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    How to Rise to the Top with the New AP History Exam

    Posted September 15, 2015, 12:00 pm by John Cho
    AP US History Exam

    Last year, College Board rolled out its new Advanced Placement U.S. History exam. This move prompted a wave of criticism from teachers all around the country. Many complained that the new AP history curriculum focused too heavily on “alternative narratives” instead of telling the true (AKA old white male) story of our proud nation. I won't say a lot here other than that view sounds a bit too much like Arizona (no, not the tea).

    Others, however, offered a more legitimate critique: The College Board simply wasn't providing enough resources for students to succeed on this new exam. Teachers, test-prep companies, web-based learning sites, etc., didn't have enough example questions or model tests from the College Board to create great, authentic practice materials.

    Turns out, these teachers may have been right. This past year's global U.S. history scores were down -0.12 points (on the five-point AP scoring system) from the previous year, according to Will Yang, co-founder and current COO of Learnerator.com, an online, gamified learning platform. Since 2008, the mean U.S. history scores hadn't fluctuated by more than +/- 0.05 points. (You can check his math yourself with the data at totalregistration.net). Bottomline: U.S. history scores are down all across the globe.

    With back-to-back overhauls of both the U.S and world history curricula (wow, thanks a lot College Board), you are going to need every advantage that you can get to earn that coveted 5 on the AP exams. (And, you can trust my advice: I got a 5 on both history exams and an 800 and 750 on the respective SAT subject tests. Yes, I was a total nerd.)

    Here are a few ways to hit the ground running this year:

    1. Do Your Homework

    The best way to get a 5 on the AP history exams (as well as on all the other AP exams) is to do your homework. I can't stress this enough. Without doing the reading, you aren't going to know the content. Without writing your practice essays, you won’t internalize the open-response rubrics. The rest of the tips below are ways to supplement - not replace - your homework.

    2. Think "Historiographically'

    The new AP history exams want to you to think like an actual historian. On previous versions of the exam, it was enough for you to just be an encyclopedia of history facts and dates. Not anymore.

    Make sure that in your essays and class participation, you are constantly utilizing these five skills that College Board emphasizes: comparison, contextualization, analyzing causation, analyzing continuity/change, and periodization. Memorize these five skills by making a flashcard with "Think like a Historian" on one side and these five skills and their definitions on the other. Keep a list of these skills in your binder at all times, and practice using one every time you come across a primary source in your homework or every time you raise your hand in class. You’ll blow your teachers away!

    3. Keep a Chronology in Your Binder

    Each day while you take notes for class lectures and homework readings, take separate notes on a master timeline, which you will keep in your binder for the entire year. Whenever you learn about significant people, places, or events, jot them down on your timeline with a date. Obviously, you can't write everything down on this timeline, so part of your task is to judge which people, places, and events fit on this master timeline.

    4. Use a Variety of Test Prep Resources

    Test-prep books and sites cannot replace the homework that you didn't do. However, they can be extremely helpful in the month before your exam day. They will help summarize all that you've learned throughout the year and they will give you lots of opportunities to practice, especially multiple choice questions.

    Barrons, Kaplan, and Princeton Review are the Big Three in high school test prep. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. There are also a number of totally awesome (and free!) online resources recommended by AP teachers. Khan Academy is also a hugely beneficial resource. Finally, check out John Green's YouTube Crash Courses on world and U.S. history. Absolutely amazing stuff (and if you’re a nerd like me, really funny)!

    I know I’ve said a lot of stuff here. Look, if you're getting started with your AP history class this month, you already know one thing: It's going to be a lot of work. But let me tell you this before you decide to drop the course: The work you put in now will pay huge dividends, literally. You could save thousands of dollars when you get college credit for passing the AP exams or receive awesome financial aid to attend the college of your dreams).

    So do the hard work now and feel great about yourself come AP week in May.

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    John Cho

    John Cho

    John Cho is a recent graduate of Amherst College. Upon graduating, John entered the world of education as a resident tutor/teacher in the Match Teacher Residency in Boston, MA. He now teaches GRE test preparation through Manhattan Prep and lives in Boston with his wife, who is also a teacher. Needless to say, the two spend all their days debating best teacher practices and ed policy.