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.)

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