Uncertainty among students, teachers regarding new AP exam


By Leo Garkisch, staff writer
The uphill trek generally known as the preparation for AP exams is dreaded by students and teachers alike. But this year, some juniors have marched blindly, making stabs to try and retain as much material as possible in preparation for today’s AP Physics 1 exam.
The course, in its second year running nationally, is in its first year at Prospect, as it has replaced honors physics as the highest level of physics that juniors can take.
But unlike the old honors course, the AP course, like all AP courses, comes with an end-of-the-year exam that students must prepare for.
Generally teachers use past AP tests to give their students good practice in preparation for the test. But since there has only been one AP Physics 1 exam administered, the availability of this type of practice has been limited, and teachers have been left guessing as to how the exam will be administered in terms of structure.
“That’s the terrifying part,” AP Physics 1 teacher Michael Grasse said.
He and his colleagues that teach the course have given their students two practice exams. The first was the one provided on the website of College Board, the company that runs AP, and the other was last year’s test. Grasse said that on the first one, students’ scores were far less than optimal. On the second one, according to AP Physics 1 student Patrick Doyle, a junior in teacher Mark Welter’s class, students scored an average of roughly 40 percent.
Although Grasse thinks it’s a better course overall, he wishes AP would send out more practice material so that he, Welter and the other AP Physics 1 teacher, Keith Bellof, could better prepare students for the big test.
“It’s not that we don’t know what the material is,” Grasse said. “But we don’t know the structure of the exam. … Not knowing how it’s going to be tested is the difficult part.”
With all this confusion on top of a condensed curriculum, some students opted not to take today’s exam. One of these students is junior Tommy McGough.
“I just feel like I’m not nearly prepared,” McGough said. “I don’t think I’d be able to do well enough, and I just think it would look bad [compared to] my other AP scores if I don’t do very well on this test.”
Nonetheless, McGough thinks that after AP gets more Physics 1 tests under its belt, teachers will have an easier time preparing their students as they will have more to work with.
On the other hand, some students, such as junior Ryan Pearson, are not worried about the fact that the class is brand new. A member of the district-wide Wildstang Robotics team, Pearson described himself as someone who loves physics and has enjoyed the class. While some of his teachers may be “anxious,” as Grasse described himself, about Prospect’s first test, Pearson wasn’t sweating it.
“Because of how it’s curved,” he said, “I’m not that concerned about it. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a few questions that I’m confused on, but I’m not that concerned about it because there are only so many ways they can give you a problem, and we’ve been practicing getting to the answer. If it’s show your work, then you’re ready to do it because that’s what we’ve been practicing, and if it’s multiple choice, that’s even easier because it’s right there.”
He also wasn’t worried about the potential structural question marks going into the test.
Nonetheless, Pearson did admit that there weren’t many tools available to students looking to prepare themselves for the test. As of last week, all his class had been given so far was a review packet. He said that Welter also acknowledged the lack of preparation material available. And even though he felt ready, Pearson agreed with McGough and said that many others haven’t.
And perhaps they have reason for concern.
Not only do the students not know what to expect, but the course itself is extremely difficult, even by AP’s standards. In fact, according to totalregistration.net, more than 63 percent of students nationally got only a two or one out of the five total possible points on the course’s first AP test. According to College Board, these scores mean that students are “possibly qualified” or deserve “no recommendation” respectively with regards to receiving college credit.
To accommodate such a demanding course, Grasse and the other teachers had to go through the entire course and fine tune the curriculum in order to meet the demands of the AP test. Aside from some small changes on the day-to-day scale, not much was scrapped from the old honors physics course. However, the course was much denser, and major changes included moving the optics unit until after the AP test to make room for the rotation unit that the new course demands.
“I’m not going to say that we ran out of time,” Grasse said, “but we had to condense a few things toward the end so that we could get everything in and have a little bit of review.”
Despite all the challenges and major changes, Grasse said that he has felt comfortable making the transition to teaching the new class itself and preparing students for the exam because he’s done it many times before.
“I’m used to teaching the course with a high stakes ending,” said Grasse, who also teaches AP Calculus AB. “I’ve gotten through challenges before.”
He added that Welter and Bellof have provided great support in a year with so many question marks.
Yet despite teaching a “high stakes” course, Grasse has never taught a brand new course. He said that he will feel more at ease once he sees this year’s test. He would like to see how it’s changed from last year.
He doesn’t feel that terrible, though, because he said that everybody nationally is in the same boat.
“I know not to panic,” Grasse said. “I’m still terrified, but I’m not panicking.”