February = AP® Exam Pacing Check

In February, I like to plan the rest of the year up to the AP® Exam. Pacing is crucial and while kids may complain about going too fast through content, they will complain even more if you don’t make it through everything by the AP Exam. Here’s some advice for pacing.

  • Count the chapters/topics left to cover and assign a number of weeks/days for each. Some topics need more time so check the AP® Environmental Science outline on the College Board website. Don’t forget about holidays, spring break, the prom and state testing.
  • Set days for exams and sticky to it! You will have to cut, cut, cut favorite activities, videos and labs. I have reworked plans multiple times until I’m happy with the items I have left in the time I have.
  • Do not skip anything. Sometimes a minor topic is an entire FRQ. See the 2015 #4 FRQ for an example. Many teachers skipped the chapter on cities that year due to snow days or running out of time and lamented the decision.
  • Post your pacing plan for students. Explain it to them and talk about strategy. Keeps the complaining down when you have strict deadlines and when you pick up the pace and cover chapters faster.
  • Assign content for homework. Explain to kids that NO AP® teacher has time to spoon feed everything AND also make sure students have developed AP Science Practices (which are a big part of the multiple choice section of the exam). Homework might be video notes or assigned textbook reading with reading guides or quizzes.
  • Encourage your students. I say “this semester we are going to pick up the pace, because you have the foundations down of ecology, soil, etc. We can go through the chapters faster now. I do this every year and my students always rise to the task.
  • Give sufficient time for review: I review science skills and do practice exams in class. I allow 2 weeks for this and then give the final exam a couple of days before the AP® exam. Kids review content on their own via a “6 week study guide”.

Essentials for class time

A lot of content is “the easy stuff” and can be read and understood by students without you.
Focus on skills and difficult content during class time such as:

Supplies needed for Airborne Particulate Experimental Design Lab.
  • Difficult content like El Nino, Water and wastewater treatment, Air pollution, stratospheric ozone depletion, GPP/NPP, biogeochemical cycles and LD-50 graphing. 
  • Math. Its better to do math during class time where you can make sure students do not copy and can get help as needed. Assign content at home in exchange. Explain this strategy to kids.
  • Labs that give a lot of “bang for the buck”. Make sure labs cover many concepts, skills and topics. Students need to collect a lot of quantitative data in charts and then analyze this data. The multiple choice section of the AP Exam will have data sets for students to answer difficult questions about. An example of a lab with a lot of data collection, analysis and math is the Kill-A-Watt Lab.
  • FRQ practice, assessments and peer grading. Self-grading and peer-grading dramatically helps students understand how to write better FRQs.
Self-grading and peer-grading with highlighters. Students highlight the exact words that give the point.

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