Tips for Taking the Exam for AP Statistics (page 2)
General Test-Taking Tips
Much of being good at test-taking is experience. Your own test-taking history and these tips should help you demonstrate what you know (and you know a lot) on the exam. The tips in this section are of a general nature—they apply to taking tests in general as well as to both multiple-choice and free-response type questions. If you want more information than you possibly have time to process, simply Google "test-taking tips."
- Look over the entire exam first, whichever part you are working on. With the exception of, maybe, Question #1 in each section, the questions are not presented in order of difficulty. Find and do the easy questions first.
- Don't spend too much time on any one question. Remember that you have an average of slightly more than two minutes each for each multiple-choice question, 12–13 minutes for Questions 1–5 of the free-response section, and 25–30 minutes for the investigative task. Some questions are very short and will give you extra time to spend on the more difficult questions. At the other time extreme, spending 10 minutes on one multiplechoice question (or 30 minutes on one free-response question) is not a good use of time—you won't have time to finish.
- Become familiar with the instructions for the different parts of the exam before the day of the exam. You don't want to have to waste time figuring out how to process the exam. You'll have your hands full using the available time figuring out how to do the questions. Look at the Practice Exams at the end of this book so you understand the nature of the test.
- Be neat! On the Statistics exam, communication is very important. This means no smudges on the multiple-choice part of the exam and legible responses on the free-response. A machine may score a smudge as incorrect and readers will spend only so long trying to decipher your hieroglyphics.
- Practice working as many exam-like problems as you can in the weeks before the exam. This will help you know which statistical technique to choose on each question. It's a great feeling to see a problem on the exam and know that you can do it quickly and easily because it's just like a problem you've practiced on.
- Make sure your calculator has new batteries. There's nothing worse than a "Replace batteries now" warning at the start of the exam. Bring a spare calculator if you have or can borrow one (it's perfectly legal to have two calculators).
- Bring a supply of sharpened pencils to the exam. You don't want to have to waste time walking to the pencil sharpener during the exam. (The other students will be grateful for the quiet, as well.) Also, bring a good-quality eraser to the exam so that any erasures are neat and complete.
- Get a good night's sleep before the exam. You'll do your best if you are relaxed and confident in your knowledge. If you don't know the material by the night before the exam, you aren't going to learn it in one evening. Relax. Maybe watch an early movie. If you know your stuff and aren't overly tired, you should do fine.
Tips for Multiple-Choice Questions
There are whole industries dedicated to teaching you how to take a test. A less expensive alternative for multiple-choice questions, as indicated in Section I, is to Google "test-taking tips," and check out the multiple-choice questions of some of the listings. In reality, no amount of test-taking strategy will replace knowledge of the subject. If you are on top of the subject, you'll most likely do well even if you haven't paid $500 for a test-prep course. The following tips, when combined with your statistics knowledge, should help you do well.
- Read the question carefully before beginning. A lot of mistakes get made because students don't completely understand the question before trying to answer it. The result is that they will often answer a different question than they were asked.
- Try to answer the question before you look at the answers. Looking at the choices and trying to figure out which one works best is not a good strategy. You run the risk of being led astray by an incorrect answer. Instead, try to answer the question first, as if there was just a blank for the answer and no choices.
- Understand that the incorrect answers (which are called distractors) are designed to appear reasonable. Watch out for words like never and always in answer choices. These frequently indicate distractors. Don't get suckered into choosing an answer just because it sounds good! The question designers try to make all the logical mistakes you might make and the answers they come up with become the distractors. For example, suppose you are asked for the median of the five numbers 3, 4, 6, 7, and 15. The correct answer is 6 (the middle score in the ordered list). But suppose you misread the question and calculated the mean instead. You'd get 7 and, be assured, 7 will appear as one of the distractors.
- Drawing a picture can often help visualize the situation described in the problem. Sometimes, relationships become clearer when a picture is used to display them. For example, using Venn diagrams can often help you "see" the nature of a probability problem. Another example would be using a graph or a scatterplot of some given data as part of doing a regression analysis.
- Leave an answer blank if you have no clue what the answer is. The "guess penalty" is designed to yield an average score of 0 for guessed questions (that is, if you guessed at every questions, you'd get, on average, 0—you're a statistics student, figure out how that works!). On the other hand, if you can definitely eliminate at least one choice, it is to your advantage in the long run to guess. You don't have to answer every question to get a top score.
- Double check that you have (a) answered the question you are working on, especially if you've left some questions blank (it's horrible to realize at some point that all of your responses are one question off!) and (b) that you have filled in the correct bubble for your answer. If you need to make changes, make sure you erase completely and neatly.
Tips for Free-Response Questions
There are many helpful strategies for maximizing your performance on free-response questions, but actually doing so is a learned skill. Students are often too brief, too sloppy, or too willing to assume the reader will fill in the blanks for them. You have to know the material to do well on the free-response, but knowing the material alone is not sufficient—you must also demonstrate to the reader that you know the material. Many of the following tips will help you do just that.
- Read all parts of a question first before beginning. There's been a trend in recent years to have more and more sub-parts to each question (a, b, c,…). The sub-parts are usually related and later parts may rely on earlier parts. Students often make the mistake of answering, say, part (c) as part of their answer to part (a). Understanding the whole question first can help you answer each part correctly.
- WRITE LEGIBLY!!! I was a table leader for the AP Statistics Exam for seven years and nothing drove me, or other readers, crazier than trying to decipher illegible scribbling. This may sound silly to you, but you'd be amazed at just how badly some students write! It doesn't need to look like it was typewritten, but a person with normal eyesight ought to be able to read the words you've written with minimal effort.
- Use good English, write complete sentences, and organize your solutions. You must make it easy for the reader to follow your line of reasoning. This will make the reader happy and it's in your self-interest to make the reader (very) happy. The reader wants you to do well, but has only a limited amount of time to dedicate to figuring out what you mean. Don't expect the reader to fill in the blanks for you and make inferences about your intent—it doesn't work that way. Also, answer questions completely but don't ramble. While some nonsense ramblings may not hurt you as long as the correct answer is there, you will be docked if you say something statistically inaccurate or something that contradicts an otherwise correct answer. Quit while you are ahead. Remember that the amount of space provided for a given question does not necessarily mean that you should fill the space. Answers should be complete but concise. Don't fill space just because it's there. When you've completely answered a question, move on.
- Answers alone (sometimes called "naked" answers) may receive some credit but usually not much. If the correct answer is "I'm 95% confident that the true proportion of voters who favor legalizing statistics is between 75% and 95%" and your answer is (0.75, 0.95), you simply won't get full credit. Same thing when units or measurement are required. If the correct answer is 231 feet and you just say 231, you most likely will not receive full credit.
- Answers, and this is important, must be in context. A conclusion to an inference problem that says, "Reject the null hypothesis" is simply not enough. A conclusion in context would be something like, "At the 0.05 level of significance, we reject the null hypothesis and conclude that there is good evidence that a majority of people favor legalizing statistics."
- Make sure you answer the question you are being asked. Brilliant answers to questions no one asked will receive no credit. (Seriously, this is very common—some students think they will get credit if they show that they know something, even if it's not what they should know at the time.) Won't work. And don't make the reader hunt for your final answer. Highlight it in some way.
- Simplify algebraic or numeric expressions for final answers. You may still earn credit for an unsimplified answer but you'll make the reader work to figure out that your answer is equivalent to what is written in the rubric. That will make the reader unhappy, and, as mentioned earlier, a happy reader is in your best interest.
- If you write a formula as part of your solution, use numbers from the question. No credit is given for simply writing a formula from a textbook (after all, you are given a formula sheet as part of the exam; you won't get credit for simply copying one of them onto your test page). The reader wants to know if you know how to use the formula in the current problem.
- If you are using your calculator to do a problem, round final answers to two or three decimal places unless specifically directed otherwise. Don't round off at each step of the problem as that creates a cumulative rounding error and can affect the accuracy of your final answer. Also, avoid writing calculator syntax as part of your solution. The readers are instructed to ignore things like normalcdf, 1PropZTest, etc. This is called "calculatorspeak" and should not appear on your exam
- Try to answer all parts of every question—you can't get any credit for a blank answer. On the other hand, you can't snow the readers—your response must be reasonable and responsive to the question. Never provide two solutions to a question and expect the reader to pick the better one. In fact, readers have been instructed to pick the worse one. Cross out clearly anything you've written that you don't want the reader to look at.
- You don't necessarily need to answer a question in paragraph form. A bulleted list or algebraic demonstration may work well if you are comfortable doing it that way.
- Understand that Question #6, the investigative task, may contain questions about material you've never studied. The goal of such a question is to see how well you think statistically in a situation for which you have no rote answer. Unlike every other question on the test, you really don't need to worry about preparing for this question above normal test preparation and being sure that you understand as much of the material in the course as possible.
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