Using Free Response Questions to Review for AP Exams

Two new posts in one week!  I have so many things to write about, but finding the time has really been a challenge.  I wanted to write about two things I have tried that might be useful to other AP teachers.  When teachers use released free response questions in class, they often have the kids work the problems as they would the real test and then the teacher goes over the grading standard for each question, explaining how the points would be awarded.  I do this sometimes, but it gets boring really fast.  Kids who are weak are often frustrated and those who are really strong get burnt out.  Below are two ideas for changing things up a little bit.

The first one I would use when we are first beginning our AP review process or if the class is a weaker one.  My students are sitting in desks in straight rows and I hand each student a set of free response questions (Calculus exam has six questions.).  Kids in front row will do question 1, kids in second row will start with question 2, kids in third row will do question 3, etc.  I time them for about 15-17 minutes, telling them they need to do everything they can think of to that ONE problem.  That way, it’s not too overwhelming and they won’t get frustrated if they can’t do much.  After time is up, the timer goes off and everyone in front row will pull together to discuss question 1 and try to come up with a group consensus of the perfect answer.  Second row pulls together in a group to discuss question #2, etc.  I will walk around and give hints if they are stuck or to praise good work or to verify correctness, etc.  The group needs to develop the perfect answer and then make sure that everyone in their group understands that one question well enough to explain it.  If a group finishes early, they can start tackling a second question.  My classes are only 55 minutes so they usually get their one question fully figured out by the end of the period.  For homework, I encourage them to tackle two more questions.  When they arrive for the next class period, I will arrange the students into groups so that one person knows the answer and can explain question #1, another person can explain question #2, etc.  Each person will have a chance to be an “explainer” and they will also have to listen and work along with their classmates as each person takes their turn explaining the problem that they tackled.  I really believe that kids learn math best by having to explain their thinking to others.  This activity really gets a lot of communication going and gets the kids to look carefully through a full set of free response questions.

The second activity is for later in the review process or for a more advanced group of students.  Yesterday, I gave each of my students 3 free response questions to tackle in 45 minutes.  Half of the class had questions 1-3 and the other half had 4-6.  I collected the papers at end of class and scored them last night, noting those kids who got 8 or 9 of the possible 9 points.  In other words, their papers were almost perfect.  Those kids were listed on the board today as “first round explainers.”  They had to get three or four of their classmates and explain that one problem to them thoroughly.  When the time was up (about 20 minutes), they had to assign one of their listeners to be the “second round explainer” and they were free to go and listen to a different problem being explained.  After every round, kids had to get up and go to a different problem group.  I served as “explainer” for some of the really tough problems on which no one did well.  As soon as I explained that problem to five students, I sent them into the next round as “explainers/experts” on that problem.  So basically, everyone in the group is going to really listen and try to understand because they know that in the next round, they might have to explain the problem to their classmates.  They were making copious notes and listening intently!  Because  of the movement and getting to listen to different kids explain, this makes the time go by really fast. Kids won’t get to hear everyone problem during the class period, but they will probably continue getting together outside of class and discussing the problems.  That’s what I hope anyways!

This is a long enough post, so will stop now.  If you have ideas for reviewing for the AP exam, feel free to post a comment.  Thanks for reading!


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