required. Your main goal is for students
to score well on the exam and win those
precious college credits.
Once your student has completed her
AP course or self-study work, it’s a good
idea for her to practice before taking the
exam. The College Board AP Central
website offers detailed information that
will help students practice for an AP
exam. This information includes partial
listings of past exam questions and information about the format and scoring
system for all current exams. You can
also consider purchasing study guides
for your exam subject. Barron’s has a
popular lineup of test-prep manuals that
usually include multiple practice exams.
The College Board
has a list of special
The “Computer Science A” Exam
My own special interest as a software
engineer is the “Computer Science A”
exam. According to the College Board’s
statistics, only 22,176 students took the
AP Computer Science A exam in 2011.
By contrast, hundreds of thousands of
students took the AP United States History, English, and Calculus AB exams.
In this digital age when our lives and
careers are increasingly shaped by computers and programmers, I’d love to see
students take a renewed interest in computer science!
How do you find out what is on the
Computer Science A exam? You can review the Computer Science A Course
Description for a list of specific topics. The Computer Science exam tests
the student’s knowledge of both general computer programming theory and
hands-on practical programming skills
using the Java language.
General programming subjects include these: object-oriented design techniques, understanding class definitions,
class relationships, and class hierarchies.
Students will have to write their own
classes to meet problem requirements.
Students will also be responsible for
familiarity with fundamental parts of the
Java language, including variables, flow
control, simple console output, arrays,
and portions of the Java Class Library,
such as List and ArrayList objects.
Troubleshooting, error identification,
and error correction are all important
components of a software engineer’s life,
and these topics are also covered. Students are expected to understand testing
theory, use of debuggers, and the difference between compile-time errors, run-time errors, and exceptions.
Over time many classic algorithms
have been developed to perform specific tasks, such as sorting or searching
through a sorted list. Some of the more
common searching and sorting algorithms are tested, as are recursive programming concepts. Students are also
expected to be well grounded in ethical
computing, which means understanding social, legal, and privacy issues and
responsibilities that come with being a
Finally, the AP Computer Science
exam uses something called a “case
study,” which is a reasonably complex
and interesting program called Grid
World. GridWorld is a complete Java
program and set of classes that provides a
graphical environment for studying how
objects behave in relation to each other.
Students will be expected to have already
downloaded, run, and studied the different classes involved with GridWorld
prior to the exam.
On exam day, be prepared for a three-hour test that includes both multiple-choice and free-response sections. There
are forty multiple-choice questions over
the first 75 minutes. Then students have
105 minutes to finish a free-response
section that contains four questions, in
which students will demonstrate their