I did the AP Computer Science A free response test while watching basketball, baseball, and hockey games on the teevee. It took me about 3.5 hours, but that included an overtime basketball game, an overtime hockey game, a triple-overtime hockey game, and a lot of channel-switching.
Realizing that it is much easier to be an armchair whiner than it is to write a test of this nature, this test still warrants criticism. To the credit of the AP people, they listened to people and recognized that the multiple choice portion of the test was too long for the amount of time provided and they moved from 75 to 90 minutes this year. They also recognized that the free response portion of the test was too short–it really was way too short for years–and they reduced the amount of time for that from 105 to 90 minutes. So far so good.
The problem is that if you are going to write a 90 minute test, it should probably mean 90 minutes for a good computer science student, not 90 minutes for a good computer science teacher.
For the reader with some programming expertise, it probably makes sense to have a browser tab open with the test to follow along.
QUESTION: Did anyone give this test to high school teachers to find out how long they thought it would take? I’m serious about this. I just went through a thread on Facebook where top teachers at top schools were expressing concern about how long the test took them and the kinds of errors they made.
QUESTION: I thought I taught topics other than string operators this year. Was this a mistake? I’ve never written a test with this much emphasis on strings and I hope I never come close.
#1: My students should do pretty well on this problem. (Maybe I’ll learn whether they internalized it based on the test results.) I’ve actually been giving this problem as homework for about a decade, but returning random, unique numbers instead of Strings. If you’re curious or want to use it yourself,
#2: Good luck to the ELL student and the student who gets bogged down in terminology. This problem could have been written in about 1/3 of the space used on this test. Just get rid of the MessageLog reference. It’s superfluous.
In case a test writer is reading this, PLEASE be nice to ELL students. Make sure that what you are testing is whether they understand the big ideas and core topics, not your festive tangent that includes unfamiliar and irrelevant terms.
#3: I enjoyed this one, which may be because I like crosswords. I wonder how much my familiarity with crosswords saved me time trying to understand this problem.
It is much nicer doing this problem with Eclipse than it is to do it on paper. I lost a point on the first pass for failing to properly create an array, but it was an easy catch with the NullPointerException displayed by Eclipse.
// RANT ON //
CAN WE PLEASE GIVE STUDENTS AN ORGANIC TESTING EXPERIENCE THAT INCLUDES AN INTEGRATED DEVELOPMENT ENVIRONMENT? YOU KNOW, LIKE HUMANS USE TO DO PROGRAMMING NOW THAT IT IS NO LONGER 1981 AND WE NO LONGER NEED PUNCH CARDS? CHECK THIS OUT! IT’S FREE!
// RANT OFF //
#4: Imagine being a student who is feeling time pressure when landing on that first page of this problem with all those explanations, instructions, and examples. Is that how settlers felt after traversing 2/3 of the United States only to encounter the Rocky Mountains?
QUESTION: Why do we think our standardized test is any better than all of the ones that people rail against?