An analysis of the AP Chinese Language and Culture


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The Advanced Placement Program (AP) is one of worldwide distinguished curriculums nowadays. The AP offers thirty-three standardized courses to high school students; it has enabled high school students to take college-level courses, and to grant college credit or placement. Most colleges and universities in the United States and universities in more than fifty-five countries outside the United States recognize the AP exam scores in the admission process and/or for credit and placement (College Board, 2010). The AP is well recognized internationally, and therefore it has high value to analyse its assessment tool. This paper is specifically to take a look at the objectives of the AP Chinese course and exam, and analyse the exam from different aspects to see whether the exam could meet the set objectives.

AP Chinese Language and Culture

The AP Chinese program offers an opportunity for high school students to grant Chinese course's credit at the college level. The AP Chinese course is designed to match the level of a fourth semester college Chinese course. It is required to complete approximately 250 hours of classroom instruction to meet this level. Students are strongly recommended to take the AP Chinese course in high school in order to prepare for the AP Chinese exam but it is not a requirement though. The AP Chinese exam was first held in May 2007 and its objective is to assess students' proficiency in Chinese equivalent to completing a fourth semester Chinese course in college (College Board, 2010).

The AP Chinese course focuses on Chinese language proficiency with linking appropriate Chinese cultural content. It is expected students to acquire as much Chinese culture as possible while learning Chinese language (College Board, 2010). Chinese language and Chinese culture are inseparable; they are closely interweaving each other. Language is learned when studying culture and culture is absorbed in the process of learning a language (Jiang, 1999). The AP Chinese course also prepares students to demonstrate their Chinese proficiency level across five goal areas (Five Cs: Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons and Communities) and three communicative modes (Interpersonal, Interpretive and Presentational) (College Board, 2010). 2004 Foreign Language National Assessment of Educational Progress (FL NAEP) framework (The National Assessment governing Board, 2000) points out that Communication is the main goal among five goal areas. The other four Cs: Cultures, Connections, Comparisons and Communities are providing the meaningful context for language learning. Three communicative modes mentioned above place primary emphasis on the context and purpose of the communication. Interpersonal mode develops students' ability to engage in direct oral or written communication with others. Interpretive mode develops students' ability to demonstrate understanding of spoken and written communication within appropriate cultural contexts. Presentation mode develops students' ability to present, orally and/or in writing, information, concepts and ideas to an audience of listeners or readers (College Board, 2010).

Analyse the AP Chinese Exam

The AP Chinese exam integrates Chinese cultural information with listening, speaking, reading and writing. The objective of the AP Chinese exam is to assess three communicative modes in Chinese language along with the knowledge of Chinese culture. Students should able to recognize and understand both spoken and written as well as demonstrate their ability to speak and write Chinese fluently and accurately in an appropriate manner (College Board, 2010).

The AP Chinese exam is a proficiency test that tests students' overall ability in Chinese language with linking appropriate Chinese cultural content. Indeed the proficiency test is not limited to any curriculum or course, thus it is not necessary for students to take the AP Chinese course before they take the AP Chinese exam. The AP Chinese exam is a summative assessment that indicates how well students have accomplished the objectives (Brown & Abeywickrama, 2010).

The AP Chinese exam is a computer-based test. General advantages of computer-based test include: increased administration and scoring efficiency; reduced costs; improved test security, consistency and reliability, fewer response entry and recognition errors etc. (Thelwall, 2000). Students read directly from a computer screen, listen through a headset, type on a keyboard, and speak into a microphone. Students can choose to display the exam Chinese character version in traditional or simplified; they can also choose the typing input in Hanyu Pinyin or Zhuyin Fuhao. These choices have been considered students' different learning backgrounds and learning needs, students can choose what they are more familiar with in order to limit students' unnecessary learning burden.

The AP Chinese exam assesses students' communication ability in two sections: multiple-choice and free-response questions. Multiple-choice section covers listening and reading parts, free-response section covers writing and speaking parts. Listening, reading, writing and speaking are equally weight 25% of the final score (College Board, 2010).


Listening part assesses students' ability to understand spoken Chinese. There are two question types in listening parts: rejoinders and listening selections. Rejoinders assess students' interpersonal communication skill. A rejoinder is a quick reply to a question or remark. Students would head a part of a conversation then choose the answer out of four choices that completes the conversation in a logically appropriate way. Listening selections assess students' interpretive communication skill. Students would hear a series of conversation, dialogue, short or long narration then respond the questions. The listening materials contain some unnecessary information. Therefore it is important for students to find out the crucial words and phrases so that they can understand the main ideas of the contexts.


Reading part assesses students' interpretive communication skill. Students would read a variety of written texts such as advertisement, article, brochure, e-mail, letter, note, poster, sign and story. It is important that students have good reading comprehension skills that help to understand the main ideas of the contexts before answering the questions.


Writing part assesses students' writing skills in both presentational and interpersonal modes. Students are required to complete two tasks: story narration and e-mail response. Writing part expects students have sufficient reading skills to understand the prompt and to communicate information and ideas. Story narration assesses students' presentational communication skill. Students need to narrate a complete story based on a four picture sequence. E-mail response assesses students' interpersonal communication skill. Students need to read an e-mail and write a response.


Speaking part assesses students' ability to participate in conversations. Students are required to complete two tasks: conversation and the cultural presentation. Speaking part expects students to understand the scenario and to communicate information and ideas. Conversation assesses students' interpersonal communication skill. Students need to participate in a simulated conversation. The cultural presentation assesses students' presentational communication skill. Students need to make a presentation to an audience about a Chinese cultural practice, tradition or product.

The table below clearly illustrates that the AP Chinese exam fulfils the objective that to assess three communicative modes in Chinese language along with the knowledge of Chinese culture. Three communicative modes are almost equally assessed. Communication among the five Cs is the main goal area that exists in every part of the exam, the other four Cs provide the meaningful contexts. Comparisons part is obviously less proportioned.

The second table below illustrates that the AP Chinese exam covers all six skills in the cognitive domain of Bloom's Taxonomy. Comprehension skill is the key assessing area in the AP Chinese exam, students need to understanding different information in order to complete different communication assessment tasks. Other skills such as knowledge (recalling), application, analysis and synthesis are almost equally assessed except evaluation in here is less proportioned.

Scoring Standard

Multiple-choice section is scored by machine and free-response section is scored by a group of expert AP teachers. The evaluation criteria of free-response section for the AP Chinese exam include three main factors: task completion, delivery and language use. The College Board has very clear scoring guidelines for the free-response section. Based on students' performance, scores will be awarded in seven levels, level 0 to level 6. Every level illustrates Students can better prepare themselves in The College Board's scoring guidelines


Questions are shown in English???

The AP Chinese stresses the use of language for communication in real life situations.

comprises advantages and challenges which can hardly be compared, especially in relation to estimated costs.

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