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Ultimate Guide to the AP German Language and Culture Exam

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Each year, Advanced Placement (AP) courses and exams are administered under the oversight of the College Board, and matriculating students have the opportunity to earn college credit or advanced standing based upon their performance. The AP World Languages and Cultures program features eight course offerings and reflects the College Board’s commitment to shaping students who are a part of a global community that benefits from the communication and cultural understanding facilitated by foreign language acquisition. The College Board states “advanced language learning offers social, cultural, academic, and workplace benefits that will serve students throughout their lives.”

The AP German Language and Culture course, while not hugely popular overall with students, has seen a steady exam enrollment of about 5,000 students per year for the past decade. In 2016, 4,945 AP German Language and Culture exams were administered. Of these, about 3,300 represented standard group students who have taken high school German courses in a traditional setting, while the remainder were students with significant exposure to the German language outside of the classroom, such as native speakers or students who have studied abroad. If you are interested in taking the AP German Language and Culture exam, whether you’re a native speaker or have enrolled in the course, read on for CollegeVine’s advice on how to prepare for this important test.

About the AP German Language and Culture Exam

The AP German Language and Culture course takes a holistic approach to language instruction, emphasizing functional communication skills over grammatical irregularities and particulars. The curriculum is based on the interconnectedness of comprehension, vocabulary usage, language control, communication strategies, and cultural awareness. In this class, you can expect to learn language structures in context and use them to convey meaning, explore German culture in both contemporary and historical contexts, and receive thematic instruction towards concrete learning objectives.

You will be expected to pursue interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational communication skills by speaking, writing, and listening to the German language. Most instruction will be in German and the exam will measure your German language proficiency at the intermediate to pre-advanced range.

There are no formal prerequisites for the AP German Language and Culture course, but this is definitely not an introductory class. It is recommended that you are in your fourth year of high school level German language studies, though some students might arrive at this level of proficiency through outside means rather than the traditional high school coursework.

The AP German Language and Culture exam takes three hours to complete and is comprised of two primary sections. The first section is the multiple choice section. This part of your exam contains 65 questions administered over one hour and 35 minutes, accounting for 50% of your total exam score. The second portion of the exam is the free response section. This part of the exam contains four tasks that account for the remaining 50% of your score. These tasks will take roughly one hour and 30 minutes to complete.    

In 2016, 70.9% of all students who took the AP German Language and Culture exam received a score of three or above, thereby passing the exam. 21.4% of all test-takers received the top score of five while only 8.5% of test-takers received the low score of one. Of standard group students who did not experience significant exposure to the German language outside of the classroom, 62.9% of students received a three or above, but only 8.4% received the top score of five.    

You should keep in mind that policies regarding college credit and advanced standing vary by school. Specific regulations can be found here.

A full course description that can help to guide your studying and understanding of the knowledge required for the test can be found in the College Board course description.

Read on for tips for preparing for the exam.

Step 1: Assess Your Skills

The first step to developing any study plan is an initial assessment of your current knowledge. To learn more about the importance of formative assessments and how you can use one to get your studying off on the right foot, check out the CollegeVine article What Is a Formative Assessment and Why Should I Use One to Study?

Due probably in part to its low enrollment numbers, there are few study and practice materials available for the AP German Language and Culture exam. There are no publicly available released exams to use for practice, and even sample questions are limited. Some sample questions that can be used to assess your knowledge are available in the official course description. Additional free response questions can be found on AP Central.

Step 2: Study the Material

The best way to gain proficiency in any foreign language is to immerse yourself in it as much as possible. Although there are not many study materials developed specifically for the AP German Language and Culture exam, there are endless German language multimedia materials that can be used to further your knowledge and skills. Seek out German language news, videos, podcasts, and books. Use Google Translate to explore the language. Listen to audio books in German and practice speaking in German with friends, to pets, or even to yourself. The more German you hear, speak, and write, the better your communication skills will become.

Of course, you will not gain the knowledge you need on the AP German Language and Culture exam simply by speaking German to your dog. You’ll also need to spend some time exploring the specific course objectives and themes. The AP German Language and Culture course shapes its instruction around six primary themes. These include:

  • Global Challenges
  • Science and Technology
  • Contemporary Life
  • Personal and Public Identities
  • Families and Communities
  • Beauty and Aesthetics

Instruction and exposure to these themes will take place while working towards the course learning objectives. These objectives are concrete learning goals specified by the College Board, and they include:   

  • Engage in spoken interpersonal communication;
  • Engage in written interpersonal communication;
  • Synthesize information from a variety of authentic audio, visual, and audiovisual resources;
  • Synthesize information from a variety of authentic written and print resources;
  • Plan, produce, and present spoken presentational communications; and
  • Plan and produce written presentational communications.

Despite a lack of commercial study materials produced specifically for the AP German Language and Culture exam, there still exist a number of relevant study materials in print and online. If you do not have a textbook already through your school, check out the course textbooks recommended by the Klett AP Center. These books present all of the material for which you’ll be held accountable on the exam, and each is organized by theme and learning objective.

There is only one commercially produced study guide that claims to cater specifically to the AP German Language and Culture exam, but we do not recommend it. Rudman’s Questions and Answers on the Advanced Placement Examination in German (Advanced Placement Test) receives generally poor reviews and is criticized for its many typos. Reviewers also slam it for being irrelevant to the test itself. Our advice is to skip this study guide entirely and use other materials to focus your studying.

Many resources are available online, produced by AP teachers or former AP students themselves. Several sets of relevant study questions can be found on Quizlet. Another good resource is this course study guide, which includes an overview of the class and specific tips for each of the free response tasks. The course overview for an online class offered by Oklahoma State University provides a general outline of the class and a list of online resources that includes links to German language news websites and YouTube channels.

Finally, another relatively new and fun way to brush up on vocabulary and grammar is through the use of German language apps for your mobile device. Several free apps are available and receive good reviews. These include DuoLingo, FluentU, Babbel, and Wie Geht’s German, among others. Keep in mind that while these apps are free to download and use, paid versions are also available, so you will want to monitor the costs of in-app purchases.

Step 3: Practice Multiple Choice Questions

Although it’s difficult to practice multiple-choice questions for the AP German Language and Culture exam due to the lack of sample questions available, you can prepare for this section by ensuring that you understand what to expect on it first. The multiple-choice section of the AP German Language and Culture exam tests your interpretive communication skills in two separate ways.

First, you will read a variety of authentic print materials (e.g., journalistic and literary texts, announcements, advertisements, letters, charts, maps, and tables) and then respond to questions that ask for main ideas and supporting details. These questions may also ask you to identify the meaning of vocabulary words in context and the author’s point of view or the target audience. In addition, some questions will require you to show an understanding of the cultural information contained in the text.     

The second portion of multiple choice questions consists of a variety of authentic audio materials, including interviews, podcasts, public service announcements, conversations, and brief presentations. This section is divided into two subsections. The first subsection includes audio texts that are paired with print materials. The second subsection consists solely of audio texts. As in the first section of printed multiple choice questions, you will respond to questions about main ideas and supporting details, and some questions will require you to show your understanding of cultural information.

You will have time to read a preview of each selection and skim the questions before listening to the audio on this portion of the exam. All audio texts will be played twice.

You should take notes during this part of the exam and you will be provided writing space for that purpose. Your notes will not be graded or included in the scoring of your exam in any way.

As you practice for this part of the exam, keep a running list of vocabulary, grammar, or key concepts that are still difficult for you. You can review them again before exam day. Review the practice multiple-choice questions in the course description to make sure that you’re on the right track.

Step 4: Practice Free Response Questions

The free response portion of the AP German Language and Culture exam will ask you to complete both written tasks and spoken responses. First, you will complete two written tasks. The first task will display your mastery of interpersonal writing and consists of reading and replying to an email message. You should allow about 15 minutes for this task. Make sure that you answer every question asked of you in the email, and ask some related questions in return.

The second written task tests your ability to create presentational written materials. This task will ask you to write a persuasive essay based on three sources, including an article, a table or graphic, and a related audio source (played twice). These sources will present different viewpoints on a topic and you will need to choose one side and present supporting evidence to back up your opinion. You will have 55 minutes to complete this task and you should use about 15 minutes to review materials, leaving about 40 minutes to write your actual presentation. Although you cannot replay the audio once it has played for the second time, you will have access to the print sources and any notes you may take on the audio during the entire 40-minute writing period.

The last part of your exam consists of spoken responses. First, you will display your interpersonal communication skills through a simulated conversation. You will be provided with a preview of the conversation, including an outline of each exchange, and you’ll be given one minute to read the preview. You will then participate in five exchanges during the conversation. You’ll have 20 seconds for each of your responses. 

The final task will ask you to display your presentational speaking skills by delivering a short oral presentation on a cultural topic. You will be asked to compare cultural features of your own community with a given cultural feature from the German-speaking world. Your oral response should last approximately two minutes, and you will have four minutes to prepare it.

Unlike multiple-choice questions on the AP German Language and Culture exam, there is no shortage of sample free-response questions. You can find every free-response question dating back to the 2012 exam administration available on AP Central. While you’re reviewing the materials, be sure to also read through the scoring guidelines and examples of authentic student responses and scoring explanations. These are an invaluable resource for shaping your own responses.

Step 5: Take Another Practice Test

Continue to assess your knowledge as you study. Once you think you’re ready for the exam, take some more practice questions. Use these to identify areas that need further review. Repeat the steps above to incrementally increase your score.

Step 6: Exam Day Specifics

In 2017, the AP German Language and Culture exam will take place on Friday, May 5 at 8 AM. 

For complete registration instructions, check out CollegeVine’s How to Register for AP Exams (Even If You Didn’t Take the Class).

For information about what to bring to the exam, see CollegeVine’s What Should I Bring to My AP Exam (And What Should I Definitely Leave at Home)?

For more about APs, check out these CollegeVine posts:


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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.