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Ultimate Guide to the AP Italian Language and Culture Exam

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The Advanced Placement (AP) curriculum is a great option for high school students who are capable of college-level work and who are interested in pursuing advanced standing or receiving college credit. The AP World Languages and Cultures programs is a particularly good option because it provides not only the potential for college-level credit, but also exposure to different cultures in a way that can only be achieved through their native languages.

The AP World Languages and Cultures program offers eight choices in its efforts to build a global community wherein competence in more than one language is critical to communication and cultural understanding. The College Board maintains that beyond communicating in another language, the skills acquired through studying languages “endow language learners with cognitive, analytical, and communication skills that carry over into many other areas of their academic studies.”

The AP Italian Language and Culture course is currently one of the least common options with students. This is probably due at least in part to the preference towards French and Spanish as more popular Romance languages. In fact, in 2009 the AP Italian Language and Culture exam and course were officially discontinued due to low enrollment numbers.

Fortunately, the Italian Language Foundation was founded in response to this decision, with its goal being “promoting and sustaining Italian language education, especially AP Italian.” Through fundraising efforts and public outreach, the Foundation successfully rallied for the AP Italian Language and Culture exam to be reinstated, which it was in 2012. The Italian Language Foundation now sponsors the Dante Award for Excellence in AP Italian Language & Culture for members of the foundation. Membership is free for students, if you invite five other people to join (regardless of whether they join or not.) As a member, you are eligible for cash awards based on your AP exam performance. Students who achieve a score of three receive $75, students who achieve a score of 4 receive $100, and students who achieve the top score of five receive $200. Not too shabby for scoring well on a test that you’d probably be taking regardless! Read more about the Dante Award on the Italian Language Foundation homepage.

In 2016, only about 2,700 students took the AP Italian Language and Cultures exam, and of these test-takers, about 30% were native-speakers or students who otherwise were exposed to the language regularly outside of the classroom. The popularity of the AP Italian Language and Culture program is growing steadily, though, and with good reason. Italian is the modern language most closely related to ancient Latin, much of modern-day English has Italian roots, and Italy has a thriving economy with many top-end industries such as machine tool manufacturing, robotics, electromechanical machinery, shipbuilding, space engineering, construction machinery, and transportation equipment. Knowledge of the Italian language can not only further your understanding of English, but also provide countless career opportunities further down the line.


About the Exam


The AP Italian Language and Culture course teaches advanced Italian language skills including vocabulary usage, language control, and communication strategies. In order to reinforce the importance of communication, and not overemphasize grammar at its expense, the course focuses on three modes of communication — interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational. These modes of communication will be incorporated into class curriculum and tested on the final exam.

In addition, the course will develop your awareness and appreciation of various Italian cultural products such as tools, books, music, laws, conventions, and institutions. It will also include awareness and appreciation of cultural practices (patterns of social interactions within a culture) and perspectives (values, attitudes, and assumptions).

Although there are no formal prerequisites for the AP Italian Language and Culture exam, it’s strongly recommended that you be in your fourth year of high school Italian or the equivalent. Strict prerequisites would not be practical for a course such as this, in which many students have gained experience and knowledge through outside sources (like speaking the language at home or abroad), but you should know that the lack of a formal prerequisite does not designate this a beginner’s class. You will need significant knowledge of the Italian language in order to be successful.

The AP Italian Language and Culture exam takes three hours to complete, and consists of two main sections. The first section is the multiple-choice section, which contains 70 questions, takes 80 minutes to complete, and accounts for 50% of your total exam score. The second section, called the free-response section, consists of four tasks that span 90 minutes and account for the remaining 50% of your exam score.

In 2016, the AP Italian Language and Culture exam scores had a fairly even bell curve although, unsurprisingly, native-speakers generally performed much better than the standard group of test-takers. 66.8% of students without significant exposure to the language outside of the classroom passed the exam by receiving a score of three or higher. Nearly forty percent of these students received a three, while top scores of five and low scores of one accounted for exactly 9.4% of test-takers each. For more information about AP scores, be sure to read CollegeVine’s AP Exam Scores: All Your Questions Answered.

For more information about the course and the exam, be sure to read the College Board’s course description. If you’re interested in taking the AP Italian Language and Culture exam, read on for our tips for how to prepare.


Step 1: Assess your skills


Before you can begin studying in earnest, you need to have a good idea of your starting point. 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?

Of course, before you can take a formative assessment, you’ll need to find one. You can find some practice questions in the course description, more through online searches, and complete practice tests in commercially produced study guides. Some commercial study guides even have a diagnostic test, which is designed specifically to act as a formative assessment.


Step 2: Study the Material


In the case of any foreign language curriculum, you are best off immersing yourself in the language as much as possible, well before the exam. There is a ton of Italian language content out there, just waiting for you to discover it. You can find Italian videos on Youtube, podcasts in iTunes or the app store, and tons of websites with Italian text and audio. You could also find comic books, young adult novels, or blogs in Italian. Try to take whatever media you consume on a daily basis, be it music, news, or blogs, and find a good source for it in Italian, at a level that you can just barely understand. Once it becomes easier to understand, see if you can find something more advanced. The quickest and easiest way to accelerate your learning of a foreign language is to immerse yourself in it as much as possible.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that listening to pop music in Italian is going to get you a five on the exam. You’ll also need to study the specific material measured by the test. You will need to expand your vocabulary, your knowledge of idioms and expressions, and your listening skills. You’ll also need to study Italian culture and history. By the end of the course, you’ll be expected to:

  • 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.

In addition to mastering the learning objectives above, you’ll also need to consider Italian culture in a global context. You will learn about Italian standards for beauty and aesthetics, contemporary Italian life, and Italian concepts of family and community. You’ll also learn about popular Italian figures, global challenges of Italian culture and economy, and Italian contributions to the fields of science and technology. In short, you will become familiar with not just the language, but the country, its culture, and its history as well.

There are several commercial study guides available to help guide your work, though none reflect the most recent changes to the exam, which occurred in 2012 with its rerelease. One good choice is Barron’s AP Italian Language and Culture: with Audio CDs. Although this study guide hasn’t been updated to reflect format changes in the exam, the core curriculum remains relevant. The same can be said of another good option, AP Italian Language and Culture w/ Audio CDs (Advanced Placement (AP) Test Preparation).

Many study resources are available online, too. The website We Love Italian has an AP Resource center which provides a helpful collection of links to College Board resources, along with some recommended textbooks. Another website provides vocabulary practice, links to Quizlets, and relevant worksheets, while a course syllabus posted online contains a complete outline of course content and web resources.

Finally, a fun and relatively novel way to brush up on your Italian skills is through the use of any of the foreign language apps available for your mobile devices. AP Italian Prep Flashcards Vocabulary Exambusters is one great place to start, and FluentU also has a number of free study resources (though you will have to pay for access to their complete content).


Step 3: Practice Multiple-Choice Questions


The multiple-choice section of the AP Italian Language and Culture exam assesses your interpretive communication skills by challenging you to identify the main ideas, significant details, purpose, and intended audience of a variety of texts and auditory sources. You will also be required to draw inferences and make predictions about these sources.

This section is divided into two parts. The first part is audio-based and includes a variety of different audio media. These include conversations, announcements, instructions, advertisements, and news reports. Some of the audio sources will be authentic, and others will be produced specifically for the exam. All audio sources will be played a single time. This part of the exam will include 30-34 questions and lasts for about 25 minutes.

The second part of the multiple-choice section consists of questions relating to a variety of authentic print materials, including journalistic and literary texts, announcements, advertisements, tables, and charts. There will be 36-40 questions on this part of the exam and you will have about 55 minutes to complete them.

Your best bet for preparing for the multiple-choice section is by practicing lots of multiple choice questions. Some can be found in the course description, and others can be found through online searches or available in commercial study guides. Some from the Barron’s study guide can even be access online on Google Books.

While you’re reviewing these questions, focus on what each question is asking you to do. If it’s difficult or you get the wrong answer, try to identify the question’s format and objective — that is, identify if the question is audio or written, and what specific kind of communication it involves. Be sure to also keep a running list of any specific vocabulary or grammar that is still difficult for you. By keeping track of which areas are still difficult, you have a ready-made list of review topics when you’re done.


STEP 4: Practice Free-Response Questions    


The free-response section of the AP Italian Language and Culture course includes four tasks. In this section, you will produce written and oral responses to demonstrate your mastery of interpersonal and presentational communication.

The first two parts consist of written responses. To start off, you will display your ability to write using interpersonal communication by reading and replying to an e-mail message. You will be allowed 15 minutes for this task, and though the tone of your response can be fairly casual, you will use a formal address.

The second written task will assess your presentational writing skills in the form of a persuasive essay. This response will be a bit more involved and certainly more formal than the first one. You will be given three sources to evaluate that present different viewpoints on a topic. These sources will consist of an article, a table or graphic, and a related audio source, which will be played twice for you. You will base your persuasive essay on these sources and your own point of view. You’ll have 55 minutes to complete this part of your exam, though it’s recommended that you spend 15 minutes reading and preparing, and 40 minutes writing your actual essay. You will have access to all of your sources, including the audio source and notes you took, during the entire duration of this task.

The second part of the free-response section contains oral responses. The first of these spoken responses will display your interpersonal speaking abilities in a simulated conversation. You will be provided with a preview of the conversation, including an outline of each of the five exchanges. You will then have 20 seconds to respond to each prompt.

The final part of your exam will consist of an oral presentation displaying your presentational skills. You will be given a prompt on a cultural topic comparing cultural features of your own community to those of an area of the Italian-speaking world. You will spend about four minutes preparing your presentation, and your presentation itself should last for about two minutes.

Of course the best way to prepare for the free-response section of your AP Italian Language and Culture exam is the same way you prepared for the multiple-choice section — practice, practice, practice. The good news is that sample free-response questions are fairly easy to source. In fact, every free response question dating back to 2012 is available on AP Central. Be sure to take advantage of not just the sample questions, but also the scoring guidelines, samples of authentic student responses, and scoring explanations. You can also find an example of the scoring rubric here.


Step 5: Take Another Practice Test


Part of the advantage of formative assessments is that they can shape your studying both before you begin and while it’s underway. After you’ve had a thorough review of the material and exam format once, take another practice test to evaluate your progress. Repeat the above steps as many times as needed to see your score increase incrementally.


Step 6: Exam Day Specifics


It’s natural to be nervous when you’re preparing for an important test. The AP exams can be especially nerve-wracking because often they represent an entire year’s worth of hard work, all boiled down into a five-point scale. Having a solid grasp of the required core content and a good understanding of the test format and its scoring will help you to feel confident and perform better on exam day.

In 2017, the AP Italian Language and Culture Exam will take place on Wednesday, May 10 at 12 PM. A complete calendar of important AP dates is available here.

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.