This week, WAC Correspondant Linsday Bernhagen is offering a series of reports from her experience grading AP English Language exams.
Last Friday I flew a short (but convoluted) distance to join 1,000+ high school teachers and college instructors of various rank in order to rate the 1,234,209 English Language Advanced Placement essays (three per whole exam) taken by high school students across the country just over a month ago.
I was surprised to see so many excited language and writing teachers in the airport as I made my way south. As it turns out, the Educational Testing Service has about a 75% return rate for raters between consecutive years. It didn’t take long to learn that I was an “acorn,” a nickname for first-timers whose origin remains unexplained to me. There exists a palpable sense of camaraderie and excitement among those who flock annually to the testing location—hugs are exchanged, children are asked about, and ribbing of prior-year tablemates pepper the hallways and the highly sought-after elevators in the many group hotels.
Rating AP exam essays is an seven-day affair capped on either end by travel days. The first day is primarily spent “norming”—an experience I found fascinating, if frustrating at times—though it is customary to “go live” and start scoring individually by the end of the day. Days two through seven are spent whipping through folders of 25 exams each, doling out scores on a fill-in-the-bubble sheet reminiscent of the sorts of standardized exams humanities scholars have assiduously avoided since high school. Given the number of exams to be rated and the number of scorers doing the rating, the average expected pace is roughly 200 exams per day.
Scoring takes place from 8am to 5pm, with a one hour lunch break and two 15-minute snack breaks. Food is abundant here. That leaves 7.5 hours of rating time, minus about 30 minutes of “re-norming” with sample essays that have been pre-rated by a select group of table- and question-leaders after breakfast and lunch each day. Once announcements and hourly stretch breaks are subtracted, we’re left with about 400 minutes to rate 200 essays each day—an average of 2 short minutes of attention per essay!
Scorers sit in “tables,” groups of about eight plus an experienced table leader who spends their entire week spot-checking (and redirecting, if necessary) the work done by each person at the table. Your table mates become temporary friends with whom you fight over the dwindling number of Swedish Fish in the candy dishes on the table during this oddly formulaic-yet-surprising, tedious-yet-fun, hyper-air-conditioned week.
In my next post, I’ll take some time to reflect on the norming process that precedes “going live” and resurfaces, albeit in smaller bits, daily.