1. Print the point value of each question (and part question) on the exam paper.

This would act as a helpful guide to both students and teachers when assessing what to write in each response. The argument I have heard against this is that the graders do not want to assign points prior to the reading – why not? The test development committee can meet in advance of the reading and make adjustments on the first day of the reading. All of those adjustments can easily be tailored to maintain the point scores originally assigned.

2. Remove the (apparent) necessity for question #1 to be a K based problem.

I’m not denying the value and importance of equilibrium, but the predictability of this question removes flexibility from the exam that (in my experience) question writers crave. In its current format they are pre-assigning a large portion of the points to one topic area – unnecessary.

3. Return Net Ionic Equation Writing to a problem that is worthy of an ‘Advanced Placement’ examination in Chemistry.

The net ionic equation writing section is a now a shadow of its former self. The moves in 2007 to the requirement for balancing and the follow-up questions were good ones, but they were undone by two things; firstly the general quality of problem has deteriorated to such an extent that it is frankly a joke for an exam of this supposed level, and secondly the clues which are being given (such as flagging oxidizing and reducing agents (2007), telling candidates that a complex ion/coordination complex is being formed (2008, 2011) and flagging decomposition (2009)) are simply compounding the first problem. The argument I have heard in defense of the current question 4 is that actually this problem (even in its current, undeniably, diluted form) IS acting as a ‘good’ question in as much as it is providing scores that discern between “1’s”, “2’s”, “3’s”, “4’s” and “5’s”. If this is indeed the case then I understand that argument, BUT that is a HORRIBLE indictment on the quality of student that is being entered into (what is supposed to be) an elite test of knowledge. (Look forward to another Blog post about who should and should NOT be taking the AP exam!).

4. Add a lab exam component.

If you want to assess lab skills then you have to have a lab exam. Period. No ifs, buts or ands, this is the only way to do this. Frankly, for people like me that do not favor an emphasis on practical work, this would be an enormous pain, but those people that espouse the value of those skills but do NOT want a lab exam are talking out of both sides of their mouth. It’s entirely, logistically possible and has been done for years in other examinations both inside and outside of the US.

5. Remove the ‘standard format’.

There should be no requirement for a six question, ‘K is question 1’, ‘NIE is question 4’, ‘three questions in part A, three questions in part B’, format. Like point #1 above, this change would add a large amount of flexibility for question writers. In addition, point #1 and #5 above, would give remove some of the predictability that so many complain about, and add a perhaps even make those that believe in ‘teaching to the test’, a little uncomfortable ;-)!

6. Introduce a more serious organic component.

Whilst I fully understand that in the American, chemical education system organic chemistry is a separate entity entirely to general chemistry, it seems to me that an elite examination of knowledge at this level should contain a more extensive organic component. Organic has traditionally been restricted a tiny bit of naming, a little isomerism, a minuscule amount of equation writing and some questions that have nothing to do with organic at all (rather they are generally about intermolecular bonding). I’m not calling for the exam to become an organic test, but it seems like it is a reasonable expectation to include a more serious, if somewhat restricted element.

7. Release more multiple-choice exams.

Obviously for the benefit of the students and teachers. There’s just no reason not to do this. Admittedly it means more work in writing questions, but this would help preparation for all involved.

8. Communicate changes comprehensively!

Whenever and whatever significant changes to the exam are invoked, communicate that properly and extensively. This would have avoided many recent examples of hand-wringing (‘mole of reaction’) and give teachers confidence that is currently missing.

9. Remove the astonishing level of scaffolding in the free response question in general.

As in point #3 above, the degree of hand-holding taking place in many questions has reached the point where the academic integrity of the exam is coming into question in my mind. Again, if this has become necessary in order to accommodate the cadre of kids that are taking this exam, then there is a much greater problem in terms of who is taking the exam – that may well be the case.

10. Don’t sacrifice content for process in the name of ‘21st century learning’, ‘problem based learning’, ‘POGIL’ or whatever the flavor of the month (or century) may be!

Really just a personal plea from me, as I see cold hard facts and solid chemistry being eroded in the name of ‘progress’. Not the way forward for an examination of CHEMISTRY.