Do you teach Intro Psych? If so, I am personally inviting you to join me at the Advanced Placement (AP) Psychology Reading in Tampa next year (June 10-16, 2020; apply here). Choosing to attend the Reading was – hands down – the best move I ever made in my professional career. And I don’t say that lightly.
For doing the AP Reading, you are paid $1,639 (as of 2019), provided a free flight (or reimbursed miles if you’re close enough to drive), free room (with a roommate), and free meals (at the Convention Center).
I don’t remember when or where I first heard about the AP Reading. It was probably from Jane Halonen at NITOP. I do know that my first year was 2006. The Reading was in Daytona Beach that year. Since then, we’ve read in Louisville and Kansas City. For the last three years, the AP Psych Reading has been in Tampa.
What is the AP Psychology Reading?
A few hundred thousand high school students enroll in Advanced Placement Psychology courses each year. In May, many of those students take the AP Psych exam with the goal of scoring high enough to earn college credit at one of 1,999 colleges or universities students end up attending (see the full list here). In addition to 100 multiple-choice questions worth 2/3 of the exam grade, students also answer two essay questions – “free response questions” (FRQs) in AP parlance – worth 1/3 of the exam grade. (Read more about the exam.) Somebody has to read and score those free responses.
In 2019, about 600 college and high school psychology instructors met for a week to score a little more than 300,000 exams. If you’ve been reading carefully, you caught that that is about 600,000 essays.
No one does the Reading because they like grading
If there is someone who does the Reading because they like grading, I have yet to meet them. Unlike your own grading, however, at the Reading, you are given the rubric. Most questions have seven points, and for each one, you apply the rubric making a yes/no decision. If what the student has written reaches the bar for point one, score it. If not, don’t. Move on to the second point. At the end of the student’s essay, tally the number of yesses and bubble that number on a scoresheet. Move on to the next essay. Repeat for seven days.
Once you know the rubric – have become one with the rubric – the experience is very Zen-like. At the Reading, between 8am and 5pm – minus morning break, lunch, and afternoon break – nothing else matters. Some who do the reading talk about flow and about enjoying a break from the more complicated daily decisions they commonly need to make. At the Reading, everything is reduced to one simple decision: point/no point.
Why do college faculty do the Reading?
I asked several college faculty why they first decided to do the Reading. There were two primary reasons. First, someone they respected told them to do it – and, frankly, that’s the motivation I’m going for in this blog post. Second, most of them cited the extra money – also a legitimate motivator. Some faculty put the money into a dedicated hobby fund, others put it into a dedicated travel expense fund, and still others put it into their general household expense fund.
When I asked college faculty why they continue to do the Reading, almost everyone immediately said they come back because of the people.
At the end of the workday–where every day is casual Friday–it’s time to hang out with old friends and make new ones. It’s very different than being at a conference. At conferences, everyone’s pulled in so many different directions with myriad obligations. At the Reading, we are all done at 5pm. The next four to six hours are spent just hanging out with friends.
I can’t imagine being where I am in my career without the people I have gotten to know at the Reading. I am a better teacher because of them. This is the largest gathering of the absolute best psychology instructors in the country, both high school and college/university.
I first met Charles Brewer (Furman University) at the Reading – the highest award in the teaching of psychology is named in his honor: Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award.
Since 2000, 14 out of 21 presidents for the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP) have participated in the AP Reading. I’m not sure it would have ever occurred to me to run for STP president without the encouragement of a lengthy list of mentors – most of whom I met through the Reading.
I have been invited to speak at colleges/universities and at local/regional/national conferences by people I’ve met at the Reading.
Getting 300,000 students to interpret an essay question the same way so their written responses can all be scored reliably is no easy task. Any, yet, those who write the questions pull this off time and time again. The challenge in creating the rubric is in identifying what a reader must see in a student’s response to be certain that the student knew the concept, and then to write the rubric in such a way that every reader will score every student response the same way.
Since I started attending the Reading in 2006, my essay question writing and my rubric writing has gotten immeasurably better. It’s these improved skills that allowed me to move from a standard lecture-based teaching model to interteaching where my students learn through writing.
Join me next year!
The Nebraska Tourism Commission recently announced their new slogan: “Honestly, it’s not for everyone.” That’s true for the Reading, too! It’s not for everyone, but you won’t know it’s not for you unless you try it.
If it’s for you, who you will meet and what you will learn will take you places and provide you with opportunities you could never imagine.
If you’re thinking about applying to join next year’s AP Psychology Reading but you have questions, you are welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am not an official representative of either ETS or the College Board, but I would be happy to give you this reader’s perspective.