AP Exam Questions on Chapter Tests?!?

AP Exam questions should not be used on chapter tests early in the school year except possibly as extra credit. This practice of using “trick questions” too early damages students’ confidence when they are trying to master material for the first time.

This article will be relatively short, but possibly not so sweet.

I frequently see challenging AP exam questions appear on classroom chapter tests.  This practice is common in both math and science AP classes.

These questions typically are rather involved, multi-step problems and require a level of subject mastery that only comes with time and practice.  Unfortunately I see questions of this nature appear on chapter tests as early as the first test of the school year!

My feeble understanding is that chapter tests are designed to assess a student’s mastery of the material in the chapter just completed, not to test their ability to synthesize knowledge from the entire course, particularly when the course has just begun!

The results of this practice are not pretty.  Students often become frustrated; they begin the year with low grades, and they doubt their ability to recover and learn the subject.

A student’s GPA is much more important to them than their AP test scores, so why do teachers engage in this practice??  I frequently hear students mention that teachers want to “keep up their AP pass rates,” but teachers supposedly receive no compensation or reward for doing this.  Something does not add up…

Are teachers trying to wash students out of their class early to lower class sizes or teachers’ workloads?

Are teachers trying to drop students “for their own good” early because students sign up for too many AP classes?

Do teachers think this practice challenges students appropriately?  When I taught and gave tests, if my students did poorly, I would always ask myself if I was at fault and needed to reteach a topic.  AP classes tend to just “keep on truckin’.”

I’d really like to hear the thinking behind this practice if anyone dares to speak publicly.

I am all in favor of challenging students, but my entire purpose in teaching is to encourage students to take up math and science as a profession, not make them hate the subjects!!  A properly designed challenge problem on a test should make a student stretch, but not always fail utterly.  Save the really difficult problems for homework where there is less time pressure!

Early in the school year, these AP exam questions are usually too much of a stretch, so, if they absolutely have to be included on a chapter test (which I doubt), why not make them extra credit problems instead of using them to trash students’ grades?

Later in the year these questions are fair game, but putting them on chapter tests in the first part of the first semester is a dubious pedagogical practice.

We will not train a new generation of scientists and engineers if students have to recover from a failed beginning via a constant grind through a series of trap-filled tests.  This does not promote love of the subject material!

Parents, please take the time to get involved with your child’s education and learn what is going on!  Talk to your kids and see if they are impacted by this practice.  If it does not seem fair to you, then please speak up!

As I mentioned in my previous article, the AP curriculum is interesting and challenging, but I often think that we would be better off if teachers just taught the subject material, gave classroom tests, and chucked the national exam.  That way they could proceed at a rate suitable to the abilities of the students in their class (and would not waste most of the month of May after the AP exam!).

The Educational Testing Service would not be happy about this though (to the tune of $90/student!).  And how would students get into Ivies?!?!?

Hmm… despite my “love of learning” naiveté, two of my students from last year are now at Cornell 😉 .



Author: David Kristofferson

Retired Ph.D. scientist, teacher (after retiring from industry, taught in private and public high schools and then worked a decade in my own private tutoring business), bioinformatician (managed both the NIH-funded GenBank National Nucleic Acid Sequence Databank and the BIONET National Computer Resource for Molecular Biology), IT director at Eos and Raven Biotechnologies, software product manager, AAAS Fellow, avid cyclist, and backpacker!

2 thoughts on “AP Exam Questions on Chapter Tests?!?”

  1. Although we have managed to keep “rewards and compensation” for certain results out of the picture for teachers locally, that doesn’t mean we are not under pressure to produce certain results. Test scores are public. AP pass rates were a source of pride and ratings for a school many years ago, and I’m sure they still are. No one wants their students or their school to appear not to be achieving, and the pressures within and between schools can be very intense for teachers. This can sometimes distort good teaching practice. Also, just a guess that they may be having a hard time finding /creating examples of the multi step reasoning we are now trying to develop, and so use AP practice questions to get it going as well as to provide more familiarity with the process. Just maybe.


    1. Thanks for your perspective, Laurie.

      Just to be clear, I am not opposed to using AP exam questions on in-class chapter tests at some point during the school year, but definitely not early first semester. Every year I see students who start off poorly because they bomb the first one or two chapter tests due to the inclusion of AP exam questions on tests that should cover the beginning material. The rest of the semester then becomes a struggle to get their grades back up. From most students’ perspective, their class grades matter *much more* to them than their AP test scores, and it concerns me that this testing practice ignores that priority.

      These students are usually perfectly capable of learning the material, but just need a bit more initial guidance before they “get the hang of it” as compared to the class geniuses. If our goal is only to cater to the class geniuses and trash everyone else, then we should not be surprised when our society bifurcates into the “1%” and the “99%.” By promoting the very fast-paced AP system as a measuring tool to get into highly selective colleges, we run the risk of educating primarily the top and leaving the rest of society behind.

      I have no illusions that my solitary protest will change this practice, but I hope at least that teachers who read this will think twice before they write their next exam….


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