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The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

AP history exam rubric changes are setting students up for failure

Earlier+this+year%2C+College+Board+changed+the+scoring+requirements+for+the+writing+section+of+AP+US+History%2C+AP+Modern+World+History+and+AP+European+History.+Changes+made+to+the+DBQ+will+make+the+essay+drastically+easier+for+students+taking+these+exams+in+the+coming+years.
Illustration by Rhea Noumair
Earlier this year, College Board changed the scoring requirements for the writing section of AP US History, AP Modern World History and AP European History. Changes made to the DBQ will make the essay drastically easier for students taking these exams in the coming years.

Known for their rigor, difficulty and the infamous exam looming at the end of the school year, Advanced Placement (AP) classes have reigned supreme as the highest level courses offered at WJ. Chief among these college-level classes are the AP history classes, namely AP US History, AP Modern World History and AP European History. With a large portion of WJ students having taken at least one of these exams in their high school career, these AP history exams are dreaded for their lengthy essays – namely the Document Based Question (DBQ) -, which are known to be difficult with so-called “high” standards for scoring.

However, starting in the 2023-2024 school year, College Board has announced that changes are being made to the scoring rubrics in order to make a perfect score more attainable. While these updates are a welcome change to some students looking for shortcuts in class, I worry that these changes are too drastic and will lower the high standard set for AP classes.

Before this year, the scoring guidelines for the APUSH, AP World and AP Euro exams consisted of categories for thesis, contextualization, evidence and analysis. While no changes were made to the thesis or contextualization, College Board made significant changes to the evidence and analysis rubrics, which are arguably the most important sections of these essays.

The first change that College Board made was to reduce the number of documents test takers need to include as evidence. Before this year, in order to get two evidence points, students had to effectively use six out of the seven provided documents. This year, College Board has announced that test takers only need to use four documents in order to score the two points. Instead of using 87% of the documents, students now only need to use 57%. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, can you really call an essay “document based” if barely a majority of the documents are being used?

The second change made was to the sourcing section of the essay. Typically, to receive one point, students must accurately source three of the documents used in their essay by analyzing the historical context, audience, purpose or point of view of the document. This year, however, students only have to source two documents. I’m actually not opposed to this change, as sourcing documents is frivolous and doesn’t contribute much to the argument, but is it really an issue to source just one more document?

Finally, the last and arguably the most significant change, was made to the analysis and reasoning section, and it changed the requirements for the “complexity” point, often referred to as the “unicorn” point due to its unattainability. In past years, students could earn the point by demonstrating a complex understanding of the historical topic throughout the essay by explaining nuances, relating the prompt to other time periods, analyzing multiple perspectives and other obscure methods of analysis. This year, College Board has expanded the opportunities for complexity to include using all seven documents, sourcing four documents and using the documents and other evidence to explain a different perspective. While I’m no AP grader, I find it difficult to believe that an essay can be deemed “complex” or nuanced by simply having more underdeveloped evidence or sourcing one extra document. Still, that’s not all. Perhaps the most important change to the complexity point is that it no longer has to be woven throughout the essay. Basically, students can just toss in one little rebuttal paragraph like an afterthought and call it a day. Could anyone really call that complex?

As well as the validity of the changes themselves, I also question the necessity of these changes, as students generally do well on the AP History and Social Studies exams. In a survey of 96 WJ students alone, 89.8% scored a three or higher on the APUSH exam, 98% scored a three or higher on the AP World exam and 75% scored a three or higher on the AP Euro exam. Nationally, 65% of students scored a three or higher on the AP World exam and 59% scored a three or higher on the AP Euro exam in 2023.

Overall, this change will only lead to a decrease in performance by these students academically, as most students will only take this opportunity to slack off and write even worse essays with even less convincing evidence so they can save time and get the test over with. Although we have yet to see the results of this change, I don’t believe that it will do much good as far as improving students’ AP scores. Besides, even if it did, is it really worth sacrificing the high, supposed “college level” standards set by AP courses? By lowering the requirements for AP exams, College Board effectively stumped the rigor of the classes. In college, professors don’t change exams just because some students didn’t get the best grade. If College Board continues this decline, AP classes will no longer prepare students for college classes and will instead set them up for failure in higher education.

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Sara Elster, Print News Editor
Senior Sara Elster is looking forward to her first year on the Pitch as a Print News Editor. When not writing for the Pitch, Sara enjoys baking, practicing taekwondo, and hanging out with friends.
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