Merde -- My AP French Exam Won't Let Me Answer

May 8, 2009

The College Board is apologizing and promising an investigation of why students taking this week's Advanced Placement examination in French language were given a recording that didn't work properly for the listening portion of the test.

The relevant questions will not be used for scoring students' exams, so the College Board says that there is nothing to worry about for students, but some counselors say that their students were seriously confused by the incident and that more needs to be done to make up for the malfunction.

In the listening exam, students hear a series of short discussions in French and then answer multiple choice questions about them. There is supposed to be a pause between questions so students can determine their answers. According to the College Board there was no pause after the second and third questions, so students had no time to consider possible answers and were confused over whether they should have been listening or looking for the right answer. Some students and guidance counselors have also reported problems with the first and fourth questions.

About 20,000 students took the test this week.

A statement released by the College Board said that the two questions that lacked time for answers "as well as the immediately subsequent questions for which item analysis indicates that student performance was negatively impacted, will not be factored into a student’s final AP grade." According to the statement, there are more questions than necessary in the exam so there "are more than a sufficient number of questions to ensure the reliability of the overall exam grade even when questions are eliminated from the scoring."

As a result, students do not need to retake the test. But the College Board will let anyone who would like to do so retake the test at no charge if their high schools will offer another administration of it on May 20. The exams the students took, like all AP tests, cost $86 each.

"We are very upset and share concern that this problem occurred; such errors in the timing on an AP French CD are simply unacceptable, and we have launched an immediate investigation into the root causes of this issue," the College Board statement said.

Guidance counselors and French teachers have been sharing frustration about the situation on e-mail lists. The College Board posted its notice there Thursday, but not before multiple people said that a statement was needed. One guidance counselor wrote: "Launch an investigation? That is crap. This screw-up did more than just mess kids up on those questions. Kids practice repeatedly and come to expect a certain rhythm on these foreign language exams. That was blown. When kids pay the $80+ for these tests they should be able to expect a certain level of quality control. They did not get that. ... The CB should refund all their money."

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