Saturday, June 18, 2011

Observations of a first-time AP exam reader shared on the AP Physics EDG by James von Steen, physics teacher at Southwest Guilford High School in High Point, North Carolina. His note is reprinted here with the author's permission.

It's important to note that the author's intent is not to deride test-takers for common mistakes, but rather to describe the observations he made as a first-time AP Physics exam reader (grader).
After a 5 year wait, I final received the opportunity to become an AP reader. My primary goal was to learn as much as I possibly can to become a better teacher. Here are things I noted.

1. A lot of students thought that work is always positive (never negative).

2. A lot of students thought W = F x t , W = F / d , W = F x v and F = mat.

3. If a student put down the correct numerical answer, but showed no work, they could get 0 pts and 1 pt at most.

4. A student could have math errors and still get maximum points.

5. On an FBD, if the directions say “on the dot below” draw the force vectors …., If the student draws force vectors that don’t touch the dot (even though they are correctly labeled and pointed in the correct direction), they could lose credit (I learned this one at the lunch table).

6. Readers don’t like grading the lab question.

7. I’m going to tell my students when “Justification” is requested, use formulas and calculations to justify your answer as oppose to words. The more words they write the more likely the reader is going to over look a correct answer. Example: W = F x d = -15 J (easy to spot and give credit) as oppose to ”Work equals forces times distance which will be a negative numbers” (hard to spot especially embedded in a lot of text). I looked back now and wonder if I missed giving some desiring students credit.

8. Don’t use the word “it”. I don’t know what “it” is. I saw students write “it is decreasing”. I don’t know if “it” meant acceleration, velocity or my bank account after the children are born.

9. A lot of students thought work was a vector.

10. Watch out for the decimal point in the given. The problem was given 0.40 kg and a lot of students wrote F = ma = (4)(2) = 8 N and missed an easy point.

11. “Check” the box(es). Some students didn’t do any work but checked the correct spaces and got credit and (sadly) one student got no credit because he/she check no boxes even though they stated the correct box to be checked and had the correct justification (we have to go by the rubric).

12. I thought that the students didn’t have to memorize any numbers, but the only way to answer the very last problem of the exam 6. d) ii) is they had to memorize the wavelengths of visible light. I was told it is in the “acorn” book, but I couldn’t find it. Which makes me think that there are other numbers out there that my students are require to memorize.

13. It looks like the AP Physics redesign will be a step backwards. I didn’t hear anybody liking it public or privately. I’m luckier than most. I’m able to get the whole curriculum in but my students will take 2 exams for 6 hours instead of 1 exam for 3 hours (and yes they paid for both). I can see the redesign killing some AP physics programs and overall less students taking the exam.

14. The food was “ok” (not as great as I heard it was). I got tired of recycled green beans, lettuce and potatoes every day.

15. I met a lot of smart people that I learned from. I hope they ask me back next year.
Responses to von Steen's post indicated some variation of interpretation among readers. But the variations were relatively subtle.

You tend to see things when you're a wide-eyed first-timer that you don't always see when you're a sage veteran. And this first-timer was willing to share. Students might appreciate these insights as they go into the exam in May.


Tatnall Physics said...

Is there actual information about the redesign out?

Dean Baird said...

Not yet as far as I know. We're left to ponder and speculate. What seems clear is that there will be two AP Physics B courses, the first course (B1) and the second course (B2). The Speculatron says B1 will be heavy on mechanics and B2 will sweep up the remains.

Tatnall Physics said...

How is everyone so down on it, then, if we don't even know what's going to happen?

Dean Baird said...

It's a change. If you're happy with the status quo, you'll likely have a predisposition to not liking the redesign. (If it ain't broke...).

I am of the opinion that it is broke (too many topics taught too many places as a first-year course). But I'm concerned over what seems likely to be the remedy. That is, one course of mechanics and a second course of everything else. That would make it unworkable in California.

Additional misgivings arise from the fact that the timeline for any kind of a rollout keeps getting pushed back further and further.

Tim Trotta said...

I have been wondering about the redesign as well. I am the only physics teacher at my school (enrollment around 575). I would like to modify our physics curriculum and courses we offer. However, I have been waiting for the redesign. Will students be able to take the AP Physics B1 and B2 Exams in the same year? If so, it seems these students will have to pay more than they do now. Also, what kind of college credit will the new courses be equivalent to? Right now, the B level courses amount to an introductory level (non-calculus based) course. Has the AP address if the new setup will be the equivalent of 3 credits for B! and 3 credits for B2? Do colleges even want this change or are they resisting it/not looking forward to it?

Just wondering your thoughts since you seem to have an insight into this. I also have thought about being a grader. I've heard it really helps prepare the teacher for future years.