While the 2023 AP English Language and Composition exam represents year 4 of assessment using the analytic scoring guide and year 3 of the changes to the multiple choice section, for me personally, it truly felt like the 22-23 school year was the very first “normal” instructional year since the Covid-19 pandemic. For that reason, I still firmly personally believe that we are only now seeing reliable student assessment data and trends. As an exam leader (EL) for the scoring process, I am privileged to work with all given exam forms as well as all three free response question types on each form. The following takeaways and tips are purely anecdotal, but are my observations from the 2023 exam scoring session.

  1. Students are becoming much more comfortable writing Q3 responses. Overall, these argument essays are longer than we have seen in years past. It appears that students are not leaving this question blank (often a sign of exam day fatigue), but instead are answering at length. Students are providing varied evidence, most commonly personal and historical, however, this evidence continues to be superficial, reductive, or missing commentary. The strongest responses are adept at not only providing an anecdotal example, but also situating this personal example within a broader context of how their own experience is significant. Students who use historical or popular culture examples tend to simply “name drop”. When working with young writers, encourage them to fully draw that line of reasoning from their thesis to the person or event they are referencing and then, most importantly, the significance of this. Too often, students simply stop at the point in which they “tell” us that a specific person did a specific thing, but stop short, never connecting the person and event to its significance in relation to their thesis and argument.  

  2. Synthesis responses, alternatively, seem to be getting shorter. Students are integrating evidence, but providing little commentary or conversations between and amongst sources. It appears that instructors are doing a nice job of teaching the necessity of using sources, and most students meet the quantity requirement of three. Students are successful in determining which sources seem to support or counter their claim, but often do not move beyond simply “quote dropping”, substituting a full quote as evidence rather than the quote being only a part of the larger student argument. Often, awkwardly integrated phrases such as “source A says…” or “according to Source B…”  encourage this cursory use of material. Students would benefit from more work with authentically integrating these sources by reminders that source material be used to support the student idea, rather than the student attempting to “prove” the sources to be correct or incorrect. 

  3. We are finally beginning to see more open thesis statements, perhaps as a result of the scoring guide change. Though, particularly in rhetorical analysis, device driven thesis statements still seem to reign. Teachers have expressed frustration in the recent years in not having released summer samples exemplifying the open thesis but I would argue that released samples are representative of the majority of responses and as the closed thesis remains most common, we continue to see these in the samples. There are two important reminders here. First, it is still clear that a closed thesis does not prevent a student from maximizing the scoring guide. However, I find that when students are guided to think in terms of open theses, they are also set up for a higher likelihood of earning the sophistication point. By avoiding the constraints of simply device hunting, often seen in the closed thesis, the students are more likely to situate their argument, or the RA text, within a broader context, thus also more likely naturally exploring the complexities necessary. 

  4. Students seem to be earning the Row C point more for nuance (perhaps as a result of the line drawn from nuanced open theses through the essay) than for style. I realize that many students and teachers alike are still unsettled and uncertain about this somewhat elusive score point. However, it is important to note that the rebranding, if you will, of this point from what used to be the “unicorn” is simply taking a little time to change. For classroom instructional purposes, I advise instructors not to treat this point as the un-earnable, nor as an April reward. While I know we want to avoid talking about the previous 9 point scoring guide, it is somewhat helpful to loosely think of the Row C point as something that many of the former 7,8, and 9 essays would have earned. Admittedly, this is an adjustment for long time readers as well, but I feel this score point will in fact, settle in soon. Do not be afraid to award it in your classes if you utilize the scoring guide during your timed writes. As I have seen during summer scoring, student writing does not need to be stylistically nuanced to earn this point. If the analysis or argument is nuanced, please reward the student, even if it is clumsily written. Likewise, a beautifully expressed response should be rewarded as well, even if the ideas are fairly superficial.  

  5. Teachers and students alike are making progress on this exam. I am seeing great thinking and writing and all involved should be absolutely proud of the work being done. It is so easy to get distracted by the noises around us in education. Political noise, collegial noise, administrative noise. It is easy to allow the thief that is comparison to rob of us the joy we likely once found in this career. But, no matter the bottom line data numbers found on any instructional report or local, state, and global averages, the exam responses are proving to me that students are reflecting and teachers are teaching. I see so many of you participating in professional development, review sessions, and learning communities week after week and my parting words here are that what you are doing is working. What you are doing is enough. By committing to the work day after day you are making a difference.