If you teach AP Language and Composition, like I do. You are at the halfway point – half way between test day and score release day. Bless up. We’re almost there.
This year, however, I have embarked on a new adventure to fill the time: the AP reading.
After reading approximately 2068 essays this school year (not including rewrites and revisions), the last thing I want to do is sit for SEVEN days and read… essays. All on the same topic. BUT, I would say that my area of least confidence is scoring, so what better way to confront that?
And I have.
Most importantly, I have a list of information to bring back to my kids – which is really the goal, isn’t it? To translate it to the kids’ success.
Which is what I’m also going to share it with you. My fellow AP-ers!
AP Reader wisdom: Question 3 (argument)
Readers are supportive.
I think the most overwhelming takeaway from the AP reading is that the readers want the kids to be as successful as you do. They aren’t getting hung up on grammar and silly mistakes. They know they’re kids and bend over backwards to get the most out of each essay. Even if it means using a magnifying glass to read terrible handwriting.
Mistakes are “lapses.”
One of my students asked me a question just before the test: "If we're not 100% sure on a fact, should we use it?" And its a valid question, especially when you're on a time crunch.
Those silly mistakes and grammatical errors are considered “lapses” on the scoring guide. That means that they can be overlooked to a certain extent. If you look at the guide, even high scoring essays might have lapses or “aren’t necessarily flawless.” Now, a pack of lapses adds up to a low score, but to lessen kids’ anxiety, assure them that a small error will never “ruin” their essay.
...Because I read a quotation attributed to at least six different people over the course of this reading, and I didn't hold it against anyone.
Literary examples are fine…
One thing that I do is steer my kids away from literary examples on the AP Lang exam – just because I worry about fiction proving anything against concrete arguments. As a reader, however, literary examples are perfectly appropriate.
But I will add one caveat: Using the one historical example, one literary example, and one personal example format can backfire… easily. For Question 3, choosing the best evidence is a lot of the battle, and often times, the literary examples feel forces. For instance, I think it hard to argue that Gatsby’s life was enriched by being reunited with Daisy (unless you acknowledge it was short lived, maybe). On the other hand, I read some beautiful literary examples that worked well. Don't force them. Use them when they fit!
…but personal examples RARELY work.
On the topic of evidence, actually, I have a more important note. Personal examples – the third piece of that overused format (history-lit-personal) – do not read well in most cases. There are always exceptions – either incredibly rare and unique experience that happens to align to the prompt OR artfully narrated anecdotes – but in general, they largely come off as shallow.
And it’s not on the kids, here. Experiences that are deeply moving at age 17 are less meaningful when read by a 29 year old reader. In fact, I would say that I have probably seen less than 5 effective personal experiences (and this is Day 6).
Anyone can write or be taught a 7.
This feels like a harsh reality, but I think it is important to be internalized by AP teachers. In one year, I have seen kids do incredible thing, but what I’ve seen from the variation in the anchor samples is a seven is a thorough, “more complete” 6, and since a 6 is formulaic (which is more easily taught), a seven is just asking students to go a little further with either more evidence or analysis. To get those elusive 8s and 9s, a student needs to come to your class with the reading and writing background and general knowledge to set them apart. Its more of a systematic issue.
Nonetheless, I know my students see those 8s and 9s as the end goal. That thinking is so discouraging, especially for the student who will work their but off to get up to a 5. So what does that mean for your class?
Of course, I am not advocating you tell kids they can never get a 9 (because some of them definitely can!). Rather, I think it plays into your grading. 8s and 9s are amazing and challenging, and well above mastery in my opinion. Therefore, your scoring needs to reflect that. A 7 should not be a 90%, just because it’s the third down on the scale. I currently have mine at 98%, but I might even adapt that to a curve methodology. A 7 is an exceptional essay. 8s and 9s are well beyond a typical college freshman, so a 5 or 6 is more aligned to proficiency.
I have a handful of kids that always struggle with the time component – which sucks. I know what they can do, and I wish I could give them all the time they need, but we’re working with a standardized assessment. Practicing the timing is a necessary evil. These same kids are the ones that need test strategies for when (not even if) they run low on time. Here are my biggest suggestions now that I’ve scored essays.
Above all, I found it so reassuring to see how supportive my fellow readers are and that I wasn't far off when I was scoring on my own. I also value the chance to take some #realtalk back to the kids in terms of what the expectations are (and more likely, defend my scoring to mommies).
If you get the chance, brave the Reading. (More #realtalk, it's HARD). The benefits of seeing the scoring in action are worth the struggle.
This is NOT an official AP reader's report, just reflections from my own reading of Question 3. For official remarks and analysis, check out the College Board website in the coming weeks.