AP grader reveals realities of profession


Photo by Liam Barrett

AP US History teacher Katherine Simmons sits at her desk, responding to emails before she starts grading the recent AP US History DBQ assignment. Although it was a lunch period, technically time for relaxation, teachers who don’t take advantage of the extra time to catch up on work are rare.

It’s AP exam week, and a student is toiling away in the auditorium, feverishly scrawling answers to an FRQ prompt. Glancing at the clock, their eyes widen as they realize they’re nearing the end of the allotted time, and their scribbling intensifies as they scramble to polish their conclusion paragraph. Although this experience is common to most high school students, few consider the details of how their essays get graded.

AP graders are critical to ensuring that students receive their AP exam scores which are a matter of considerable stress for many. However, few students understand what it’s like to be an AP grader.

“It’s both highly annoying and headache-causing, but at the same time a lot easier than you would imagine it would be,” AP US History teacher Katherine Simmons said.

Simmons started grading for AP US History in 2020 and has only experienced grading online, enacted when Covid forced College Board to change their methods.

“Because you’re not putting comments and you’re literally just clicking ‘They got it’, ‘They don’t’, it’s not as hard as grading during the year,” Simmons said.

However, grading used to be a lengthy, in-person affair, where College Board would fly in graders from all over the country, often to a college campus, to grade the exams. AP US History and AP World History teacher Nathan Schwartz enjoyed the collegial atmosphere and getting to meet new people and catch up with old friends.

“I think in the last US or the last World reading I attended [in person], there were like 1,400 people there… and they’d have, you know, like maybe 50 or 60 groups of people with maybe 20 teachers in each group,” Schwartz said.

In terms of compensation, teachers can either receive an hourly wage or Professional Development Hours, the latter of which many school systems require teachers to get over the summer.

“It’s not fabulous pay, it’s like $20 an hour or something like that, so for the monotony of what we’re doing it would be nice if we were paid more, but I just feel like it’s something that I should do to make myself a better AP teacher,” Simmons said.

While grading, teachers do their best to give students as many points as they can.

“I would imagine that most readers are that way, where we’re trying to get through them, but at the same time, we’re always looking to give students the benefit of the doubt. So if it isn’t clear if you’ve done something, readers are encouraged to go back and reread, and we’re looking to give you points,” Simmons said.

Additionally, to make the grading as accurate as possible, there are multiple levels of redundancy in the process. ‘Table leads’ are assigned to groups of graders, and periodically check on their work.

“When I’m doing it online, randomly my table lead will pull ones that I’ve read and reread them, and then in real time I can see how consistent I am with what they think the essay should be graded as, because there’s a measure on the online app where you can see whether or not you’re falling into the consistency [range],” Simmons said.

In certain scenarios, however, that’s not easy to do.

“Last year I read a DBQ in which the kid said ‘I know you’re forced to read all of this’ and then went on to talk about how the night before he went and hung out with his friends and smoked weed and his parents don’t know that he’s growing marijuana in his basement, and he just went off on this long diatribe about all these activities that he was engaged in,” Simmons said.

Although most students aren’t aware of what’s involved in being an AP grader, they still appreciate those who put in the effort.

“I think that teachers learning exactly what College Board wants from us is a really good way to help improve our writing on free response questions,” sophomore Adya Crispino said.