This one is bound to be controversial, but now is the time to discuss one of the most potentially volatile subjects in all of education: GRADES... Grades are a measurement tool used to indicate how close one is to the goal, but should NOT be the goal itself (sounds of feathers ruffling). Grades also vary from person to person and class to class. Just because a student has earned “A”s in all of their other classes they have ever taken every year since kindergarten, does not “grandfather” the student to the status of “an ‘A’ student” in AP World History. Even if an “A” is your overall goal, wishing it does not make it happen. An “A” is not the result of someone simply wanting it. It comes from consistency in proper student behaviors.
Grades are also relative. If given a large enough population, all grades should fall under a normal distribution on a bell curve. A majority of people will have “C”s, with approximately the same amount of “B”s as “D”s, and “A”s as “F”s. Now in an AP class, I very seldom have students earning “D”s and “F”s, but the average is typically around 75% “C”. Incidentally, “C” is also the average grade in my general world history classes as well, although their grades fall much closer to the normal distribution curve. So, if students in AP classes are supposed to be the “above average” students, does a “C” mean you are just an average student? No.
Let’s use an analogy. I want you to think of three average athletes: One in high school, one in college, and one at a professional level. If the average college athlete played in a high school game would he or she appear to be average? Of course not! They would be a superstar. If the high school athlete played in a professional game would he or she appear to be average? If they managed to get off of the bench they would look clueless. The average professional athlete would appear exceptional if they were to play in a collegiate game.
Grades must also have validity. While one way to gain validity is through norm referencing (bell curve), I do not feel that is very fair. That means somebody has to fail. The other way to gain validity is by correlating with a measure that is already accepted as valid: in our case, the AP exam. Below is how the typical grade in AP World History translates to success on the AP World History exam
A= 4 or 5
B= 3 or 4
C= 2 or 3
D or F= 1
Now there is the occasional “B” student who earns a two or the “C” student who earns a 4, but that has been very rare. With that type of consistency in how they translate, I feel confident in the validity of our grades.
AP is a college level class. You receive two points added to your weighted GPA (A=6 vs A=4) If you are average in an AP class as a high school sophomore, you are still well above average in the grand scheme of things. You’re just playing at a higher level. A “C” is worth four points, the same as an “A” in a general class. That’s because only the “A” students in the general class can hack it in AP.
Let’s use another analogy: On December 31st of every year millions of people make the resolution to “get in shape.” Most of them fail. Health, like grades, is the result of a combination of behaviors: proper nutrition, exercise/movement, proper sleep, managing stress. These are all behaviors that lead to good health.
On which behaviors should you focus to get your “A”? The best starting point is probably to clarify what your goals should be for success. The following are, what I believe to be, good goals, listed in no particular order or rank.
Goal #1: Content knowledge. You need to make sure that you are doing the work necessary to gain the knowledge that leads to success. If you don’t know the content, you will not do well on quizzes and tests, and you will have absolutely nothing to write about in your essays. These behaviors are specified in the APWH Troubleshooting Guide found on the Course Documents page, but the foundation of everything is reading the text.
Goal #2: Thinking like a historian. AP World History students should be able to craft arguments based on historical evidence. Make a claim and back it up. Compare. Contextualize. Don’t just notice that there are similarities and differences between two different groups of people. Try to explain Why the similarity or difference exists and provide evidence for why you’re right. Identify patterns. Chronological reasoning: Why do some beliefs and practices change over time? Why do others continue on for millennia? These are the skills we work on through discussion and essays.
Goal #3: Speaking of essays, AP World History students need to focus on becoming great communicators. Organize your ideas. Write formally. There is a big difference between how I write a research paper and how I write a blog post. A blog is informal. While I would never use the phrases “I think,” or “I believe” or address my audience as “you” in a research paper, I will do it extensively on this blog. Why? Well, for one I want you to read this. If I was constantly saying “one assumes,” and “one must keep in mind,” I don’t think you would want to read what I have to say in this format. It’s a blog; it’s more casual than a textbook. I even took my tie off when I wrote this. For two, I’m not writing this to “one” or “the reader,” I am writing it to you, my students and your parents.
If a student is focused on learning the content to the best of their ability, evaluating and thinking about the content like a historian, and communicating his or her position about the content in a well organized formal manner, how could he or she not succeed in AP World History and in college? Are you focused on all of these goals? Are you working toward them? If you are, you’re probably doing pretty well right now, and I expect you will do even better in the future. "But, what about colleges? Don't they want me to have a good GPA?" Yes, but they also want you to challege yourself. The days when colleges only look at GPAs are long past. Most college admissions officers will tell you that they would prefer AP classes over general, honors, or even dual enrollment. They would sooner accept a student who has earned a "C" in an AP class than an "A" in a general class. In fact, there are former students of mine who earned "C"s and "B"s in AP World History who today are walking across some very impressive campuses (even Ivy league). Only 15% of high school sophomores in the nation are enrolled in APWH; of that, 52% of students (nationally) passed the exam last year. That means if you take APWH and pass the exam, you are standing with an elite group comprising of 7% of all students in your graduating year. That seems like a good way to stand out on a college application.
Mr. Geoffrion is a History Teacher, Podcaster, and AP Reader. If you are visiting this site, it is highly likely that you are one of his AP Euro students.