AP Diary
July 13, 2008 6:01 PM   Subscribe

"In one booklet, I come across the rather fabulous student error that the protesters at Kent State in 1970 were shot by 'the Federal Reserve.'" In his essay "AP Diary," Christopher Phelps shares the true story of what it's like to spend a week grading Advanced Placement exams.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow (20 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I thought this blooper was funnier:

For several days now, a schoolteacher who grew up in Alabama and retains his good-ol'-boy accent has hovered near our table, eavesdropping on our electoral discussions. Twice I've heard him refer to Barack Obama as a "socialist.
posted by PlusDistance at 6:16 PM on July 13, 2008

Interesting read, thanks for sharing.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:25 PM on July 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted "'In one booklet, I come across the rather fabulous student error that the protesters at Kent State in 1970 were shot by "the Federal Reserve."'"

posted by orthogonality at 6:26 PM on July 13, 2008 [9 favorites]

I've always felt kind of bad for whoever had to grade my AP Physics test. I might as well have just written them a crossword puzzle.
posted by danb at 6:44 PM on July 13, 2008

Plus: Not unusual by any means. In a recent conversation, I got called a socialist and a communist for suggesting that Obama is going to win (not even, mind you, whether I thought that was a good thing).
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:55 PM on July 13, 2008

As an AP teacher, I have to say I could never muster the strength to do what this man has done. Sixty essays in English Lit take me hours to grade. And they have to write three of them for their test. My brain would turn to dust.

It is true, as he mentions, that more and more schools are pushing more and more kids into AP courses. You used to need a teacher familiar with your work to initial your schedule.

The College Board is licking their chops, while they also produce more and more lower-level secondary material to feed kids into AP classes and prepare them for high-stakes testing in general.
posted by kozad at 6:55 PM on July 13, 2008

On my PSAT essay, which asked the test-tatker to write a letter to the editor, I addressed my "letter" to "Alf Goodykoontz". In retrospect, I probably lost points for that.

But I wasn't trying to make sly reference to a nasty word for female parts. Alf Goodykoontz was at the time the Editorial Page Editor for the Richmond Times Dispatch, and the only Editorial Page Editor's name I recalled while taking the test.

However, I didn't take the test in Richmond.
posted by orthogonality at 6:58 PM on July 13, 2008

When I took my Chem AP test, there were any number of problems that I knew I could only solve up to a point without knowing (or, truthfully, understanding) this or that equation. In those instances, I made sure to say what it was I'd need to know to get the answer. In other spots, however, I was totally stumped. Chemical nomenclature, however, totally evaded me. I was never good at it, and we didn't cover it very well in class. So underneath one particularly perplexing equation, I wrote

Some molecule + some other molecule => compounds both wild and free, like the majestic caribou and the flighty gazelle

I got a 3. Hope I at least slightly amused someone in the process.
posted by lumensimus at 7:50 PM on July 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

The AP test is a sham. Paying for the test gives you a one-letter grade boost, regardless of test scores. Plenty of drug-addled rich kids just sleep through the essay portion of AP exams.

Since the free housing involves a random roommate, I opt instead for a single room at the Seelbach Hilton ($50 a night with the AP discount).
It depresses me that he'd rather spend $350 dollars than get to know somebody new.
posted by Citizen Premier at 8:00 PM on July 13, 2008

When I took the English AP test in high school,
  there was a poem about
  a frog, whose stanzas had
  short lines in the middle
and long lines at the beginning and at the end.

I found this structure amusing, and used it as
  a unifying theme in my
  essay: the very shape of
  each stanza was that
of a frog, gleefully springing onward to his next

adventure, or whatever the point of the poem
  might have been.
  I thought it tied my
  discussion of the text
together quite nicely. My classmates and teacher

all seemed to think so
  too. But I must have had
  this asshole grading my
  exam, because I failed.
So it goes, I guess.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 8:32 PM on July 13, 2008 [8 favorites]

I was pretty disappointed in this one, actually - not enough really good bloopers, not enough meat at all.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:57 PM on July 13, 2008

College Board is such a crock.
posted by lullaby at 9:10 PM on July 13, 2008

I used to be at the other end, helping students practice writing these things. Four years ago I would've been shocked that he only awarded the highest mark once a day, if that. Now? Not so much.
posted by 1adam12 at 11:46 PM on July 13, 2008

I'm with lupus - strikingly boring as compared to that pull quote. I think this is how pretty much every temp job goes.
posted by rkent at 12:27 AM on July 14, 2008

I used to work at a place that both wrote and graded the state exams they give in the Northeast. The description of the table-leader and "voice from above" is apt: that's exactly how we did it as well. From the readers I talked with, the most painful part of the process was downgrading essays because they didn't "hit" the right number of points. For instance, if the question asked about the economic causes for the civil war, you had to mention industrialization and you had to mention the immigrant workforce in the North. Even if your essay was brilliant, if the reader couldn't check-off the points they were looking for, you didn't get a 5.

This was particularly heartbreaking because after reading several hundred different bastardizations of the English language, it was such a rare treat to be met with a well-written essay with a cohesive structure and proper punctuation that you wanted to give them 5s just to say "Thank you for restoring my faith in today's youth." But no... intelligent writing and coherent thoughts are not what The State wants from its students. It wants a checklist of items to tick off one by one.

The article was crap, by the way. No substance whatsoever. Maybe if he substituted some of the paragraphs where he talked about the hotel lobby's decor for more interesting anecdotes from the grading center, I would have given him a 5. Instead, he gets a 3.

Clearly, the author is a product of the Advanced Placement system.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:50 AM on July 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

When I taught AP Calc and Physics, it usually took two beers to finish grading their tests. And I had the rubrics right in front of me, I didn't have to invent grades on the spot. I just got so angry with my students when grading.

I'm taking a break from teaching for a couple of years. My liver will thank me.
posted by Hactar at 7:53 AM on July 14, 2008

I do a lot of grading (though not of AP tests). I like the idea of doing it communally. Grading alone, there was no-one to tell when one of my students wrote "The judge decided that the company was a super fudge". It took me the best part of a minute to figure out she meant subterfuge.
posted by tiny crocodile at 9:49 AM on July 14, 2008

you people are lightweights. when i first started scoring the SAT essays, i used to go down to the bar and get drunk, babbling about dunderheaded american youth and screeching periodically about how they thought Albert Einstein invented electricity (oh yes, en masse).

now i go for long walks in the woods and attempt to smoke enough pot to block it all out.

during the ten day windows which occur ten times a year, i read about 200 essays in five-six hours a day. by the end i have given out maybe five top scores.

this guy's account makes me kinda laugh. they get camaraderie! candies! commiseration! hotel rooms! i get to wear my pajamas all day, have sex while on the clock, and to banter about ridiculously obscure inside jokes with my domestic associate (also an SAT scorer).
posted by RedEmma at 10:09 AM on July 14, 2008

You must have a rather large clock.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:36 AM on July 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

I've scored AP exams (once was enough, mind you), and the author's account seems to track fairly well with my own experience, even though I did not score the History exam (I did the English-not Literature). The part that surprised me most was the time ETS/CB took for the scorers to take regular breaks and re-mean all the scorers periodically. It was annoying at first, but it did seem to do the job.

At the scoring I did (someplace in Florida - I barely remember), we would copy down the howlers on any scrap of paper we could find and we pinned them up on the wall. It was a pretty good way to relieve a little tension in between folders, but it did get to the point where it was more depressing than funny.

All that said, it was a crappy article. Why is the Chron publishing somebody's blog, fer chrissakes? And the push toward high-stakes testing of any sort is about money, for ETS, its enablers, and test prep companies. The AP is no exception.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 4:00 PM on July 14, 2008

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