Monday, May 12, 2014

Reviewing for the AP Exam

Throughout the year, the other AB teacher and I introduced kids to past AP questions through different homework assignments and assessments.  I’ll probably blog about that at some point, but this post is about what we did during our review weeks.  We finished covering new material just before spring break.  This gave us about six weeks of review time before test day.

If you haven’t registered for Remind101, you need to.  You can send texts to your students from a number other than your own, and they can’t text you back.  It’s magical.  Also, you can schedule texts.  HEAVEN.  So, starting three weeks before the test, I would send out a quick question at 4:00 PM.  Then at 4:30, I’d send out the answer.

Actually, I dropped the ball on this the last week, but I did get two weeks’ worth of texts in!  This is my message history starting on the day I began sending these texts.  You may want to read from bottom to top as the history shows the most recent text first:

Free Response by Topic
We started our review by using Lin McMullin’s Topical Review.  Lin has organized past FRQs into various categories (or topics)[1].  It’s a great way to ease the kids into review mode.  We put 3-4 past questions from the same topic on one sheet for the kids.  They would get fifteen minutes to answer the first question.  Then I would show them the rubric.  I made them grade themselves first (with a different color) and then make corrections.  I think it’s really, really important that they grade their own work.  Then, they would work the remaining 2-3 questions for that topic for homework.  When they got back to class the next day, I would spot check for completion.  It’s important to note that they did not get any kind of traditional grade during this time.  It was basically “A for effort.”  These questions are all over the internet, so if we would have taken these for a grade, I’m certain the vast majority of students would just look up the rubric and copy the answers in their notebooks.  Which totally defeats the purpose.  So, I had to be very ok with limited answers in the beginning…because I’d much rather them try totally on their own and then grade themselves than copy something down they haven’t even truly attempted.  But, that said, I did check every single day for some kind of work, and I would say that the kids really did attempt most of the problems.

When we had a little extra time, I also really liked handing out student samples of a particular question (you can find these on AP Central), and having kids grade the student samples.  It creates fabulous discourse.

Free Response by Year
It took us about two weeks to get through Lin’s five AB topics (we sprinkled some multiple choice review in there, too).  After these two weeks, we went back and printed the last two years of FRQs and we assigned homework in a similar fashion: do one in class, grade it, assign two for homework, and then come back and grade those two in class.  Repeat.  Sure, they had already seen some of these problems, but I actually think that’s a good thing.

Multiple Choice Homework
To me, multiple choice is a lot harder to prepare the kiddos for.  The free response topics are at least somewhat predictable (though, of course not completely).  To me, the best practice for multiple choice is to just have the kids work several sets of them throughout the year.  They really do improve.  But it’s pretty brutal at first.  We would give the kids probably about twenty problems or so at a time and then give them a “first due date,” at which point I’d take a completion grade (looking to see if they showed work for the problems that needed work shown).  Then, I’d give them the solutions and they were to mark the correct answers.  They then were given a “second due date,” in which they needed to correct all missed problems on a clean sheet of paper.  I truly believe that not giving kids time to make corrections, or not showing them what they missed may actually be more harmful than not assigning any homework at all.  It this point in the game, if I took a completion grade, I'd follow it up with a "correctness" grade.

The MC homework sets came from practice books that we have and also from the problems that College Board released in their Course Description.  In addition, I  made this document from the BC Course Description, but I only copied the AB topics:

Multiple Choice Secured Exams
The College Board has some secure exams that you can give your kids, but they can’t leave your classroom.  A good chunk of our review time is during block scheduling (because of state tests), so this is the perfect amount of time to do a full multiple-choice test.  At first, these were not at all for a grade—just practice (and endurance-building).  The last one the kids took, we did take a grade on it, but it was basically a grade booster.  We used this scale:

Multiple Choice Score
What past students with this MC score made on the AP Exam
Grade we put in the gradebook
(out of 100)
Number of my students with this score

I included my results.  As you can see, they’re not stellar. Not atrocious, either, but not stellar.  But, this did help me narrow down my focus that last week or so.  The kids who scored 0-16…at this point, there’s not really much hope for them, let’s be honest.  But the kids in the 17-23 range are totally capable of passing.  They’re the ones that needed just a couple more questions right.  So, they’re the kids I intentionally watched that last week.  I made sure I answered their questions first.  I made sure I gave them extra encouragement.  I made sure they knew I believed they could pass.

After they completed a secure multiple choice exam, the next day I would give them back their test booklets and answer sheets (they used the answer sheet as scratch paper and they were instructed to clearly label all scratch work as we would be going over the correct answers the next day).  I would project the correct answers, they would mark the ones they needed to go back and look through.  And then they would help each other and discuss how they got to the right answer.  If no one could figure out a problem (which was rare), they made a list on the whiteboard, and I would go through these questions at the end.  I think this worked really well.  I don’t think me standing at the SMART Board all hour long lecturing on the most missed problems would have been too beneficial.  The kids really embraced being each others’ students and teachers.  And I think they got a lot more out of it this way.

Mock Exam
So about two and a half weeks before the actual test, we gave a mock exam on a Saturday morning.  We used the latest secure exam given by the College Board.  Out of my 25 calc kids, I had 24 sign up to take the AP test; of these 24, 20 showed up to take the mock exam, which I think is pretty darn good for 8 AM on a Saturday morning.  If the kids scored a solid 3 or higher, I entered a 100% in for their final exam (they already get to waive the final if they take the AP Exam).  I think about half my kids earned this incentive (and keep in mind, we were still more than two weeks out from the actual test).  I had four kids score a 5.  They were given these “trophies”:

While the incentive was a good thing, I think there were two other reasons the kids came:

  1. I told them that May 7 (Exam Day) should NOT be their first experience taking a 3.5-hour calculus test.  They needed to have that experience BEFORE test day.  I reminded them how tired they are after a REGULAR 1-hour calculus test… ;)
  2. I told the kids we’d be going over the mock exam the following Monday, so if they didn’t take the test, they would be behind their peers that day.
We spent a block day going over the mock exam.  This time, I selected the groups (typically I just let them work with the peers they feel comfortable working with).  I told the kids that I put them into groups based on their strengths.  So, each group had someone who was strong at, say, the non-calculator MC, the calculator MC, the non-calculator FRQs, and the calculator FRQs.  What really happened was I just made sure each group had at least one strong student based on the mock exam results.  I also thought about those borderline students and made sure they were placed with strong students who could also explain.  The kids rotated through stations.  Each station was dedicated to either 5-8 MC questions or 2-3 FRQs.  I had enough solutions/rubrics printed off so that everyone in a station could have their own.  Again, I think this is way better than me lecturing at them for two hours.

Night Study Sessions
We had a couple night study sessions.  Kids came with questions, and we went over some FRQs from past “Form B” exams.

Book problems
The week before the exam, I started to feel like we were losing momentum.  Also, I was running out of stuff to do.  So, during my plan one day, I frantically made a list of topics (Limits, Differentiability/Continuity, Derivative Rules, Applications of Derivatives, Integrals, Area/Volume, FTC) and selected problems from the text that corresponded to these topics.  I realize this doesn't cover every topic in Calc AB, but here’s the key:  these were not super difficult problems.  Sure, they were “AP-like” in nature, but they were not super hard.  And, this is EXACTLY what the kids needed.  They worked so steadfastly on these problems.  It was just the boost they needed, while still keeping them focused.

Day before test
The day before the test, we did a few problems; not a ton.  Then we went over some test day instructions (where to meet, what to bring, etc.).  Back in January, when were going over the Washer Method, I gave them each a washer to tape into their notes.  The day before the test, I gave them another one, told them to put it in their pockets in the morning, and every time they felt it, to know that I was thinking about them.  And also to remember to use Washer Method.  Then I read them a funny story from Glennon Melton to get their minds off the test.  And that was that.  That’s all I can do.

Oh, I also gave them a heads up and told them that College Board would release the FRQs Friday afternoon, so we’d be chatting about them Monday.  I think it’s a good idea to let your kids know in advance if that’s something you’re planning on doing.  If you take them by surprise, they might freak and shut down on you.

Feedback from Students
So the test was on a Wednesday.  I didn't have my calc kids that Thursday (due to block), so on Friday we just had a "chill" day.  One thing I did want to do, though, was to get their input on the review time and the class in general.  The problem with this is that I'm really, really little, and so people (usually) have a hard time even thinking about being mean to me.  So, when I first said, "What are some things you liked about this class?  What are some things you'd change?" The response was "EVERYTHING!" and then "NOTHING!"  Lol, kids, come on--puh-lease!

But they did eventually start to open up.  A little.

Here are their thoughts (more for my sake for next year):

Thoughts on the review time:

  • Liked having 2-3 FRQs for hw and liked how it was originally split up into topics
  • Liked having so much time to review
  • Appreciated advice on how to earn "easy points"
  • Appreciated the mock exam and the other secure MC exams we did in class
Thoughts on the class as a whole:

  • Liked having quizzes not for a grade
  • Liked having AP Sets throughout the year but agreed that there needs to be a way to make students more accountable to take them seriously (maybe hw quiz or making them part of their actual tests?)
  • Appreciated End of Semester Folders (they had to have all their quizzes/tests corrected)
  • Would have liked more Portfolio questions (maybe if I give more, I can make them optional?)
  • Would have liked more FRQs in their Portfolios
  • Learned a lot from Dixie Ross's Big Picture Review
So that's that.  Let me know if you have any questions about any of this.  And if you have ideas for reviewing for AP tests, please do share!

My 25 UHS Calculus Rockstars
And now all my PreCalc kids think it's really cool to be in calc.
Mission Accomplished.

[1]  Next year I might add two topics to the list: (1) Rate In/Rate Out and (2) “Traditional Calculus Problems” (aka given a function f(x), find the intervals where f is increasing/decreasing and concave up/concave down; state relative extra and POIs, etc.)

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