By now, many AP teachers have covered the bulk of their curriculum and are beginning to have students take practice tests or mock AP exams. In this blog post, I will discuss multiple choice (MC) practice. In my next post, I will discuss strategies for free response practice. I try to give my AP Calculus students three practice MC exams, spaced about ten days apart from each other. Of course, we have been doing MC practice here and there throughout the school year, but this will be an entire MC test, under timed conditions. For the first one, I make it as low pressure as possible, assuring them that we are mainly trying to understand the structure of the test, the timing and the breadth and depth of the material being assessed. At this point, I remind them that we haven’t covered all of the material yet so I am not concerned as much with their scores. A 1 is not that big of a deal. Of course, many will score much higher than that, but I want even my weakest students to feel fine about however they do.
Once I return their papers to them, they have about seven to ten days to correct every problem that they didn’t get right. They need to analyze their error: did they not know a particular formula or theorem? Did they make an arithmetic or sign error? As they complete their corrections, they need to identify one or two topics they will study intensely to prepare for the second practice test. They will let me know how they will tweak their testing strategy: work more slowly to avoid careless errors or work faster to get to more problems?
For the second practice test, I set a goal that everyone will move up one grade level from their initial starting score. That means that my weakest students will now shoot to earn at least a 2. This is what self-improvement books call a SMART goal. It is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. Since there is usually a small gap between where a student is and where they need to go, they are motivated to study to hit that first target. After their papers are returned to them, they repeat the corrections process, knowing that in seven to ten days, we will be doing our final mock exam. I challenge everyone to again move up one level in their score, so that now the target is a 3. They understand they will need to again learn from that practice test and plan to achieve at least a score of 4 on the real exam. Not all of my students will meet that goal, but that’s okay. If they fall short, they will still have learned a lot of material and be much better equipped to succeed in college.
As you are preparing students to succeed on the AP exam, you might want to read a previous post (April 6, 2010) I wrote about having students write a study plan. I have spent most of today reading my students’ study plans and am confident that we will enjoy another successful year on the AP exam.