I lived Chapter 25, or I served as an AP exam reader


I have a new deeply felt appreciation for the term “mind-numbing boredom.”

About six months ago, I received word that my application to be an AP exam reader had been accepted, and I shortly thereafter booked my flight and hotel for the weeklong reading in Louisville, Kentucky. Then a few weeks ago, as my school year came to an end and before the ink on the diplomas was even dry, I was on a plane to Louisville.

We began at precisely 0800h in an enormous conference room subdivided into three separate reading rooms. Each reading room went through an extensive calibration process: reviewing the essay rubrics, reading and discussing sample essays, reading and discussing more sample essays until all 3000 readers were on the same page, so to speak, capable of giving an accurate score to each essay they would read. Ready for the task of scoring some 440,000 exams.

Approximately forty tables filled each reading room. Five rows of eight tables each. Eight readers and a Table Leader at each table. Several number two pencils and a College Board-approved eraser at each reader’s spot. Three or four candy dishes in the middle of each table filled with M&M’s or Starbursts or Red Vine Licorice. The Question Leader sat alone at a table on an elevated platform at the front of the room.  No clocks anywhere in the entire room.

E– turned a page. A– raised her folder in the air to get the attention of a aide to bring her a new folder. V– stood to stretch her legs while opening a new test booklet. I bubbled in a score. A– reader at another table coughed loudly.  A yawn proceeds across one row by unconscious influence.  T– flagged a booklet with a sticky note for the Table Leader to double check. F– turned a page. E– turned a page. A– grabbed a handful of M&M’s from the bowl in the middle of the table. F– sniffed loudly, attempting to clear her plugged sinuses. T– turned a page. V– bubbled in a score. I turned a page. The Table Leader brought a booklet back to T– to discuss the essay in question.  Ambient room temperature 62° F. F– put on her sweater and zipped it all the way up.  A– turned a page. V– sat back down.  Most sit up straight but lean forward at the waist, which reduces neck fatigue.  A scooting chair echoed through the room.

The Question Leader sounded his duck call to get our attention. “Good work. Enjoy your break. Be back in 15 minutes.”

Long lines formed at the coffee stations and at the restrooms.

The duck call summoned everybody back to the table to work. T– turned a page. F– turned a page. E– reached down for her water bottle on the floor.  The slow squeak of the cart boy’s cart at the back of the room. V– turned a page. I raised my folder in the air to trade with an aide for a new one. V– cleared her throat.  Some with their chin in their hand.  A– turned a page. T– bubbled in a score. E– turned a page. A sneeze could be heard from some far corner of the room. F– raised her folder.  Exterior temperature/humidity 96°/74%.  The Table Leader took an essay booklet to the Question Leader for a second opinion. F– turned a page. I bubbled in a score.

Every love story is a ghost story.

Seven days, eight hours each day. A fifteen minute break in the morning. An hour for lunch. Another fifteen minute break in the afternoon. Fifty-six hours of reading and scoring essays. Some 900+ essays were placed in front of me.

Nearly eight hours in the air and over two hours of layovers to get home. Screaming children on the plane with over-indulging parents. Congested freeways made the drive home longer than it should have been.

And I eagerly await for my invitation to return next year.

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2 thoughts on “I lived Chapter 25, or I served as an AP exam reader

  1. i had a similar experience coding essays for a college writing study. They were first year composition essays. The most interesting part of it, for me, was how impossible it was for me to ignore the content of the essays. I suppose, though, that when 900 essays address the exact same prompt, the content begins to seem as irrelevant as, say, the font.

    But did you have different fonts? They couldn’t have been handwritten, like they were in the ancient 90s…

    • Probably 75% of the essays were basically the same in terms of the argument they made about the topic, but the other quarter consisted of either comically bad ones or really good ones. They were all handwritten, which sometimes made them a chore to read. But I did find it fascinating that the handwriting styles all fit into about six or eight different forms. So after awhile, the handwriting all started to look the same.

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