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06 May 2011

"Tapering" for the AP exam, and BOUX day link

Today was Boux Day in my AP classes.  Click on the link to see the classic Jacobs Physics post from a couple of years ago describing the final in-class activity before the AP exam.

I take a different approach to last-minute AP prep than most... I require that there be no studying after 5:00 Sunday evening for the Monday exam.  On Monday morning, students are exempt from class due to their afternoon exam; so we have a pool party. 

Could I instead have students study their arses off all weekend?  Sure.  At this point, though, academic burnout becomes a major concern.  My guys have been involved in numerous other AP exams all week.  Teachers for the other upcoming AP exams have been pounding the review both in- and out- of class.  The students' brains are hurting.

I've found considerable success by pushing my review time earlier in the school year.  Even though I do not do a complete and wonderful job of covering the last topics, I make sure to start true AP review in early April.  We did our last practice AP test around April 22.  Since then, we've been correcting that practice test, and doing a couple of review problems per day in class. 

Think of the last couple of weeks before the exam as a swimmer or marathoner "tapering" before an important race.  My students have built their endurance, they know their fundamentals.  The last-minute review time is NOT for learning new stuff that wasn't covered earlier in the year, or that was forgotten.  No, this time is for reminders of things that students already know.  Look at the "Boux Day" post for examples. 

Most importantly, my students head to the AP physics exam confident and relaxed.  Sure, I have a few students who could actually use a more intense practice session right before the test.  But the positive mood of the class, the feeling that everyone is as prepared as they're gonna be, and the knowledge that there's nothing more to do but perform is, to me, better than any number of finished review packets. 

Gauge your students' moods on Tuesday after the AP exam is over.  Ideally, they are either confident or fatalistic.  Either "Oh, yeah, most of those were straightforward," or, "Well, I knew how to do 1 and 5, but I confused myself on 2 and 6.  Can you use W=Fx to find the work done by an electric field?"  What you don't want to see is indignation ("I only got part (a), because the rest of that problem was so unfair!"), sour grapes ("I didn't know anything, but no one should be expected to do problems this hard"), or panic ("It was so tough that I froze up.  I only answered two of the free response questions!").

If you see reactions that you don't like on Tuesday, consider your overall approach to next school year.  I *do* get those untoward reactions from my students... but on our first test in October.  By May, it's quiet confidence that we want to see -- even if that confidence is a student knowing his limitations and pledging to get right the problems he knows how to do.

Good luck on Monday.  Feel free to email success stories.


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