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AP US History course

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I need some advice and/or encouragement (or not) about our AP US History plans.


My dd is in 10th grade and I decided she was ready for APUSH this year for a few reasons:

1. She's a very good standardized test-taker.

2. She's a good writer, and at least in our literature program (primarily Lightning Lit) she can quickly identify the "point" and write about it with few grammatical or stylistic problems.

3. We wanted to do US History this year and I didn't want to do it in 10th grade and then again in 12th.


I carefully researched and planned, and created a syllabus based on other AP teachers' syllabi posted online. I'm fairly confident that we're doing all the preparation needed for the exam (although I admit I don't know what those other AP teachers do for the 3-5 hours a week of classroom time they have...we are doing the textbook readings, supplemental readings, and practice questions).


We're about halfway through and running into major problems with the practice essays. Dd frequently claims she doesn't understand the question, or is not prepared for it based on the readings. We are timing the essays, but not limiting her time, just so we can see how she's doing. She's typically taking about 10 minutes longer than the times allowed by the exam for each essay type. (that is, AFTER I've concerned her that she DOES understand the question and IS prepared to write an essay on the topic). I am starting to wonder if we are wasting our time in pursuing the exam this year. My hubby thinks dd just might not be mature enough to synthesize the information and spit it out into an essay. Some of the questions are "explain" a topic that is described in the textbook and she does OK on those. But others are "evaluate" a topic that requires the student to come up with something that may not have been laid out in the text in a 5-paragraph essay outline form.


Has anybody had a similar experience with these essays? What advice can you offer me?



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Karen, she jots down ideas, then writes an outline.


Here's a little more info:


I'm afraid this is one of those classes (like French, which she just finished her 2nd semester at the local CC!) that I cannot teach. I honestly have no idea if, once she's churned out an essay, the answer is something the college board graders are looking for.


Another problem is the pace of the course, with the heavy reading & essay-writing load which must be done by May 8.


My alternate plan, if we decide not to do the AP test, is to pull back just a little on her weekly work. I would stretch the class until the end of May instead of having to finish by the end of April. I would reduce the essay requirements to 2 for every unit instead of 3. (a unit is approx. 2 weeks). And I would get a SAT II test prep book, with a view toward taking that in June.


It sounds like I've already talked myself out of having her take the AP exam, but I am really considering all the options now and would welcome suggestions.

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He also wanted to take it this year, partly so that he could "get it out of the way" and focus on APs in science and calculus as a junior and senior. All of the factors you cite-good test taker, OK writer, also apply.


I too am re-evaluating whether to have him test. The scope of the course, the fact that he doesn't love history so hasn't done any extra work, the fact that he withdrew from school at the end of July so that I am NOT prepared to teach this, and he did NO work over the summer for this class, are all hurting us.


I am finding he needs more preparation in writing to a prompt. Some essays are quite good, others, not so much. I am finishing with Jensen's with him and am searching for a writing tutor to start in January. I think what my ds needs, and maybe also your dd, is help in understanding what is being asked for in an essay.


Have you looked at the College Board's prior exams with sample essays? When I read the good ones I am struck by their acceptance of good answers, not brilliantly written. They care more about mastery of the material than good writing. For this reason, I am increasing my focus on review of history material we have already covered, reading more intensively this semester, and trying out some practice exams soon. Good luck!

Edited by Catherine
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The essays on AP exams are scored on a rubric. The rubrics are available on the CollegeBoard site or I can dig them up from when we did them. The writing doesn't have to be brilliant to hit the requirements laid out in the rubric for scoring.


I have to run but I've had 2 sophomores successfully take the AP US History exam so I can talk more to these items. They also completed AP European history (as a freshman), AP Psychology (freshman/sophomore) and others. This can be done.


I'll be back on later tonight.

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It is important to understand that the responses to the "free response" and "document-based question" prompts on these exams will generally not look like your standard English paper type essay. Trying to get that kind of out put from your student will be frustrating for both you and them.


If you haven't already done so, do 2 things:


1) Go to the College Board web site and look at some of the high-scoring responses to the prompts on previous exams.


2) Get a good prep book for the AP exam. My daughters used the Princeton Review book as well as the AMSCO book by Newman and Schmalbach.


3) Plan to have your student finish their main study well in advance of the May testing date. I mean weeks in advance. The time in between will be spent honing their ability to write to such prompts, reviewing their notes and going over one or more exam prep books.


AP US History essay grading rubric

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This is the son of JFS, also a JFS. I am a Junior currently taking an A.P.U.S. course and have already taken A.P. World and A.P. European. I know what your dd is going through and it can be a pain. A.P. History essays usually follow a typical format:


Unless the question asks otherwise, you usually must cover SOCIAL, POLITICAL, and ECONOMIC results in your body paragraphs. LEAVE OUT ALL (or almost all) ENGLISH 'FLUFF' AND FANCY WRITING TOOLS.

Finally, a conclusion is not absolutely vital for history essays, as it merely repeats what is said in the body paragraphs. During the A.P. test, be sure you get all your essays written down first, then, if you have time, you may add nice little conclusions to your essays. Make sure they go in well with your essays or they WILL hurt your score.

Freshman and Sophomore year I took advantage of these two powerpoints at pptpalooza.net:

How to do an AP US DBQ and How to do an AP Euro DBQ


The best thing to do is to read other essays, understand how they work, and if an AP instructor is not around, compare them with yours.


If necessary, do not limit your dd's time at all. Make it an overnight assignment or break the essay into bits, do it one part at a time, and have it evaluated before you move on. You just have to get used to it. Good luck!!!


Mom added - son JFS got a 4 on each of his AP tests as a 9th and 10th grader. He knows of what he speaks. :-) and is aiming for a 5 this year on AP US History.

Edited by JFSinIL
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Thanks so much for the responses. It was encouraging to hear from "Son of JFS". :)


One BIG thing I was missing was the sample essays at the college board web-site. I thought I had everything covered because I had downloaded all of the past exams that are available at the student section of the site. I had no idea that graded student responses were available at the teacher section of the site. For anybody else who is looking for this, it's here:

past essays w/ student responses


We are going to stick with our breakneck pace for now, aiming to take the exam in May. So if we decide not to take it, she can always sit for the SAT II US History later.

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OC Mom -


Thank you SO much for posting the link to the sample essays! I couldn't figure out how to get to the "teacher stuff" on the College Board website. Now that you've let us in the back door, how do you get in the front? Do you have to send in a syllabus and get approved before you can log on as a teacher?




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