AP Exams Will Change the Courses of History

Madison Alvarado, Staff Writer

Change is coming to Miramonte in the form of a new Advanced Placement US History test this year and Advanced Placement European History test next year. Throughout the country, the AP Euro and APUSH courses will be altered to reflect the Common Core philosophy of learning and understanding rather than memorizing.

The goal of changing AP history tests is not only to align them with new Common Core standards, but also to allow students to learn and discuss more important topics in greater detail during class instead of cramming to memorize every fact for the AP exam at the end of the year.

In previous years, APUSH and AP Euro exams had a total of 80 multiple choice questions that could be about anything in the curriculum, as well as two essays and one Document Based Question (DBQ). This year, the APUSH exam will consist of 55 multiple choice questions, four short answers, one essay, and one DBQ.

Instead of having questions on specific historical facts, multiple choice questions will have a stem. Stems are prompts to go with questions, whether they be a picture, graph, map, or quotation. Three to five questions will be based off of each stem. In addition to this, the writing portions of the exam will be on topics that appear more often in class or the textbook.

In past years, some students have been able to earn a passing score on AP tests by memorizing endless streams of facts, rather than developing an understanding of the material. Although this is not the most effective way of learning, it seemed like the best way to get a high score on the test which consisted of questions on random pieces of information.

“Students try to memorize everything, so instead of learning history you learn a bunch of facts,” AP Euro teacher Paul Fitzgerald said. “The changes are going to benefit the students who really want to learn history.”

Classes everywhere will hopefully include more discussions and writing with less “busywork,” to give students a chance to learn more.  By changing the course and test, students will be able to absorb more information and grasp different concepts as well as discuss concepts in greater detail during class. These changes reflect the Common Core philosophy of teaching students how to think critically about subject matter, and not just memorize facts. Teachers hope that with these course and test changes they will be able to dedicate additional time to topics they deem more important, instead of allowing equal time for every single section in the textbook.

“Traditionally in APUSH and Euro you had to read everything because you didn’t know what the multiple choice questions would be, which put a burden on the students and teachers to make sure you covered every subject somewhat,” Fitzgerald said. “The really important stuff and the less important stuff had the same amount of time.”

The overall goal of improved tests and courses is to benefit students and give them a better understanding of what they’re being taught. However, the Miramonte student population has differing opinions on whether these changes will have positive or negative effects.

“I think I would rather have the traditional version of the test because some of my personal strengths are memorizing facts and regurgitating them in essays, but I think for a lot of people it will be easier and better for learning,” sophomore Kati Tuemmler said.

“It makes me a little nervous because people haven’t had that much trouble with the AP test in past and now that it’s changed it may be more difficult. I’m also nervous because it’s a different format from the AP Euro test,” junior Eleanor Roeder said.

Making these changes will be a gradual process, but it has already begun in the Acalanes Union High School District. Teachers will need to be trained in this new way of learning. Several APUSH teachers met last year to discuss these changes and develop new questions for their own classes.