Using Practice Exams

bubble-sheetThe multiple-choice exams from 2003, 2008 and 2012 and all the free-response questions and solutions from past years are available online. The students can easily find them. Starting in 2012 the College Board provided full actual AP Calculus exams, AB and BC, for teachers who had an audit on file to use with their students as practice exams. These included multiple-choice and free-response questions. However, the rules about using the exams are quite restrictive. I quote:

AP Practice Exams are provided by the College Board for AP Exam preparation. Teachers are permitted to download the materials and make copies to use with their students in a classroom setting only. To maintain the security of the exams, teachers should collect all materials after their administration and keep them in a secure location. Exams may not be posted on school or personal websites, nor electronically redistributed for any reason. Further distribution of these materials outside of the secure College Board site disadvantages teachers who rely on uncirculated questions for classroom testing. Any additional distribution is in violation of the College Board’s copyright policies and may result in the termination of Practice Exam access for your school as well as the removal of access to other online services such as the AP Teacher Community and Online Score Reports.(Emphasis in original)

Practice exams are a good thing to use to help get your students ready for the real exam. They

  • Help students understand the style and format of the questions and the exam,
  • Give students practice in working under time pressure
  • Help students identify their calculus weaknesses, to pinpoint the concepts and topics they need to brush up on before the real exam.
  • Give students an idea of their score 5, 4, 3, 2, or 1.

Teachers sometimes assign a grade on the exam and count it as part of the students’ averages. The problem is that some of the exams in whole or part have found their way onto the internet. (Imagine.) The College Board does act to remove the exams when they learn of such a situation. Nevertheless, students have often able to, shall we say, “research” the questions ahead of their practice exams or homework assignments. Teachers are, quite rightly, upset about this and considered the “research” cheating.To deal with this situation I offer …

A Modest Proposal

If you give a practice exam, DON’T GRADE IT or count it as part of the students’ average. Don’t grade their homework if you assign the released questions.

Athletes are not graded on their practices; only the game counts. Athletes practice to maintain their skills and improve on their weakness. Make it that way with your practice tests.

Calculus students are intelligent. Explain to them why you are asking them to take a practice exam; how they will use to it maintain their skills, and identify their weaknesses and improve on them, and how this will help them on the real exam. By taking the pressure of a grade away, students can focus on improvement.

Make an incentive of this, by not making students concerned about a grade.

This post is a revision of my post of June 6, 2015. There are some good comment and suggestions from readers of the blog. Check them out here

Next posts:


Tuesday February 28: The Writing Questions on the AP Exams

Friday March 3: Type 1 of the 10 type questions: Rate and Accumulation

Tuesday March 7: Type 2 Linear Motion


(Confession: When I was teaching I often had nothing to base a fourth quarter grade on. The school started after Labor Day and the fourth quarter began about two weeks before the AP exam (and ran another 6 or 7 week after it). Students were required to take a final exam given the week after the AP exam and then they were done. The fourth quarter grade was usually the average of the first three quarters.)







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