Cramming (the Right Way) for the AP® Economics ExamsNick Anello, M.A. General Administration and Curriculum & Instruction
There is less than a month until the AP® Econ exams. It is crunch time for students—especially those taking multiple AP® exams. These exams can be a very stressful time for everyone (I am sure you are getting anxious as well). A year’s (or semester’s) worth of work comes down to a few hours in May to earn college credit. For students, there can be a lot of pressure coming from parents, teachers, peers, and themselves. You may be feeling pressure from department leads, administrators, parents, community members, and/or school boards. It’s OK to recognize this.
Good, that is out of the way. Now, breathe. Breathe again… Keep breathing. Oxygen is good for you and your brain.
Chances are, you and your students are going to provide or partake in cram sessions. These can be good refreshers and can really help students gain the confidence to perform their best on the exams. I always liken these sessions to riding a bike. I usually tell students something like this, “We learned these graphs before. We tested on these graphs and material before. You tested well on these concepts before. Now, we just must revisit these graphs, materials, and concepts to wake up those connections in your brains.”
With that said, let’s learn how to cram.
- Revisit the format of the exam. 60 multiple-choice questions in 70 minutes. This breaks down to 1 minute and 10 seconds per question (sounds stressful, right?). Remind students to skip questions they don’t know and come back to them later. Tell students to write all over the test and test booklet. They should cross out answers they know are incorrect. These are valuable reminders. Students will also have 60 minutes to answer three free-response questions. Again, tell students to write all over the test and plan their answers for the questions before writing in their test booklet.
- Remind students to get sleep. This may seem silly, but getting a good night's sleep is probably the best way to improve test scores. Students should practice good sleep habits. This means choosing a bedtime and sticking to it, not using phones or electronics about one hour before sleep, and setting an alarm that gives them enough time to prepare for the day and not feel rushed.
- It’s all marginal. The kids are going to get ‘x’ on the test if they were to take it now. Your goal is to help them get ‘x+__’ on the test by providing last minute cramming. You can’t cover everything as the time winds down. Remember that the goal of review is not to always review what they already know, but to add onto the ‘x’ with review of difficult information. Now, it is time to help them with some of the more difficult concepts to help boost their scores.
OK so you might be thinking, "Nick, I thought that this was going to be a cram session post. You haven’t even mentioned actual content or cramming topics yet. I feel cheated and I am going to stop reading now.’"
Yes, there is a purpose to that. You need to start with relaxing students with formalities and logistics. This will help calm them down, perhaps, in a "cram" session. If you get straight to content and just RUN through everything, students’ anxiety levels will only increase. Remember when I said that everyone is stressed? Find ways to lower that stress level first. The content will come, and there is a lot of it.
- I like to start content portions of review sessions with questions from kids. Some students are likely to come to review sessions with specific questions or graphs to draw. I start with these to be sure that students get their questions answered up front. However, we all know that many students come to review sessions with zero questions. We will get to a general review after questions are answered.
- Start with concepts or graphs that students struggled with throughout the year. In Micro, it is likely the Theory of the Firm graphs. In Macro, AS/AD models may be the concept you cover first. Revisiting these graphs is important. Also (this is in caps for a reason), DRAW EACH GRAPH FROM SCRATCH. Students don’t just need to see the graph; they need to watch it being drawn. If time is really crunched, then show the graphs in a slideshow. But I would advise you to draw the graphs from scratch. Explain why the curves are the way that they are. Show students the equilibrium at each point in drawing it. Students then can follow along with you rather than trying to copy down a static image of the graph (which they could more easily draw incorrectly in trying to copy it down). It also slows down the pace of review, which lessens stress. Having you draw the diagram means you can’t go as fast as you could clicking through slides.
- Reinforce what students did well throughout the year with a quick refresher of concepts/graphs. You have student data from exams throughout the year/semester. Use that knowledge to touch up on concepts that students tested well on.
- Did I mention that graphs are important? Have students draw graphs. Give feedback to each student if you can. Give released AP free-response questions if there is time, these also include answer keys which make it easy to give to students to grade their work themselves.
Your students have worked hard all year. You have worked hard all year. Now, use these tips to get your students over the finish line. Good luck to you. You have done a great job!
Nick Anello has taught AP® Economics for nearly a decade at Homewood-Flossmoor Community High School in Flossmoor, Illinois, in addition to teaching IB SL Economics. He holds two Bachelor of Arts degrees from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, and two Master of Arts degrees in General Administration and Curriculum & Instruction from Governors State University in University Park, Illinois. He has led professional development programs at local, state, and national levels on the teaching of economics. In 2017, he received the 3M and Econ Illinois Outstanding Economics Educator award. He also served as a member of the AP Instructional Design Team during the most recent curriculum update.