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How AP Develops Courses and Exams

Committees of college faculty members and expert AP teachers design the AP courses and exams. The committees define the scope and expectations of the course by describing, through a curriculum framework, the knowledge and thinking skills students should demonstrate for success on the exam. Data collected by the College Board, from a range of colleges and universities, confirms that AP courses reflect current scholarship and advances in each discipline — and that AP Exams reflect and assess college-level expectations.

Throughout the development process, the College Board gathers feedback from educators in secondary schools, colleges, and universities.

Methodology

AP courses and their respective exams are conceived and developed in parallel processes. The courses employ the backward planning model of Understanding by Design, while the exams employ Evidence-Centered Design. Both processes begin with the end in mind; together, they articulate what students should understand, know, and be able to do by the end of their AP experience. Claims about students' knowledge, skills, and abilities, along with descriptions of the evidence required to support those claims, serve as the learning objectives for the course and the targets of measurement for the exam. By design, the course and exam share the same bedrock documentation.

Course Development

Committee members first articulate their discipline's high-level goals and then identify each course's specific learning objectives. For example, AP history learning objectives derive from the shared historical thinking skills and the key concepts and course themes unique to each course, providing avenues of inquiry into historical events and processes. AP world language and culture learning objectives link to the Interpersonal, Interpretive, and Presentational modes of communication. AP science learning objectives promote deep conceptual understanding of core content and emphasize applying the science practices.

Numerous faculty members from leading colleges and universities validate the new and redesigned courses to ensure that they align with college courses and continue to support credit and placement for AP students. The result is a rich, clear set of learning objectives for each AP subject, published in that course's curriculum framework.

Exam Development

Exam development is a multiyear process that begins with decisions by the committee on the exam's overall nature:

  • How long will it be?
  • What types of questions should it include?
  • What evidence of student learning does each type of question elicit?
  • How many of each type of question should appear?
  • How much time should students devote to each section?
  • How are the course content and skills distributed across each section?

Answers to these questions become part of the exam specifications.

With the exam specifications set, test developers design questions that conform to these specifications. The committee reviews every potential exam question for alignment with the curriculum framework, content accuracy, and a number of other criteria that ensure the integrity of the exam.

Before putting the questions in the pool for possible inclusion on an exam, AP test developers pilot them to determine their statistical properties. When assembling an exam, the committee conducts a final review to ensure conformity with the specifications.

Assessment development for the new AP Seminar course is unique in that it involves the development of two types of assessments: through-course assessments (also known as performance tasks) and an end-of-course exam. The committee reviews every facet of the performance tasks and each potential exam question for alignment with the curriculum framework, content accuracy, conformity with specifications, and a number of other criteria that ensure the integrity of the assessment.