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29 April 2015

Mail Time: What do I assign for homework the weekend and night before the AP Physics 1 exam?

My friend Eric sends in a FAQ:

What will you assign for homework the weekend before the exam?
The exam is on Wednesday, so we'll probably do one old AP problem for homework as the assignment for Monday.  Or possibly I'll scour the released official AP Physics 1 multiple choice questions for some we haven't done; I'd assign about three or four with a mandate to "justify your answer."  

What about the assignment the night before the exam?
I assign nothing.  There's no point.  I forbid studying after 5:00 pm Tuesday night.  At a day school, I used to have a cookout; this year on Tuesday I have to take my kid to a baseball game, so the physics party at my house will have to start when I get home after the game.  But we will have a party.  And we will not do physics at the party.

I warn the class a week ahead of time about not studying the night before the exam.  I explain the rationale in terms of sports: would you run a marathon as practice the night before the marathon?  Would you spend the evening in the weight room the night before the state championship football game?  No?  Then don't study the night before the AP Physics exam.  The preparation -- or lack thereof -- they've done all year cannot be changed by one night's work.

Perhaps you'll tell me that one student might have reviewed something he didn't remember and gotten it right on the exam.  I respond that he could have done that review on Sunday night.  More to the point, consider not one student but the overall class.  The number of questions we'll get right just because we go in rested with a confident demeanor, unafraid to mess up, ready to show what we know will make up for any mythical effective review on Tuesday night.

Do you recommend weekend review sessions?  I have NOT scheduled any.  But several other AP teachers are requiring review nights and afternoons.  

I don't at all recommend weekend review sessions.  The resentment they breed and the stress they create are huge costs which I think aren't outweighed by the benefits of the extra study.  

Now, you're you, and you have to find out how you fit in your school's AP ecosystem.  For me, I've found a lot of success letting other teachers be the cattle drivers and holders of whips, while this time of year I am more relaxed than anyone.  That attitude has paid off over the years, both in terms of AP scores and in terms of positive political capital among my students.  (I hold the whip and cattle prod in October and November, but somehow I misplace them when the weather turns warm.)

Good luck.  Not much more you can do -- taper your class like you'd taper your swim team.  You put in your practice time over the course of the season.  No point in doing a big workout the day before the state meet.

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