In May 2016, sophomores at Los Altos High School will take a new version of the AP European History (EHAP) exam that will focus on the skill of synthesizing and analyzing material. The new exam will have more short answer questions, a different focus and revised multiple choice questions. The changes are designed to push students away from memorizing information and more toward applying critical thinking skills.
In addition, the revised curriculum reflects what the Common Core standards are ultimately striving to accomplish.
“There’s been a shift in the exam away from politics and the history of politics toward the emphasis [on] more of the social stories,” history teacher Stephanie Downey said. “[It’s about] stories of people who were not the top echelons of the society…that’s a reflection on a larger shift within how history is being researched and told within the late 20th and early 21st century.”
The test will move away from surface level questions to ones that require connections to be made between different sources. Furthermore, the multiple choice section has been changed.
In the updated multiple choice section, test takers will encounter more visuals, such as maps or images. The questions will then ask students to apply their knowledge to the given topic. By providing visuals for test-takers, the new exam will require analysis of different historical events and mediums of information in order to develop a more complex understanding of history.
“For instance, [the exam will] give you a quote from a historian talking about Marxism and then you have to use your understanding of Marxism to answer questions about the French Revolution and other topics,” history teacher Todd Wangsness said. “The synthesis piece is being able to take what you know about Marxism and Marxist theory and Marxist interpretation of history [and apply it to a] question about the French Revolution from the viewpoint of a Marxist historian.”
Additionally, the test has been revised to allow students to learn about historical events through stories to better reflect the way historians are researching now.
Downey believes that, with this change, students will learn valuable skills that can be applied to life beyond the classroom.
“What is more relevant are the skills that are enduring because that can be rooted in these skills of reading and analyzing and that’s applied across so many different non-menial jobs that it’s really a barrier to entry if you don’t have those skills,” Downey said.
Downey and Wangsness both hope that with a stronger focus on historical reasoning skills, students will develop a better understanding of the material.
“I would hope that one of the outcomes of these changes [is] that you can’t do the panic cram at the last second,” Wangsness said. “You can’t just panic cram because you have to be able to read and interpret a passage about Marxism and the historiography of Marxism. That’s understanding and interpreting history and then applying it to different knowledge.”
College Board’s decision to change aspects of the exam is part of a broader movement toward stimulating students to apply their knowledge to different historical thinking skills.
“That [model] does represent this longer arc and this longer shift where I think for years College Board has wanted to move away from rote memorization to these more critical thinking [models],” Downey said. “It’s a larger shift that is happening within education because we’ve shifted from an age where you have to know something to an age where you have to be able to look something up and then interpret it.”