x2)…”

Overall, I think stress levels would go down, happiness would go up, and someone would make a killing on the royalty payments. For an extra five dollars an hour, the proctor could even play the guitar while singing. Heck, you’d make the kids not taking the AP test jealous of the party going on inside.

Now we’ve fixed the proctor’s dialogue and the FRQ system, but the atmosphere of AP tests still leaves much to be desired. And you know what that means–we’ll be back tomorrow with a brilliant solution. (Update: you can catch the third part here.)

Creating a Better AP Test

FunnyAPTestOkay, ladies and gentle-teens*, it’s no secret that we haven’t posted for most of May. Those of you who’ve followed this blog since it was conceived way back in 2011 know that’s fairly unusual.

*Legal disclaimer: there is no such thing as a gentle male teen. Never stick your fingers through the bars at a male teen, even if he has just been fed.

I’m not, however, about to apologize. Why? Well, first of all, “apologize” isn’t in the lexicon of a teenager. (Neither is “lexicon,” so I’m not really sure how that works). Secondly, because I’m about to propose changes to our AP test system so bold that the font is bold. Ladies and not-so-gentle-teens, let me give you: A Better AP Test.

Yes, you read that right. I’m proposing that I might know something more than the entire AP test system. In reality, it’s probably because I’m too ignorant to realize some fatal flaw in the plans, but I’d like to think it’s because my sleep-deprived brain is more intelligent than the fifty buzzards and half-a-dozen people that run the AP tests.

But don’t be too surprised. Chances are, you’ve taken—or at least heard the horror stories about—AP tests. You know that they are far from perfect. How hard could it be to improve them?

The FRQs

By far, the worst part of most AP tests is the FRQ section. That fact alone has led to a number of profane false-acronyms for the letters FRQ, all of which are too graphic to reprint on this blog*. If you didn’t know, FRQ stands for “Free-Response Question.”

*Okay, fine. Parents, cover your eyes. FRQ: Frivolous Ridiculous Question. Or, FRQ: Fictional Redundant Quiches. Or, if you live in the inner city, FRQ: Fuhcryinoutloud, Restless Quilts!

The main problem with the FRQs is that they must be handwritten, and that’s a big deal. Most teens haven’t handwritten anything longer than their names in the past six years, and some people, with long names like Frederickson or Anishamashkavysch, just carry around a pocket typewriter instead. Since the FRQs are generally two hours of nonstop writing, it’s no wonder that our wrists end up sporadically twitching like a dying rat by the end of the test.

To add to that handwriting anxiety, the FRQs must be handwritten in pen, not the pencils we’re so used to. What’s a pen, you might ask? I don’t really know. I haven’t seen one outside of a natural history museum, although I think/hope I remembered to use one on the AP test. (Since I blacked out promptly afterwards, I can’t recall).

The point I’m trying to make is: you’re using your hand to write, which you haven’t done since you were in third grade, and you’re using a pen, which hasn’t been the writing implement of choice since your parents were in third grade.

How can we fix this? The solution is pretty obvious: a federally mandated education program that emphasizes pen skills and handwriting endurance. Since that violates the whole “cruel and unusual punishment” part of the Bill of Rights, though, I propose a backup solution: typing the FRQs.

Backup solution? Shouldn’t that be the more logical first choice, you ask? Not at all. In fact, this solution would be hard to convince people of. For example purposes, let me give you a possible conversation between an opponent and myself:

Opponent: You can’t let people use computers! That places an unfair emphasis on people with computers at home!

Me: You can’t let people use pens! That places an unfair emphasis on people with pens at home!

Opponent: Yes, but pens are cheaper. It’s easier to get a pen to practice with.

Me: True, but pens are from the Stone Age. You’re discouraging technological advancement. People like you are the reason why we haven’t yet invented 4-D printers.

Opponent: That doesn’t make any logical sense.

Me: So?

As you can see, it could be difficult to get CollegeBoard to adopt a computer-based FRQ.

In addition to the possible wealth bias, if we could type the FRQs you could see:

  • FRQs getting hacked by the Free Syrian Army (FSA)
  • Problems arising when 5% of the computers crash after an hour, due to running Windows 1748
  • future PTSD attacks brought on by the sound of many people typing loudly
  • An increase in cancer, ebola, and E.coli deaths
  • A war with Switzerland

Although my answer to every one of those problems remains “So?”—except to the part about the FSA hacking essays, to which my answer is, “Awesome! I hope they know all about the Great Depression!”—I don’t think that people will be too receptive.

Therefore, that brings me to the third, and best, option: just eliminate the FRQ section altogether. That would transform a four-hour grueling examination into a 60- or 90-minute get-out-of-class-free test. After all, how could the FRQ section have a single problem if it didn’t exist? By definition, it’s perfect.

To make up for our absence during May, the brutal AP test month, this post is quite long and will be broken up into parts over the next few days. Check back tomorrow to read all about how to revise the Proctor’s official instructions. (Here’s the link to the now-posted Part 2: The Proctor’s Dialogue.)