“Your final exam will be in three parts: multiple choice, primary source analysis, and three major essays. I won’t be allowed within 2 miles of you when you take the exam.” The words of Mr. F, my AP US History teacher, reverberated between my ear drums. He either didn’t notice or didn’t seem to care: “The AP US History exam will be on a Saturday in mid May. It’s graded on a scale of 0 to 5. Zero being the lowest possible score, 5 being the highest.” A student in the front row raises her hand, interrupting our baptism by fire. Mr. F motions for her to speak.
“Are you related to Stephen King?” I didn’t realize it at the time (because let’s face it, I didn’t voluntarily read anything that wasn’t a motorcycle magazine until my senior year of high school) but Mr. F bore an uncanny resemblance to the best selling suspense author. Even their eyeglasses were similar.
“He’s my cousin.” the teacher nodded, pausing to recollect his thoughts. “The test is pretty simple, but it’s probably more difficult than anything you’ve taken before.” I had yet to learn the eccentricities of the oxymoron, but that fact didn’t hinder Mr. F as he grinned slyly while he mouthed the previous statement. “The Regents exams have 4 possible answers. The AP has 5, and they’re usually more difficult to discriminate between. The primary source section will be basically the same thing you run into on Regents Part 2s: political cartoons or other documents accompanied by a set of questions. The essays are probably going to be the biggest hurdle for you. You are required to write three instead of the usual one or two on a Regents exam. Like the Regents, you will be given a limited choice between essay topics to write on, and at least one of the essays will probably be based on a primary source document . . . likely a political speech, cartoon, or another essay. Your grade on this test will be the sole determinant of success or failure. Most colleges will accept a 3 on the AP exam, which is roughly equivalent to a C. Others require a 4 or 5 and others don’t award AP credit at all.” He paused a moment, as if to cue a silent shift in his lecture.
“You’ll receive letter grades, but they won’t count on your quarterly average. They’ll be based on how well you perform on tests and quizzes modeled after the AP exam. Every unit test you take will be a mirror of the format you’ll run into in the AP exam, and many of the questions will be culled from past years’ exams. The most important area of the exam to prepare for is the essay section. It’ll account for two thirds of your score . . . .” The lecture continued for the duration of the period. Every student had his or her silly question or comment about the AP process. I was relatively pleased with the outlook of the course. Multiple Choice was like a gift from Heaven to me; I’d always been proficient at following my intuition . . . or instinct . . . or whatever that intangible force is which propels us toward the correct answer even...