By Kunal Patel,  John Kaczowka, and Mark Heintz


I have two main focuses as I write this weekly blog. Two driving questions that I have in my mind while making decisions.  They are:

  • How do I know if my students know? 
  • How do I get them to know if they know?  

Whether that is a skill or content, I want to know if they know it.   I no longer think it is acceptable for me to guess or get a feeling on whether or not they know it. Getting the students to know if they know it is downright hard, but I am really attempting to get to a point where the students can recognize their understandings or progress on their skill levels and content knowledge.  Therefore, the purpose of this year of reflection is to see how I make progress towards these two goals and elicit feedback from staff, students, and hopefully people who follow along on the journey.  You can read how last week went here.

This week’s post is by Kunal Patel and John Kaczowka.  Here is their reflection.

As May 17th—the day many sophomores take the AP World History exam—comes nearer, students begin to “study.” But what is “studying” exactly? How can one effectively prepare for the exam? What have we done in class to help us prepare?

Class Activities and Homework Designed to Help us Prepare

Review Period Checklists: These short Schoology quizzes are designed to test our content knowledge on each time period we have covered this year. The questions are taken from previous checklists from past units. They are usually due each Thursday.

John: Instead of spending hours reading long texts and taking notes, Mr. Heintz created videos that were accompanied by quizzes to check our understanding of the material. I thought that these quizzes really helped me learn the material quickly without any difficulty. The end of each checklist consisted of a review for the week, usually made up of 20 to even 80 questions. The review period homework was a set of quizzes from the entire year divided into smaller parts to review important aspects of each time period. These quizzes saved me a lot of time during the week, and as a result, we didn’t have to learn the AP material during class but instead focus on writing, which will really help me on the AP exam.

Kunal: These weekly review checklists have provided me with a nice way to check if I have the content down. Although it can get repetitive, I believe that this repetition is necessary so that we can commit pertinent information into our memory. I tend to do each checklist twice (within a week or two) and always shoot for a perfect score. When I do get a question wrong, I read the question again, read all of the answer choices, look at the explanation for why my answer choice was incorrect, and come up with a new answer after doing all of the above. For me, I prefer the checklist system over doing a worksheet because I get instant feedback on my answers and an explanation for why an incorrect answer is incorrect as well. It also saves time in class because students will know the content prior to coming to class.

Short Stimulus Checks: These mini-stimulus quizzes are about 7 to 9 questions each. We have done three of these so far, two in the Foundations time period (8000 BCE to 600 BCE) and one in the Post-Classical time period (600 to 1450 CE). We went over the answers to each of these in class. Either Mr. Heintz gave us the answers or we worked together in small groups.

John: The stimulus-based multiple choice is one of the sections on the AP World History exam. This part is worth the most on this test (40%). Starting class off with a couple of stimulus-based questions is a great way to practice this skill. I really thought that these small practices helped me time-wise since this part is only 55 minutes. Timing was a big issue for me.  Making these little practices timed really improved my timing.  Afterward, we would go over the answers as a group, discussing which answer is correct and why the other answer choices are wrong.  Sometimes we choose the correct answer, but we don’t quite know why the answers are wrong or what they are talking about.

Kunal: I feel that this is one of the BEST ways to prepare for the stimulus exam, other than taking a full practice one! It’s a great way to start the class and doesn’t even take up that much time. By seeing more and more stimulus questions, students will get comfortable with the format and become better test takers by exam day. To work on our pacing, Mr. Heintz can have the timer set to a certain number of minutes that would equal the number of questions present. (For example, if there were 9 questions, students should only be allowed 9 minutes to answer them.) Going over the answers afterward is very effective since we can talk through each question and its corresponding answer choices. I feel the class is definitely more engaged when the class is under a time limit. What I would like to see in the near future are short, timed stimulus checks on Schoology that students can complete for practice.

Long Essay Practice: This is similar to the DBQ except the long essay does not include documents that need to support the claim nor do they need to corroborate each other. We did two practice long essays in class before we took one for our final.

John: We, as a class, really didn’t focus on Long Essays since they’re similar to the DBQs. This past week, Mr. Heintz gave us two prompts from actual AP exams to look at during class. We discussed what we can write on this particular prompt. He gave us a couple of minutes to write down whatever we thought would be useful to know about the period 600-1450 CE.  Every aspect is similar to the DBQ in terms of the thesis, contextualization, and corroborating except that there aren’t any documents that we can use. Using what we know is the entire aspect of this part. I decided to write on the 600-1450 prompt as practice for a test we had the following day. This was great practice because I sent it to Mr. Heintz and received feedback on the parts that could have been added to my essay. Writing using past AP prompts really helped me advance my writing abilities.

Kunal: Mr. Heintz didn’t give us any official practice to prepare for the long essay until the month of April. This worked out well because AP changed something about the requirements/format that would have made our preparations not as useful. At first, when we worked on one in class on the whiteboard tables, I wasn’t sure if I was using the right evidence or whether my reasoning was strong; I had very little confidence in myself. On the second long essay we did, I was only able to write the thesis in class. However, we had the long essay final the following day, so I vowed to finish the practice one and receive feedback from my teacher. After writing each paragraph, I sent them to Mr. Heintz via Remind. (You can find my long essay below.) I got GREAT feedback that improved my writing and boosted up my confidence level!! On the day of the final, however, I didn’t feel that great about what I had written. I was only able to write one body paragraph when I had planned to write two, and my reasoning was a bit repetitive. To my surprise, I got 6 points because I wrote my one body paragraph really well and my reasoning wasn’t as repetitive as I thought it was. (What is required of us in class is actually more than what’s required in the actual exam.) At this point in time, I do feel much more confident about writing long essays. The only question I have is whether I’m writing too much in terms of the evidence.

Memory Recall: Every day, Mr. Heintz tests our content knowledge. On some days, we organize historical events by time period and on others, we brainstorm all we know about a topic. Memorizing the content isn’t enough; we have to be able to access the knowledge during the AP exam under time pressure.

John: A big part of learning history is to actually remember the things we learn. The Schoology quizzes are repetitive for a reason. Mr. Heintz asked us to write any facts and important events for certain time periods for the past two weeks.  This was a great way to see which time periods we are struggling with and which ones are mastered. Sometimes, we worked alone to see what we know and other times with our table partner. Together, we could see what facts we could recall. This is a perfect warm up to start class.

Kunal: These “memory recall” times of the period are my favorite! I enjoy being tested on what I know and don’t know and the challenge it provides. These activities are very engaging and stimulate group conversations as ideas bounce around. Sometimes, Mr. Heintz requests us to work individually (which works for me), but after the independent work time, I think that group collaboration should occur as often as possible. One day, Grace (my table buddy) and I created a list of all the Chinese dynasties, the major empires/republics in Europe, and the empires who had power in India. We also created a pyramid and labeled the Caste System. It was fun, engaging, and useful at the same time!

Grace and I brainstorming:

Individual Memory Recall: Mr. Heintz started the class off with individual self-checks to practice recalling information.

Trade Routes Map Activity: We were given a map and a certain time period beginning from 600 C.E. to the present. The goal was to mark any major trade routes used, the empires who legitimized their rule during the time period, and the items traded without using the Internet or any outside sources except for classmates.

John: Drawing and labeling trade routes for a certain time period on a world map was a different approach to what we usually do. I feel that the activity could have been changed since there was some confusion as to how to approach the activity. The idea was there since it made us recall which empire dominated and which trade routes were used. Working in our table groups on a certain time period would have made the activity more interactive. I myself didn’t add all the things I would have liked on my map, and to me, it didn’t really look too appealing. As groups, we may have been able to throw more ideas out and we could have decided what was important and what wasn’t as much. Perhaps adding everything on one map may have improved the activity.

Kunal: Drawing trade routes and labeling empires on a map was fun, but I’m not sure whether that was the best activity for that Friday. On that day, Mr. Heintz was out for a meeting, so a handful of students were not doing the task and instead we’re talking about other things or on their iPADs. This is usually the case when a sub is present. I was on task during that class period and I even encouraged Max for us to work together because we had the same time period, 1450 to 1750 C.E. We both got our maps done by the end of the time period, though I just realized that I forgot to include the goods that were traded/transported between Europe, Africa, and the Americas in the Triangular Trade System. However, I personally thought that this activity should have been done earlier in the year. Doing it when the sub was present didn’t turn out well, and if Mr. Heintz were here, we should’ve been working on our writing instead. I think a better idea would have been to take a practice stimulus test or short answers that would be “graded” to force everyone to take it seriously and stay focused.

DBQ Practice: Last Thursday, we got a DBQ prompt. Mr. Heintz timed us for 15 minutes, during which we had to plan out how we would go about answering the question and organizing the documents into two or more groups.

John: Writing during class is one of the best things we do. I’ve always enjoyed writing and learning how to express my thoughts in different ways. The AP exam almost consists entirely of writing. Knowing how to write an essay well will really help me now not only on the AP World History exam but also in the long run. Mr. Heintz gave us a prompt from a retired test, and on Thursday, we were given 15 minutes to analyze the documents to highlight important aspects and connect the documents so we can support our claims. The DBQ is worth the most out of the writing portion of the exam so it’s important we do well on it. What we’ve been doing in class was a great way prepare ourselves for the DBQ. At the beginning of the year, I was struggling to write a good thesis, now after writing countless essays throughout the year in class and on tests, I have really started to write quality essay thanks to these practices.

Kunal: When it comes to AP tests, standardized tests (PSAT, SAT, etc.), and even tests/quizzes in class, my greatest concern is time. When I do my homework, I take my time, read everything carefully and make sure I understand what I’m reading before moving on, and I proofread my work. However, this has been my biggest weakness. If there’s anything I’m worried the most about for this upcoming AP exam, it’s whether I’ll have enough time to answer every single question for the multiple choice and whether my writing is accurate and on topic but also detailed. Due to this, I usually briefly brainstorm and move on to my writing as quickly as I can so I can write all I want to write. This has not been the best idea because it’s led to many jumbled thoughts and not a clear plan. Being timed for 15 minutes allowed me to see what I could get done in that amount of time. I was able to read through each document and list the main points. Additionally, I began grouping the documents and was getting ready to write my thesis. Taking 10 to 15 minutes to brainstorm will allow me to write a DBQ that has effective evidence, strong reasoning, and correct corroboration/qualification between documents.

Practice Test (Final Exam Part 1): For the last two weeks, we took our first final, consisting of a full 55-question stimulus test, three short answers, and one long essay.

John: Taking actual AP exams is a great way to test our knowledge and skills. Mr. Heintz divided the test into a couple sections since there aren’t enough minutes in a class period to an entire AP exam. We took a 55-minute stimulus test and short answer for two days. A week later we took the long essay and this week we’re supposed to write a DBQ, a short answer, and another stimulus to see if we’ve improved or where we could still use some work. Afterward, we analyzed each part individually and as a class to see where we went wrong and where our focus should be. Mr. Heintz had us grade other students work to see what we would give the person and why. He would check the grade himself to see if we were on the same page. I enjoy taking these tests because they show the things I have learned and mastered. Having the will to take these test will only benefit me since this is an excruciating test, and the only way to do well and get through it is to actually want to take the test.

Kunal: Taking a practice exam was very beneficial. It creates an environment similar to the AP exam and allows students to see what they have mastered and what they need to work on. After we took a certain part of the exam, we spent about a day or two going over the answers and understanding what we have done wrong. For example, a couple of days after the stimulus exam, Mr. Heintz handed out our packets and provided us with our results. Additionally, he posted the correct answers to Schoology and explanations for each answer choice for each question. I was able to go over every question I got wrong and decide whether I had made a silly mistake or if the question really was tough. This was very helpful! I realized that many of the questions I missed were silly mistakes that I rushed on due to time. For both the short answers and the long essay, Mr. Heintz requested that we grade our own before he handed out what he graded us. This allowed for a ton of reflection and stimulated group conversations.

How will we both study, and continue to study, for the exam?

John: The AP Exam is right around the corner. Here are some of the things I intend on doing in order to be successful.

  • Take three full practice exams. I found one complete exam on the College Board website and the Princeton Review has a handful of tests as well.
  • Watch videos from on the time periods which I could use some reviewing. There’s around 13 hours worth of content to watch. This would be a great resource to use.
  • Look through objective sheets provided by Mr. Heintz and try filling out blank ones to see which time period I’m still struggling with
  • Look through the Princeton Review and take notes
  • Go back to prompts from the year and try rewriting some of the DBQs and short answer questions
  • Quickly skim through previous tests
  • Reflect on the year and acknowledge how hard I’ve worked to get to this point

Kunal: At this point in time, here is what I’m planning to do outside of class to prepare.

  • Take at least two practice tests that are in the Princeton Review
  • Go over the answers from these two practice tests and understand and reflect on what I’ve done wrong
  • Complete all of the objective sheets with the best of my knowledge to test my memory recall and then review the ones with the answers
  • Do all of the review checklists once again from the whole year
  • Watch videos on to review content and test format/requirements
  • Finish any writing practices that we’ve started in class
  • Read through the Princeton Review and take notes
  • Look over all of my writing and the work I’ve done from the whole year

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