/  By  / 

Why AP English is Unfair, #3

 This one gets me frustrated.

My students took their first full-length multiple-choice section last Monday, just for practice. Overall, the scores weren’t bad.

But I discovered that the AP test is unnecessarily tricky on purpose. It’s like College Board wants English language learners not to pass.

The passages and poems are difficult to read, of course. I don’t have a problem with that. That’s the test. My problem is with the questions and the answer choices.

It’s entirely possible that a student will know the answer to a question but get it wrong solely because they didn’t understand the tangled syntax of the question or the ridiculous vocabulary in the answer choices.

Here’s an example: A question asks about a passage’s overall tone. The student correctly identifies the tone as “sad.” However, the correct answer is “morose and lugubrious.” The student gets it wrong not because of her reading skills but because of her lack of vocabulary.

In other words, a student can tackle and overcome all the crazy vocabulary in a passage — where there is context, where there is meaning — and then get stuck on the questions, where the words just pop out of nowhere.

So my students, many of whom are avid readers, get penalized because they haven’t yet accumulated as many English words as their monolingual peers.

This problem irritates me because there’s not an easy solution. For the other parts of the test, I feel like hard work can close the achievement gap. But I can’t tell an English learner to go back in time and read more books before her family immigrated. And I can’t tell their parents to stop speaking Spanish at home and to go get a college degree.

Sure, my students can and should read books in addition to the 12 that are on my syllabus. That will help. But they’re competing against monolingual students across the country who are doing the same thing. That’s what’s annoying: There doesn’t seem to be a way, with just a few months left, to accelerate vocabulary development.

Do you think this aspect of the AP test is unfair? Or do you think it’s an accurate measure of college scholarship?

Please share your brilliant insights!