AP Research Vs. AP Seminar

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Welcome back to our series all about Advanced Placement courses! Today we’re looking at two of the lesser-known options: AP Seminar and AP Research. The classes are designed to work together, with AP Seminar leading into AP Research the following year. In this post, we’ll go over what each course covers, when they’re usually taken, and how the final AP score is determined. 

AP Capstone

AP Seminar and AP Research are part of the Advanced Placement Capstone program. Similar to the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, the AP Capstone program makes it possible for motivated high school students to earn an advanced diploma. Students must take both of these foundational courses and a minimum of four additional AP courses to qualify. 

The Advanced Placement Capstone program gives students the opportunity and the motivation to make connections between their other AP courses. Students will learn how to weave together diverse subject matter into cohesive papers and presentations. The coursework includes a five-thousand-word research paper, similar to the extended essay required by the IB program.

Students who pass at least four AP exams in addition to passing the final evaluations for both AP Seminar and AP Research will receive the AP Capstone Diploma. Students who don’t pass at least four additional AP exams but pass the exams for these two courses will earn an AP Seminar and Research Certificate, which shows prospective universities that they’ve developed college-level academic and research skills.

Not all high schools feature this course. You may need to speak with your guidance counselor to learn more about the options at your school. 

AP Seminar

This class lays the foundation for the AP Capstone course by providing students with the opportunity to develop analytic and inquiry skills. Unlike many high school classes, which are all about memorizing information, AP Seminar focuses on developing critical thinking skills. 

There are running themes throughout the class, chosen by the students and their teacher, that students explore and debate through different lenses and perspectives. This interdisciplinary exploration is often based on concepts or issues from other AP courses, local civic issues, academic questions, and/or internationally relevant topics.

Students explore these themes by reading articles, research studies, literature, and philosophical texts. They also listen to speeches and watch and/or engage in debates. Many classes also include analyzing artistic works and performances.

What does AP Seminar cover?

Early in the course, students are introduced to the QUEST framework:

  • Question and Explore
  • Understand and Analyze
  • Evaluate Multiple Perspectives
  • Synthesize Ideas
  • Team, Transform, and Transmit

The College Board calls these the five “Big Ideas”. Students are encouraged to be intellectually curious and develop their own perspectives on big topics such as poverty, modernity, and education. They work to build a strong foundation of knowledge to understand complex questions in context. The course also establishes ground rules with the AP Capstone Policy on Plagiarism and Falsification or Fabrication of Information.

Students will learn to read critically and analyze arguments created by writers, examining counterarguments and context as they learn to formulate their own arguments. They work at examining complex issues from multiple perspectives and examining their own biases. As the class progresses, students learn how to synthesize information and evidence into coherent arguments. 

Working with others is a big part of AP Seminar. Debates and group discussions take up a great deal of class time, and students develop their communication and presentation skills.

What grade is it typically taken in? 

AP Seminar has to come before AP Research, so students usually take it in their sophomore or junior year of high school. Some schools pair this course with another AP. For example, it might be called “AP Seminar: American Studies” and be designed for students who are concurrently enrolled in AP US History. Speak to your school guidance counselor for more information. 

Who should take this course?

There are no prerequisite courses required for AP Seminar. If you intend to complete the AP Capstone program, this is where you’ll begin. It’s a worthwhile achievement and excellent addition to your college applications. Students who complete this program are much better prepared for college coursework than others who have never written college-level research papers.

If you’re a dedicated student who enjoys debating and exploring a wide range of topics, this class could be an excellent addition to your high school course schedule. 

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How hard is the exam? 

The AP Seminar Exam score is based on three components: a team project (25 percent of the score), individual paper (35 percent of the score), and final exam (40 percent of the score).

The team project is complete in groups of three to six students. They choose a topic, research independently, and then present their research to the group. Next, they synthesize this research into a ten-minute presentation. Their teacher will follow up with questions, and they’ll need to defend their argument. Lastly, each student writes a paper reflecting on the project and their experience collaborating with classmates. 

Next is the individual project, which must include at least one of the source materials provided by the College Board. Each student needs to write a two-thousand-word argument, give a presentation of six to eight minutes, and defend their argument by answering two questions posed by their teacher. 

The final exam is made up of three short-answer questions and two essay questions. The short-answer questions provide a single source and ask students to analyze an argument. Seven sources are provided for use on the final exam questions. In one essay, students must compare arguments found in the source material. In the second essay, they write their own evidence-based argument.

You can find more information here.

AP Research

After AP Seminar, students move on to AP Research. Each student chooses a topic that interests them and conducts a research-based investigation – that’s one long project for the entire school year. The class delves into research methodology, ethical research practices, and analysis. 

At the end of the course, students submit a research paper of at least four thousand but no more than five thousand words. They also present and defend this paper in a final presentation that is effectively the AP Research exam. The paper must include the following:

  • Introduction and Literature Review
  • Method, Process, or Approach
  • Results, Product, or Findings
  • Discussion, Analysis, and/or Evaluation
  • Conclusion and Future Directions
  • Bibliography

What grade is it typically taken in? 

AP Research is taken after AP Seminar, usually in junior or senior year of high school. 

Who should take this course?

Anyone who’s passed AP Seminar should follow that up with AP Research in order to earn the AP Research and Seminar Certificate or the AP Capstone Diploma.

How can I excel in AP Research?

In this class, time management is key. Students who fall behind risk being extremely overwhelmed at the end of the year and turning in a sub-par project. Here is the recommended schedule for AP Research:

June–September: Choose a topic, do preliminary research, and finalize a research proposal.

September–October: Present a preliminary inquiry proposal for peer review, consult with expert advisers, and submit a proposal.

October–November: Complete preliminary research and finalize the inquiry method.

November–January: Implement inquiry method(s).

January–March: Write, proofread, peer review, and submit your academic paper.

March–April: Student presentations.

Choose a research question that genuinely interests you, something that you’ll enjoy learning about for months on end. Your teacher should be able to help you spitball areas of focus and specific questions within your area of interest so that you can find one that merits such an intense research project. 

In choosing a topic, students must consider these “Essential Questions”:

  • What do I want to know, learn, or understand?
  • What questions have yet to be asked?
  • How does my research question shape how I go about trying to answer it?
  • How does my project goal shape the research or inquiry I engage in to achieve it?
  • What information/evidence do I need to answer my research question?

Once you’ve chosen a topic, you’ll use the skills honed in AP Seminar to analyze source material, evaluate multiple perspectives, and synthesize information into a coherent argument. The academic paper counts for 75 percent of the final AP score, and the presentation and oral defense counts for 25 percent.

The presentation and oral defense take 15 to 20 minutes total. After two years of these Capstone courses, you should be well prepared to deliver your argument and answer any questions the evaluators might have. 

In their presentation, students must: 

  • Identify the research question and project goal
  • Describe and explain their initial assumptions and ideas 
  • Relate their hypothesis to their conclusion 
  • Provide the rationale for choices made during the research process
  • Explain the research process, evidence generated, conclusions, and implications
  • Engage the audience through a dynamic use of design, delivery, and performance techniques

The presentation is followed by three or four questions from a panel of three evaluators. These questions will further evaluate the research process and the student’s depth of understanding. Potential questions include:

  • How did your review of the methods used by scholars in the field inform your selection of a research method?
  • How did you handle the uncertainty of the research process?
  • How did you determine which results generated by your research method were most important in informing your new understanding?
  • How does your new understanding address a gap in the scholarly conversation?
  • What are the real-world implications or consequences related to your findings?
  • If you could revisit your research process, what would you do differently and why?

You can find more information here.

Overview: AP Seminar and AP Research

AP Seminar and AP Research are the two key components of the Advanced Placement Capstone program, which gives students the perfect environment in which to hone skills that will serve them well the rest of their lives, such as the ability to analyze information and form their own opinions on complex topics. They are taken in two different years, with AP Research following AP Seminar. Students who pass both of these exams in addition to at least four other AP exams will have completed the AP Capstone program. 

Here are the 2022 score distributions for the two exams:

Exam 5 4 3 2 1
AP Research 12.6% 25.8% 44.3% 13.3% 4.0%
AP Seminar 11.6% 19.2% 51.8% 11.8% 5.6%

The Capstone program is not an easy undertaking, but for dedicated students who plan to apply to competitive universities, it’s well worthwhile. If you’re still not sure whether these classes are the right choice for you, talk to students from your high school who have completed the Capstone program to learn more about their experiences.

Stay tuned for more articles on other Advanced Placement courses. And please reach out if you need help. Our experienced tutors can help you plan your course schedule and prepare for exams. Until next time!

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