Strong AP teachers begin teaching skills and texts for the exams the first week of the new school year, and they keep at it, month after month, week after week, providing their students meaningful content and activities that will increase the likelihood of their success. And then the last week of April arrives and the test dates are posted on the board, and everyone realizes the end is near. So what do we do this week?
One AP English Literature teacher takes one or two days the week before to put the students in a big circle to talk about “the best book we read this year” or “my favorite writing assignment” or “my strengths and weaknesses in writing,” etc. She gives each student the responsibility of sharing with classmates thoughts on what has transpired during the course. Everyone is held accountable for contributing to the discussion. Another teacher does something similar to hold a last minute review for the Open Question on the AP Literature exam. “I’m going to write about___” or “I hope I can write about___” with an explanation. Circle discussions like these are especially helpful in English classes because they remind all students about details they may have forgotten and they can also motivate some students to revisit pieces of literature prior to the exam. “If my buddy knows the plot and characters of Crime and Punishment that well, maybe I need to take a second look at that novel or another that I might need to write about on Q3.” Or students can work in groups to make posters about specific titles they’ve read and then compete with classmates for the best poster. This process might be used in AP English Language but rather than discuss texts, students might talk about a topic they know a great deal about that might be central to a synthesis question or a persuasive argument question. If students are held accountable for their contributions, a great deal of review can occur as the discussion moves around the circle.
Some teachers really go the extra mile to cheerlead for their kids. One AP Calculus instructor schedules a picnic in a city park on the weekend before the exam. He brings the soda and sandwiches and the kids bring chips and cookies. Sometimes the teacher has a large bakery cake made with a big “5” on it. They all spend time together eating and listening to music and talking, and at some point he takes just a few minutes to offer them last-minute tips on the exam. One year he brought a white board and had the kids work out just one problem together before they could eat. The students have fun and again, they understand how important their performance on the exam is to their instructor.
On the morning of the exam, many AP teachers do a variety of special things for their students. They might have pencils printed with encouragements like “You’re Amazing” or “Focus” or maybe some other catch phrase they’ve used consistently in class all year. Each student walks into the exam with that special pencil for good luck. Maybe they hand out Smarties candy (to remind them of how smart they are) or Lifesavers (in case they feel themselves sinking). Or they might put together small bags with protein bars and bottles of water for the mid-exam break, and include personal notes of encouragement to each student, along with a small toy, stress ball, etc. They might create a funny but inspiring poster that hangs on the door to the testing room so everyone will see it as they enter. Any of this extra attention goes a long way to make kids believe they can be successful on the very difficult challenge which is the AP exam.