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Why I like the Advanced Placement U.S. History Exam

As a tutor, I enjoy helping students understand their assignments, improve their academic performance, or prepare for standardized tests, but I'd be hesitant to say I actually like standardized tests.
 
But I've tempered my perspective concerning standardized tests because of the revised Advanced Placement U.S. History exam.  It does have a multiple choice "just the facts" section, but now half of one's grade is based on the ability to demonstrate critical thinking, and applying one's knowledge and thinking creatively.
 
For example, the Document-Based Question essay provides five to seven primary sources: these could be Executive (Presidential) Orders, speeches, laws, political cartoons, photographs, propaganda posters, and images of historical artifacts. One sample question, which required that students develop an interpretation of the perceptual and cognitive mindset of American culture during the Cold War, had a reproduction of an advertisement to parents offering a two dollar ID card to be worn by children in the event of a nuclear war, so that parents could more readily find them. Imagine the historical, economic, social, ideological, psychological, and cultural context in which these "ID" cards were sold. 
 
Think about how challenging the examination and interpretation of source material can be for critical thinking and writing.  The "DBQ" (Document Based Question) provides six or seven primary sources from a particular period in American history, asks the student to select three or four of them, and write a coherent essay tying the various sources together.
 
If more "high-stakes" tests were constructed this way, and teachers presented subject matter in a holistic curriculum that complemented these types of exams, our educational system might actually make critical thinking an educational value.
 
 
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