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Course & Exam Development

AP courses are developed by Development Committees composed of an equal number of college and university academic faculty and experienced AP high school teachers for each subject field—usually six or eight in total—representing a wide range of secondary and postsecondary institutions. The committee is responsible for a range of activities, including:

Committee members also guide and review the considerable research and data analyses undertaken to ensure that AP courses and exams adhere to high academic disciplinary standards for proficiency and excellence. They bring to their tasks knowledge of the curricula and instructional practice, as well as a honed sense of the abilities and skills critical in a given subject, and how students can demonstrate the mastery of such skills.

Developing AP Exams

Each AP Exam consists of two sections—multiple-choice and free-response, except for the three AP Studio Art Exams, which are portfolio-based assessments. Free-response questions can take the form of essays, oral responses, or problems to solve. With slight variances for each AP Exam, equal weight is generally given to each section in the exam-scoring process.

Visit the exam information area on AP Central to see sample multiple-choice questions, previous years' free-response questions, and scoring guidelines.

Multiple-choice questions

Multiple-choice questions are written solely by college faculty who teach the college courses that correspond to the AP course. AP content experts make sure that the questions adhere to the highest standards of quality and fairness in test development, as well as to certain editorial and stylistic standards. Statistical specifications are developed to ensure that each AP Exam will be of appropriate difficulty for the test-taking population and that each exam will distinguish among students with different levels of knowledge, skills, and abilities. Reusing a percentage of multiple-choice questions from prior exams guarantees the statistical reliability of each AP Exam from year to year.

Free-response questions

Development Committee members write free-response questions. They create a pool of proposed questions, the best of which are refined and focused to ensure that students are presented with ample opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge. In analyzing the proposed free-response questions, committee members consider issues such as:

  • How should we expect a student to respond to the question?
  • What knowledge and abilities do we want the students to demonstrate in their answers?
  • Is it likely that the question will do what it is intended to do?
  • Could the question be better framed in the multiple-choice format?

Once a question is chosen for inclusion in an exam, it goes through several rounds of review and revision by the committee, typically taking up to two years. Each free-response question on an AP Exam is unique and used only once. Free-response questions are scored at the AP Reading.

Putting it together

The Development Committee reviews the final draft of each exam, judging it on the merits of the individual questions and the exam as a whole. Each exam must meet predetermined content and statistical specifications. It must also have a coherence and internal consistency that reflects its purpose of assessing the students' preparation in the subject. In approving the final version of the exam, the committee indicates that each question is appropriate and unambiguous, that all the members agree about the correct answer for each multiple-choice question, and that the exam as a whole is a suitable measure of the subject's Course Description.

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