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Posted on Saturday 9 June 2012 at 8:59 am

AP Reading Report

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I spent the past week in Louisville, Kentucky reading AP exam essays. For those of you who don't know, the AP or Advanced Placement exams are taken by lots of high school kids across the US and a few internationally. They are offered in multiple subjects and kids who score well enough often get college credit that gets them out of taking basic introductory classes. The exams have two big parts, multiple choice and essays, and someone has to grade all those essays. The American History exam is one of if not the most frequently taken exam and I just spent 7 days with approximately 1,200 AP American History high school teachers and American History college professors grading a total of 1.2 million essay questions. That means about 1,000 essays per reader in 7 days. Some people have been doing this for over a decade and get through over 2,000 whereas I as a first year had a final count of 720 essays graded in 7 days. It was craziness and exhausting but I also had a lot of fun.

The grading itself is mind-numbing with occasional moments of hilarity largely coming from ridiculously wrong answers. The AP people have this thing down to a science. The logistics of moving that many exam books through that many teachers/professors and feeding and housing that many people are something I'm not sure I could have worked out as well as they did (though the food was largely terrible). The ability to get 1,200 teachers/professors to all be grading on a standardized scale was managed about the way I expected it to be, and it definitely worked.

The grading went from 8 to 5 every day, except one day when they paid as all an extra $25 to stay a half hour late to make sure we'd get through everything (Oh how I wish I made $50 an hour at anything else I do) and the last day when we got out over an hour early (thus making me question the decision to have us stay a half hour late the previous day). After 5, they had evening events arranged that we could attend if we wanted but we were otherwise on our own. I went to one of the arranged lectures but otherwise just did my own thing. Downtown Louisville is a really great little city so there were all kinds of bars, restaurants, museums, and a gorgeous water front park on the Ohio River. I had a fantastic time in the evenings. My friend Jack was there with me and he and I became friends with a bunch of grad students and recent PhDs who were there from the University of Tennessee Knoxville. It was a bit surreal for me because I applied to that PhD program and if William and Mary had turned me down that's where I would have gone. It was like getting a glimpse into an alternate universe where I'd spent the last several years of my life hanging out with those guys (and it was all guys).

All in all, it was exhausting and mind-numbing (and the afternoon where I had a migraine the last couple of hours of grading is not something I ever want to relive) but also fun and educational and totally worth the money I'll be getting. Assuming my schedule works out, I'll definitely do it again next year, but I'm incredibly glad I have 51 weeks to recover first.
Feeling: Exhausted
Exploring: Home! So good to be home.


A work in progress
ancarett at 6:25 pm on 09 June 2012 (UTC) (Link)
A friend of mind did this for five years with the World History exams - she said it was a fun but draining experience! I can see how it would be valuable for teachers and profs to touch base with each other while they see the wide pool of what's being done by others' students.

Louisville is a lovely city - glad you got a bit of a chance to explore there!
bratty_jedi at 8:40 pm on 09 June 2012 (UTC) (Link)
This is one of the few places where high school teachers and college professors work together so it was good in that sense. It was also good for me because I would keep seeing the same errors pop up and I could see how in the standard textbook narrative / my lectures those mistaken ideas could come across so I was constantly thinking in the back of my head "How can I reorganize this or better explain this to fix these errors and make it clearer?" and then I'd go back to the hotel in the evenings and jot down ideas and notes for restructuring the lectures. This was especially important with the big document-based essay that all the students had to do because it was on big business in 1870 to 1900 which is of course incredibly complicated and incredibly important to American history so I'm really hoping the insights I gained on that will improve my second-half survey lectures quite a bit.

I wouldn't say I'm an expert on Louisville since I only spent time in a small section of it, but that small section was fantastic and included the University of Louisville and I decided that if the opportunity ever presents itself, I could see myself being happy there.
Ms. J to the Diva
jadeddiva at 5:32 pm on 12 June 2012 (UTC) (Link)
Fun that you met some UTK people! Alternate universe in Knoxville would have been nice ;)

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