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Learning and Understanding: Improving Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in U.S. High Schools
since the examination questions indicate that experience with designing experiments is not necessary for success.
The AP examinations, administered nationally in May of each year, provide the foundation for curriculum and instruction in AP courses. They are timed examinations, with about 50 percent of the total time devoted to multiple-choice questions and the rest to free-response, essay, or problem-solving questions.4 Students can elect to have their examination scores reported to their choice of colleges, where the scores may be considered in decisions about placement in a college course, awarding of credit for the introductory course in the subject, or both (see Chapter 2, this volume).
AP courses are intended to represent general introductory-level college courses. The AP examinations are designed to allow students to demonstrate mastery of the concepts and skills learned in the course, enabling some students to undertake, as freshmen, second-year work in the sequence at their institution or to register for courses in other fields for which the general course is a prerequisite.5 Consequently, AP examinations must be valid and reliable measures of student achievement at the college level. “Continued acceptance by colleges and universities of the validity of the content of AP courses, the validity and reliability of the AP Examinations, and the integrity of the scoring process is critical to AP’s success” (CFAPP, 2001, p. 6).
How AP Examinations Are Developed
Content specifications for AP examinations are determined during the development of AP courses. The development committee for each AP course is responsible for deciding the general content of the examination and the ability level to be tested. The examination is constructed using the topic percentages from the AP course descriptions as a guideline for the distribution of questions. The development committee helps write and review test questions, as well as materials (including the AP course descriptions) that
These percentages do not necessarily reflect the weighting of scores as a final examination grade is determined.
The policies of colleges and universities vary widely with respect to the score they will accept to award credit or placement and how that score translates into college credit or placement. Indeed, individual departments within an institution of higher education often have very different policies and expectations. This issue is considered in greater detail in Chapter 2 this volume.