Ap Spanish Language And Culture Essay
In order to do well on the AP Spanish exam’sfree-response section, you must be able to write a persuasive essay based on three Spanish-language sources.
Are you up to the task?
After years of elementary, middle and high school Spanish, the time has come—you’re getting ready to tackle the AP Spanish exam.
You can conjugate any irregular verb you see. You’ve got conditionals down pat. And your vocabulary is out of this world.
But can you form a coherent argument… in Spanish?
Here we’ve put together a list of 40 vocabulary words that will come in handy for making and supporting arguments in your AP Spanish essays, and in any other piece of Spanish writing!
What’s the AP Spanish Free-response Section Like?
The free-response section of the exam is meant to test your ability to communicate with others in spoken and written Spanish.
There are two essays in the free-response section. The interpersonal essay asks you to respond to an email. The presentational essay tests how well you can draw information from Spanish-language sources, form an argument and write formally. This second essay is a little less straightforward, so we’ll walk you through it here.
So, how does it work?
The presentational essay is based on three sources. Two of them are written sources and one is an audio source.
These sources can be just about anything: Advertisements, articles, infographics, letters, maps, interviews, radio programs, podcasts and conversations are just some examples of the types of sources you may encounter.
You’ll have about 55 minutes to complete this particular essay. First, you’ll have six minutes to read the prompt and the two written sources, and then you’ll hear the audio source twice. Finally, you’ll have 40 minutes to plan and write your essay.
The essay is graded on the basis of Spanish language skills like reading, listening, writing and grammar—but it’s also based on your general ability to analyze the sources and make a strong, coherent argument.
How to Prepare for the Free-response Section
In many ways, preparing for the free-response section is the same as preparing for the rest of the AP exam.
It involves studying grammar and vocabulary, and it also means immersing yourself in the Spanish language as much as possible. The more exposure you have to Spanish-language sources leading up to the exam day, the easier it’ll be for you to understand and analyze the three sources you encounter in the presentational essay task.
Seeking out native Spanish sources is easy, and FluentU has got you covered. Here, you can find info on great news outlets, podcasts, YouTube channels and blogs—all in Spanish. Even following some Spanish Twitter feeds or listening to Spanish music can be a great way to work a little language practice into your day.
There are also some targeted ways to practice for the free-response section.
- Do practice exams and read sample essays.The College Board has posted the full AP exams from the last several years. Try to read the sources and write the essay in the allotted 55 minutes. When you’re done, go back and slowly revise your essay for errors in grammar, spelling and logic. After that, you can also check out the grading rubric provided by the College Board and several sample persuasive essays. Try to compare your essay against the rubric and the samples to see how you can improve your writing.
- Practice summarizing and analyzing Spanish-language sources. Remember all those great resources listed above? Well, it’s not enough to just read or listen to them. The whole point of the presentational essay is to measure your ability to summarize, synthesize and argue. So, after you read or listen to a Spanish-language source, take five minutes to summarize it—on paper. Identify the main argument, and then make a bulleted list of important points. Finally, write a few sentences summarizing your personal opinion.
- Learn targeted vocabulary for talking about opinions and arguments. Is there anything more frustrating than knowing exactly what you want to say, but not having the vocabulary to say it? This article lists many crucial vocabulary words for expressing and supporting opinions in persuasive essays. Using these words and phrases will make your writing flow more smoothly—and they’ll allow you to argue with more credibility and style.
40 Persuasive Vocabulary Words for Writing Strong AP Spanish Essays
Agreeing and Disagreeing
Estoy de acuerdo/No estoy de acuerdo — I agree/I disagree
Estoy de acuerdo con lo que dice el autor. (I agree with what the author says.)
No estoy de acuerdo con la idea principal de la fuente número dos. (I disagree with the main idea of source number two.)
En mi opinión — In my opinion
En mi opinión, los jóvenes deberían comer más sano. (In my opinion, young people should eat healthier.)
La verdad es— The truth is
La verdad es que todavía hay mucha desigualdad en los Estados Unidos. (The truth is there is still a lot of inequality in the United States.)
Es verdad — It’s true
Es verdad que las redes sociales pueden ser peligrosas. (It’s true that social media can be dangerous.)
Es falso—It’s false
Hay gente que dice que las redes sociales son peligrosas, pero esto es falso. (There are people who say that social media is dangerous, but this is false.)
Me parece/No me parece—It seems to me/It doesn’t seem to me
Me parece bien que los niños asistan a colegios bilingües. (I think it’s a good idea that children attend bilingual schools.)
No me parece bien que los niños asistan a colegios bilingües. (I don’t think it’s a good idea that children attend bilingual schools.)
Remember that since me parece implies an opinion or emotion, you must conjugate the verb in the subjunctive tense.
(Yo) pienso que—I think that
Yo pienso que no hay nada más importante que la familia. (I think that there is nothing more important than family.)
(Yo) creo que — I believe that
Yo creo que todos los adolescentes deberían aprender a tocar un instrumento. (I believe that all adolescents should learn to play an instrument.)
Stating an Opinion
The following phrases all have the same structure: Es + adjective + que.
This structure is similar to the English “It’s [adjective] that…” and is great for expressing and supporting opinions in a strong and confident manner. Here are some phrases that are especially useful when making and defending claims in a persuasive essay:
Es evidente que—It’s evident that
Es claro que—It’s clear that
Es cierto que —It’s certain that
Es obvio que— It’s obvious that
Es importante que — It’s important that
Es necesario que— It’s necessary that
Es probable que—It’s probable that
Es dudoso que — It’s doubtful that
For some of these phrases, the verb following the word que must be conjugated in the indicative, while others require the subjunctive. A good rule of thumb is that when implying that something is certain, use the indicative. When expressing doubt or expressing some other emotion, use the subjunctive.
On this list, evidente, claro, cierto and obvio use indicative verbs, and importante, necesario, probable and dudoso use subjunctive verbs.
Es cierto que nuestro clima está cambiando. (It is certain that our climate is changing.)
Es importante que la gente sepa hablar más de un idioma. (It’s important that people know how to speak more than one language.)
Supporting an Opinion
These words will help you refer to your three sources, which contain information that will help you support your argument. This section also contains transition words to connect one part of your argument to the next.
Según— According to
Según el autor… (according to the author…)
La fuente —The source
Según la fuente numero 1… (According to source number one…)
El tema—The theme/topic
Esto es un tema muy importante. (This is a very important topic.)
La fuente muestra la importancia de la diversidad. (The source shows the importance of diversity.)
Remember, mostrar is an o-ue stem-changing verb—pay attention to conjugation!
La tabla demuestra que muchos jóvenes en España juegan al fútbol. (The table demonstrates that many youths in Spain play football.)
Demostrar is also an o-ue stem changing verb. Luckily for you, it follows the exact same conjugation rules as mostrar!
La tabla indica que hay muchas familias pobres en ese barrio. (The table indicates that there are many poor families in that neighborhood.)
Estos datos apoyan la idea de que el clima está cambiando. (This data supports the idea that the climate is changing)
Por otra parte— On the other hand
Es importante que la economía crezca, pero por otra parte, tenemos que cuidar el medio ambiente. (It’s important that the economy grows, but on the other hand, we have to care for the environment.)
Por lo cual—For this reason/That’s why/Which is why
This phrase is used in the middle of a sentence to connect ideas.
La Amazonía tiene un alto nivel de biodiversidad, por lo cual la conservación de esta región debe ser una prioridad. (The Amazon has a high level of biodiversity, which is why the conservation of this region must be a priority.)
Además — Additionally
This word is usually seen at the beginning of a sentence, and it’s useful for transitioning from one idea or argument to another.
Además, es evidente que la tecnología nos ayuda mucho. (Additionally, it’s evident that technology helps us a lot.)
This is another good transition word. In your essay, you may want to present an alternate argument and then explain why you disagree with it. Sin embargo is very helpful for this.
Obviamente, estudiar es muy importante. Sin embargo, es necesario que los adolescentes tengan tiempo para jugar con sus amigos. (Obviously, studying is very important. However, it’s necessary that teenagers have time to play with their friends.)
En comparación —In comparison
En comparación, la fuente número 2 indica que hay más obesidad en Estados Unidos que en España. (In comparison, source number 2 indicates that there is more obesity in the United States than in Spain.)
Al igual que —Just like
Al igual que en los años 40, hoy en día hay mucha gente que no quiere ayudar a los refugiados de guerra. (Just like in the 40s, today there are many people who don’t want to help war refugees.)
Tanto ________ como ________ — _________ as well as ___________
Fill in this phrase with two nouns to emphasize that you’re talking equally about two different things.
Tanto chicos como chicas deberían aprender a cocinar, limpiar, coser y cuidar a los bebés. (Boys as well as girls ought to learn how to cook, clean, sew and care for babies.)
Remember that Spanish has two translations for the English word “but.” The word sino is like the English phrase “but rather,” used to introduce an alternative.
Leer no es una pérdida de tiempo, sino una manera de aprender y de conocer otras culturas. (Reading isn’t a waste of time, but rather a way to learn and understand other cultures.)
Sin duda— Without a doubt
Sin duda, el cambio climático es el problema más grave que enfrenta nuestra planeta. (Without a doubt, climate change is the most serious problem that our planet faces.)
Aunque— Even though/Although
Aunque is followed by an indicative verb when the outcome is known, but a subjunctive verb when the outcome is speculative.
Aunque cuesta mucho dinero, tenemos que buscar una solución. (Even though it costs a lot of money, we have to search for a solution.)
Aunque cueste mucho dinero, tenemos que buscar una solución. (Even though it may cost a lot of money, we have to search for a solution.)
Concluding Your Essay
In your final paragraph, you’ll want to provide a summary of your main argument and your main supporting points. You can use the following helpful phrases:
En conclusión—In conclusion
En resumen—In summary
En conclusión,/En resumen,/En fin, las tres fuentes muestran que la contaminación del aire es un problema muy grave para todo el mundo. (In summary, the three sources show that air pollution is a very serious problem for the whole world.)
After summarizing your essay, you’ll want to re-state your main argument in a succinct, strongly-worded sentence. Start with these phrases:
Por estas razones—For these reasons
Por eso — That is why
Entonces — So
Por estas razones,/Por eso,/Así que/Entonces, afirmo que los adolescentes no deberían usar las redes sociales. (For these reasons, I affirm that teenagers should not use social media.)
Learn and study these words—they’ll help you express yourself more fluidly in your AP Spanish essays.
But, of course, learning vocabulary is just one way to prepare for the free-response section.
Remember to expose yourself to as many Spanish-language sources as you can before test day, and don’t forget to think critically about those sources as you read them!
With practice, writing strong essays for the AP Spanish exam will be a breeze.
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The AP Spanish Language exam can be an intimidating obstacle for even the most astute and focused Spanish student. However, with steady preparation throughout the school year, and careful review in the spring prior to exam time, you will master both the written and oral portions of this conquerable exam! Keep in mind that while over 130,000 students took the AP Spanish Language and Culture exam last year, 85%* passed with a score of 3 or higher and over 50% passed with a 4 or 5, earning them valuable college credit. You, too, can be successful on this exam. So stay tuned and the following tips will help you along the way.
How to Study for AP Spanish Language & Culture Tips
1. Start using Spanish. This should seem like a no-brainer but year after year students enter the AP Spanish exam worried about, yes, that’s right, their Spanish. By the time you reach the AP level in a foreign language, you have had plenty of experience with the grammar, and possibly the literature, of the language you’re studying. You’re comfortable with Spanish so now surround yourself with it on a daily basis, honing skills that will become second nature by the time the test rolls around. Read the news in Spanish (BBC Mundo is a great source). Watch telenovelas – they’re addicting, so you might even get hooked on practicing Spanish! You can even find episodes of your favorite shows dubbed in Spanish, as an introduction to television in Spanish. Change your social media settings to Spanish, or put on a Spanish music station on Pandora. Listen to authentic sources, like radio shows and podcasts, to practice your audio skills – these are the kinds of sources that will be used on the exam, and they’ll give you practice with cultural ideas. Bonus tip: make sure to practice with sources from different countries to get the hang of trickier accents, like Argentine and andaluz.
2. Listen. There are so many ways to incorporate Spanish audio into your daily routine. Add fun, upbeat songs to your workout playlist. Aventura, Prince Royce, and Calle 13 are all fun, young artists that will introduce you to new dialects and words. Most major cities in the U.S. also have several Spanish-language radio stations. Test yourself. Follow a news story in Spanish and see how much you understand – more than you think!
3. Speak. Although production is probably the element of foreign language that frightens students the most, that doesn’t mean it has to be. The best way to learn Spanish is to speak it. When your teacher poses questions to the class, raise your hand! Don’t worry about making mistakes; the more you speak, the fewer mistakes you’ll make. This is the time to learn, and the experience will help calm your nerves during the actual exam. Like any activity, the more you practice, the easier and more natural it will become.
To practice this skill set in Spanish, we recommend Spanish-English conversational exchanges. These short cultural exchanges are widespread in the U.S. Spend fifteen minutes speaking English and in return, you get fifteen free minutes of practice in Spanish with a native speaker! Volunteering is also an excellent way to incorporate more Spanish. Organizations such as Habitat for Humanity often need people with good written and oral skills in Spanish.
4. Read. You don’t have to crack open Don Quixote to practice reading in Spanish. But likewise, just because this is the AP Spanish Language exam and not literature, doesn’t mean that your reading skills can be subpar. The multiple-choice section, for example, requires good reading skills at a fast pace. Lucky for you, Spanish is a robust language with hundreds of periodicals from El Mundo to People en Español. Try to read a couple of articles a week, picking out a few words or idioms from each that you don’t know. Other quick changes such as setting your computer and social media accounts to Spanish can be an extra daily dose of Spanish.
5. Don’t stress the accents. We’ll talk more about this below, but for now know that graders care much less about perfect spelling and accent usage than they do the real meat and potatoes content of your essays. They want to see solid arguments framed with topic sentences and always backed up with a clearly stated thesis.
Paragraph = Transition word + Topic sentence + argumentation
So don’t get lost in the details – it takes up time and you won’t be punished for little mistakes.
6. Vocabulary. You’re in AP Spanish so you (hopefully!) have a solid command of the Spanish Language. Still, what slips you up? Causes you to slow down when completing assignments or speaking in class? More likely than not, it’s an unknown vocabulary word or perhaps a word that you learned once and cannot recall. Well, there’s a solution for that:
7. Rely on flashcards. You guessed it: vocabulary cards. We already talked about the importance of reading and identifying unknown vocabulary words. What to do once you have a list? Make cards. Or charts. Or elaborate, colorful diagrams. Whatever helps you to remember new words. And remember: no English translations! Instead, write a description of the word in Spanish. Research shows that you will remember words faster (and access them faster come test day) if they have their own representation in your mind.
8. A new one a day. Plain and simple: learn a new word every day. Open up a dictionary and pick a word out. Use a daily flip calendar that introduces a vocab word a day. Use them all!
9. Contextualize. It’s not enough to maintain a hefty stack of vocabulary cards if you don’t know how/when to use them. Make sure to include an example sentence for each new word that really helps integrate the meaning in your mind.
10. Don’t forget the details. So you have your vocabulary list and even some example sentences. Still, you’re going to get stuck with these new words if you don’t note two things:
11. Word gender: If it’s a noun, you must memorize the gender and article (el/la). And what about the gender of those “exceptions”? El agua is feminine but el idioma is masculine – note the gender of the word in addition to its article.
12. Verb conjugation: Spanish is notorious for its tough verb conjugations. If it’s an irregular verb, make sure that you note all the conjugations (including subjunctive!). You never know when one will pop up.
Insider tip: Although on the AP Spanish Language exam graders are instructed to be forgiving for cosmetic errors like accents, grammatical gender (el vs. la), and even some tough irregular verb conjugations such as the subjunctive, your grader will be more impressed if you have a clean, error-free essay. So brush up on your accent marking and write the best essay that you can on test day.
13. Exercise the weak spots. In your AP Spanish Language class, you have undoubtedly been doing some practice exams. These are a great method for identifying your weak spots on the exam – the part of the exam that’s going to drag you down below the crucial 4 mark. Find the part of the exam, be it spoken, written, or otherwise, that you struggle with and work on it. Pay particular attention to it during practice exams and go over those responses with your teacher. Spend some time reviewing tough grammar. Do practice exercises for ideas like porpara, preterite vs. imperfect, irregular verbs, and when to use the subjunctive. If you can use these structures correctly and consistently, you’ll score higher.You can also ask your teacher for specific areas that he/she would recommend you improve upon prior to the test.
Insider tip: What’s my structure again? The AP Spanish exam is comprised of three main areas: multiple choice, speaking, and written. Here they are, listed in order of appearance on the test: multiple choice, presentational/ conversational speaking, short presentational writing (e-mail), and long presentational writing (essay). Remember that once you complete one section, you can’t go back and change your answers. So move on and focus on the section at hand. At the same time, you can’t work ahead. So even if you’re especially nervous for the speaking section, focus on the questions in front of you. You can’t work ahead so there’s no benefit in being anxious about an upcoming section.
14. Review old exams.Previous exams are an AP student’s best friend. Why? Because the test makers shy away from too much creativity year to year. Previous tests are the key to predicting what to expect on your test this year. Yes, there will be an e-mail (interpersonal writing component). Yes, there will be an essay (presentational writing component). But not only should you examine these previous exams, you should also practice responses to these questions – and time yourself. Which brings us to…
15. Tick-tock, time yourself. The more you practice for the AP Spanish Language exam, the more you will see that time is of the essence. With so many components to the test, it’s understandable that time will go by quickly. Don’t let yourself fall into this trap and get stressed by time limits. Practice is great, but it’s all for nothing if you don’t also time yourself. Set a clock in front of you when you practice the interpersonal writing component – time passes very quickly and there’s a lot of information that must be included to warrant a 5! Use that clock again when practicing the speaking section. You have some big recording spots to fill with your oral Spanish – make sure you don’t leave three minutes of a recording empty without response. And don’t count on a clock hanging in the testing room; wear a watch (make sure it won’t make any noise during the exam), so you can keep track of your organizing, writing, and speaking time easily.
16. Teachers as resources. You may think that your AP Spanish teacher is only there as a source of infinite grammatical wisdom. But in fact, there may be no better person to speak with about the test than your own teacher! AP teachers have seen hundred of students come through their classrooms. What’s more, as we’ll explain below, many AP teachers grade the exams at summer institutes. Your teacher is a wealth of knowledge. Ask questions. Speak up. Take advantage of extra study sessions (or suggest them!).
17. Make a study party! For some, studying alone works. Still, research shows that most students work better and achieve better results when reviewing in a group. Why? Because you can bounce ideas off of the various members, it breaks up the monotony of studying alone, and, because it can be fun! Exam review doesn’t have to be miserable. Be organized and stay on course, but make the time during review to also be with friends and classmates.
18. Play grader. Trade practice essays within the group and grade each other’s using the 0-5 AP rubric. Be encouraging, but tell each member what was lacking in the essay and most importantly, how to improve for the next one.
19. Divide and conquer vocab cards. Why make duplicate vocabulary cards? Split the vocabulary lists between the members of the group and have each member type up a set of review cards to share. Then, if you do want to practice on your own, simply make a copy of the group’s prepared cards.
20. Have a weekly objective. Try to meet once a week leading up to the test and then close to daily as the test approaches. For each meeting, come prepared with a topic to review. Put one or two people in charge of a new topic for each meeting. This way, you get a solid review of a cultural concept or verb tense, but don’t have to do all the review alone.
21. Skip instructions. You know what to do – skip them! That’s right, by the time you get to test day, you should be so familiar with the layout and structure of the exam, that you don’t need to review the instructions again. Get used to the format, the prompt style, and the instructions. During the exam, you will have a full minute each time the instructions are read; you don’t need to listen! Use that time to get started reading printed sources, skimming multiple-choice questions, and jotting down notes for the presentational prompts. Your familiarity with the instructions is your secret weapon. You’ll save yourself a good minute of test time!
Insider tip: At three hours, the AP Spanish Language and Culture exam is a long one. What are some strategies for getting through this exam and performing at your best, even at the end?
– Take a breather after every page of questions. This easy exercise will give your brain a brief respite from the tough job of reading all that Spanish!
– Make sure to stand up during break time. Working so fast and ardently can take a toll on your back and legs. You won’t be punished for standing up during the break, so get that blood pumping and jump to your feet occasionally.
– Eat a good breakfast/lunch on test day! It will be impossible to focus for all three hours of the exam if your stomach is grumbling. Give your brain the energy it needs – eat well the day of the test!
22. Know the themes. It’s the AP Spanish Language and Culture exam. Of course it’s important to review your past subjunctive and transition words for the essays, but if you aren’t knowledgeable about the cultural themes that the AP course is structured around, you cannot do well on the test.
Writing and speaking prompts, as well as multiple-choice questions, will tie in these common connections. According to CollegeBoard, the themes are as follows:
Global Challenges / Los desafíos mundiales
Science and Technology / La ciencia y la tecnología
Contemporary Life / La vida contemporánea
Personal and Public Identities / Identidades personales y públicos
Families and Communities / Las familias y las comunidades
Beauty and Aesthetics / La belleza y la estética
Knowing these categories alone won’t be much help, but you can use them as guidelines for your studying and your outside resources. Check out sources in each of these different topics to get familiar with cultural trends. Impress the graders not simply with your imperfect/preterit usage but also your cultural knowledge of the Spanish-speaking world.
23. Tune out and focus in. Too many students taking the AP Spanish Language and Culture and other high-stakes tests psyche themselves out by watching others during test time. “He’s writing more than me.” “She hasn’t stopped speaking!” Our advice: don’t worry about other people. Do the best that you can do. After all, you don’t know who’s looking at you thinking the same things!
24. Know the scoring guidelines. In front of every AP Spanish Language and Culture exam grader is a list of grading guidelines. What’s on them? How is your presentational writing section or interpersonal speaking section graded? This should not be a mystery to you – because the grading guidelines are posted right to the CollegeBoard website! If your AP Spanish teacher hasn’t provided you and your classmates with these guidelines, download them and bring some copies to class. Knowing how you will be graded and the specific criteria that graders are looking for will take a lot of the guessing out of the exam game. Know exactly what the graders look for and supply it for them in your written and speaking parts – get the points you deserve!
25. Prepare, prepare, prepare: Don’t wait until the last few days before the exam to review! Spend at least a couple of weeks ahead of time going over tricky grammar concepts, irregular verbs, and cultural patterns. The earlier you start studying, the more natural it will be to speak and write in Spanish when the time comes.
26. Manage your anxiety: Worrying about how you will score on the test can only lower your score. You’ve prepared for this exam with years of classroom experience, so you know you can speak Spanish! Instead of scaring yourself, focus on what you can do, and have the confidence that you will do it well.
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AP Spanish Language and Culture Multiple Choice Tips
1. Don’t leave any stones unturned. Make sure to answer every single question! Inevitably you won’t know the answer to one question. Well, there’s no penalty for wrong answers so even if you’re unsure of an answer, go ahead and guess! Who knows, you might just get it right.
2. Use process of elimination. Remember in elementary school when you learned about the process of elimination? Well, it’s going to be your best friend on the AP Spanish Language and Culture exam. Unsure of a question? At least narrow the potential responses down to two – then guess between them.
3. How best to listen. Just like in the written portion, each audio source will be played twice for you. Read the question closely prior to their playing. The first time, pause for comprehension. Only the second time should you try to capture notes.
4. Track the time. The multiple choice section is expansive and it’s easy to lose yourself in the answers. Make sure to take a deep breath every few questions. And keep track of time – making sure to fill in at least something for every question.
5. Summarize: For printed sources, write a short summary phrase at the end of each paragraph. This will help you understand the main ideas, and make it easier to refer back to the source for answers.
6. Check, but don’t obsess: Look over your responses, but go with your gut; unless you have direct evidence that your first answer is definitely incorrect, trust your instincts.
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AP Spanish Language and Culture Free Response Tips
1. Don’t stop talking. If there’s one piece of advice that we can give to you concerning the presentational speaking section of the AP Spanish Language and Culture exam it’s this: don’t stop. You have six minutes and you need to use all of it. That can seem intimidating – you’re speaking in a second language, after all! But with practice, paying particular attention to your Spanish filler words (así que, podemos ver, es obvio que, etc.), you can speak for the entirety of that time. Follow these guidelines to learn how!
2. Fill in the blanks with speech. We already mentioned this above but it’s worth stating again. To have smooth delivery, particularly in the length presentational speaking component, it is essential that you use filler words and phrases. We already provided some above but here are some more. And don’t forget, when in doubt, in Spanish we don’t say “um” but “em”!
Es obvio que…
Al otro lado…
Además de eso…
3. Organization is key. Like we said above, six minutes for the presentational speaking component may seem like a lot of time to fill with speech (Interpersonal speaking is twenty seconds for each response which poses a different sort of challenge.). So an important part of your preparation for the presentational speaking on the AP Spanish Language and Culture exam should be how to organize your cultural comparison. Will you start with one country and then another before comparing? Will you start with the comparison and then go into more detail on each country? That is up to you to decide but the more you know the layout of your speaking, the easier the delivery will be.
4. Don’t memorize verbs in linear order. If you’re like most foreign language students, you’ve spent a hefty amount of time memorizing verb conjugations. Yotengo, tú tienes, ella tiene, etc. Good, you’ve memorized your verbs. But can you use them in context? Or do you have to run through the list of conjugations (yo, tú, él, nosotros, ustedes) to get to the nosotros conjugation? What about the less familiar or irregular verbs? Know those too and be able to use them on the the AP Spanish Language and Culture exam.
You won’t have time when speaking during the exam to go through every conjugation. So, practice conjugations out of order. Make sure to practice less-used conjugations such as usted. And plus side: once you know your verbs that quickly, your writing will be faster too!
5. Playback a recording of yourself. One of the most consistent complaints from speaking section graders on the AP Spanish Language and Culture exam is that students do not speak clearly enough. This is understandable – you’re nervous, time is passing quickly. You have a lot to say or maybe you’re unsure about some pronunciation. But you can’t get the points that you need to pass the exam if the grader can’t even understand you.
So, take steps to avoid this problem. Prior to the test, practice your vocabulary words with a clear, articulate pronunciation. Even go so far as to record yourself so that you know what you sound like (you can trade recordings with members of the study group that we talked about before). On test day, don’t let your nerves get the better of you. Speak slowly – even during the quick interpersonal speaking. If you’re unsure of a word, still be confident in your pronunciation so that the graders at least understand what you were trying to say.
6. Use the appropriate register. The register grading criterion is clearly marked on the AP Spanish Language and Culture exam grading guidelines – what does it mean? You’ve learned the conjugations for tú and usted, vos and ustedes, even vosotros/as etc. by now. And you know that usted(es) is used for more formal situations such as speaking with a stranger while tú is used in less formal situations such as around friends and family. So be consistent with your usage of the pronouns in the simulated conversation section, in particular, when you are most likely to be (mock) speaking with someone else.
Insider tip: You will never be expected to know conjugations for vosotros or vos on the AP Spanish Language and Culture exam. But if you have experience in countries that use vos such as Argentina, Chile, or Venezuela or other countries such as Spain that use vosotros, feel free to use them.
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AP Spanish Language and Culture Essay Tips & Advice
1. Use your transitions. We’ve talked about it since day 1 of AP Spanish Language and Culture. What do the graders look for? Long, disorganized paragraphs? Nope, they look for clean paragraphs with killer topic sentences all topped off with…a transition. Know them: De esta manera, como resultado, además de eso.
2. Write legibly. Who do you think is going to receive the higher score: the student who took his/her time, taking time to write each word in solid, black ink? Or the student who slopped all over the pages in impossible-to-read-me lime green pen? Write legibly and use a dark blue or brown pen. Pencil for notes – pen for text.
3. Use tough structures correctly. Certain structures are known to be difficult (I’m looking at you, future subjunctive) and graders almost always note their usage. So if you’re going to be brave and use them – make sure to use them right! If you’ve prepared for the exam, you should feel fairly comfortable using tough grammatical structures in written form – but make sure you have them correct!
4. Incorporate sources! I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: USE YOUR SOURCES. The experts above commented on how many students, year after year, fail to use all three sources on the AP Spanish Language and Culture exam! While graders will be forgiving to a certain extent – don’t make them work to find your sources and citations in the essays.
5. And answer the questions. This one hits home especially for the email. It’s a very fast turnaround time from receiving instructions to signing off on the email – so work fast! But, note that you’ve responded to every single question in the prompt. For example, the email always encourages you to respond with a question of your own – so make sure you include a question for your addressee! Just as with the sources, make sure to include answers to every single question to get full points for the interpersonal writing component.
6. Don’t get bogged down in details. Yup, we said it, don’t get bogged down. You’re not going to understand every single word of the prompts. Don’t let this bother you or cause you to lose confidence. Use the context around the word to figure out its meaning. Or, if possible, reduce the word to its root and see if you recognize any part of it. At the end of the day, you don’t have to understand every single line of every single prompt to do a stellar job in the written component.
7. Toss in the subjunctive whenever you can: The subjunctive mood is tough; even AP graders recognize that. So being able to use it every once in a while will showcase your language ability – play it up!
8. Take a side: The presentational writing is a persuasive essay, which means you should have some kind of argument in your thesis. Then, use the sources as evidence to support your position. Refer to both sides of the issue, but clearly focus on one – this will strengthen your argument.
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Interpersonal and Presentational Speaking Tips
1. When in doubt, keep talking: You have a limited amount of time – use it! Even if you’re stumped, talking basically about the main idea fills silence, and it can even help you think of more things to say as you go.
2. Fill it up: Know your filler words! Instead of saying but or ummmm or I mean, know phrases like this in Spanish – they’re called muletillas. These are especially helpful in interpersonal speaking, which is more informal. Some helpful ones to keep in mind: pues, bueno, mira, o sea, es decir…
3. Everybody makes mistakes: If you catch yourself making a grammar mistake, self-correct! Even graders know we all mess up sometimes, so they like to see you fix your mistakes.
4. Interpersonal Speaking: This section can be tricky, but it’s simple if you’re prepared. Just think of it as a casual conversation – communication is the most important thing.
5. Complete the task: This is the first and most important objective of the section. Each portion of the prompt will have instructions with one or two tasks to complete – make sure you complete each one! Then show off what you can do in the remaining time. You only have twenty seconds, so follow instructions first and then fill up time.
6. Know your audience: Based on the description of the conversation, immediately identify if you should use tú or Usted. If you’re speaking to a friend, the informal is safe. But if you’ll be talking to a teacher, a boss, or someone giving you an interview, make sure you address them with the formal Usted.
7. Outline: During the instructions, look at the tasks for each part of the prompt. Jot down words you think might be useful – especially transitions – verb tenses, or places to use the subjunctive. For example, if one task is to make a complaint, you could jot down Es desafortunado que…
8. Presentational Speaking: Here’s the thing… this section of the exam is hard. It takes a calm mind and confidence in the language. But here’s the other thing: you can do well with the right strategy! Here are some expert tips to conquering the cultural comparison.
9. Remember your surroundings: No, not the testing room – the hypothetical classroom you’re speaking to in this section. The cultural comparison is a presentation, so it should be more professional and formal than the interpersonal speaking.
10. Organization is key: Don’t just toss out facts about two cultures at random. Start with a thesis or main idea, then go into similarities with supporting evidence, then differences with supporting evidence. Finish up with a brief conclusion that sums up your argument.
11. Don’t script it: When you’re taking notes, don’t try to write out everything you’re going to say. Go for an outline with key vocab words instead.
12. Comparison is the name of the game: Make sure to draw from both your own culture and the prompted Spanish-speaking culture. When you’re taking notes, it can often be helpful to make a Venn diagram, so you can visualize the similarities and differences.
13. Familiarize yourself with a culture: The prompt will ask you to compare your own culture with a Spanish-speaking culture with which you are familiar. This can be overwhelming, with so many choices. Before the exam, look into a few cultures that interest you, or even countries you’ve traveled to. Some examples that will have a lot of cultural resources are Spain, Mexico, and Argentina, but you can also explore other Spanish-speaking countries.
14. Recognize patterns: Be familiar with patterns across Spanish-speaking countries in attitudes, values, and practices. For example, consider the strong religious tradition in many of these cultures – how does this compare with your own experience? What about festivals? The role of the family?
15. Know your transition words: Like in many other parts of the exam, transition words can really help bump up your score because they show confidence with the language and material. Some especially helpful phrases for this section are además, por ejemplo, por otro lado, aunque, por el contrario…
16. Bring in your opinion: Even though this is a formal setting, the prompt will ask about your own experience, so talk about it! Don’t just give facts about the place you live; instead, talk about your personal experience with family, for example, and what that shows as a pattern in your culture.
Tips by AP Spanish Language Teachers
School is out and you may think your AP Spanish teacher checks out for the summer. To the contrary, most scoring for AP Spanish Language and Culture exams is done by AP Spanish teachers themselves! What does this mean for you? Well, teachers return to their classrooms after the AP exam grading having seen both sides of the test: the students and the responses. They know what students tend to do – and what graders do and do not want to see on the test.
Here is some of their expert knowledge:
1. Do your best from the first day of class. Foreign language is complex and takes many months and years of steady practice and commitment. “I always tell my students, you should be putting your best foot forward from day 1 of class. You can’t cram for a language – fluency takes time. Put the time in throughout the semester(s) and you’ll be rewarded come exam time.”
2. 6 minutes? Use it! The experts back us up on this one! You have so much time for the speaking section so make sure you use that to your advantage. “When we grade the speaking section of the AP Spanish Language and Culture exam, we must listen to the entirety of each recording – even if 3 of the 6 minutes are silent! I always encourage my students to use this to their advantage! Don’t babble, but practice forming coherent, oral arguments when we do our practice exams in class. 6 minutes is a lot of time, but with practice, it becomes easy to fill with well-formulated material in a foreign language.”
3. 6 pages? Don’t use it! And make sure to be concise with writing! Graders simply read too many essays every day to manage your six-page essay, so only write what you really want to say. This will help with time management issues as well.
“For the writing section of the AP Spanish Language and Culture exam, we grade upwards of 100 essays a day for multiple days in a row. Think that sounds tiring? It is. There is nothing worse than a long presentational writing component that carries on for pages without actually making a point. Sometimes they won’t even state a thesis. The test creators want to make sure that you have plenty of space to formulate your thoughts so they give you lots of pages. However, that rarely means that you need to fill out every single blank page. I have given out scores of 5 to essays that were only 2 pages.”
4. Save up your energy for the end. “The AP Spanish Language and Culture exam is notorious for its length and variety of content for which you must prepare: multiple choice, written, oral, etc. I think the most important advice that I give my students year after year is to not wear themselves out too much during the test. Save some energy up for the final sections, one of which is writing which is especially draining. And of course follow test-taking basics such as eating a good breakfast so you can perform your best.”
5. For Heritage speakers. Heritage speakers represent a unique group of test takers. But as this grader says, it doesn’t mean that they always have an advantage: “Many of my students speak Spanish as a first language, at home with their parents. They come to my class to learn how to write formally in Spanish, etc. Still, I tell them that much of the same advice I give to the students who are learning to speak Spanish applies to them: Think before you speak. Write out a well-formulated plan and thesis prior to writing an essay. Read the entirety of the question/prompt instead of assuming you know the answer. Do I think my students who speak Spanish as a first language have an advantage? Perhaps. But they also need to be careful to harness some of their knowledge in and follow the format of the test. I’ve seen several native speakers fail the AP Spanish exam for that very reason.
6. Even these count. “Don’t underestimate the power of practice tests! Every year the same result: those students who consistently take the practice tests, pass the AP Spanish Language and Culture exam. Those students that don’t take the practice tests seriously: fail. That simple.”
7. And speaking of practice. Practice alone is not enough! Make sure to do full run-throughs of the exam, with your study group, for example, prior to taking the test. “Although helpful, when we do practice tests in class, we can only focus on one section of the test: written, oral, multiple choice, etc. This does not give you the authentic test-taking experience that is draining given the length and quantity of test material. So I give my students extra tests to do outside of class. It will take a whole afternoon – but after all, so will the test. Be as prepared as you can be. Practice the entirety of the test prior to test day instead of always breaking it up into chunks.”
8. Use idioms: More than just transition phrases, idioms can help showcase your language skills and confidence, especially in the interpersonal sections. Some examples to get you started: tener ganas de, con tal de que (+ subjunctive), tener la culpa, estar de acuerdo, andacabar de. Phrases like this are more than just vocabulary; they show connections and make communication clear. Thanks for the tip from Sra. C in Kentucky.
9. Bring in culture whenever possible: Now that the exam focuses on cultural elements and not just language, it can only help to throw in your knowledge of Spanish-speaking cultures wherever you can – especially in interpersonal writing and speaking. For instance, if you’re writing an email to your grandmother, make her in a Cuban neighborhood in Miami. In the speaking conversation, the prompt might ask you about examples in a category, such as music or books – here you could name-drop Juanes or Gabriel García Márquez. Thanks for the tip from Sra. C in Kentucky.
10. Avoid anglicismos: These are the false cognates and obvious English structures (like placing adjectives before nouns) that are dead-giveaway signs of English translation. The best way to avoid these anglicisms is to practice reading and listening to authentic sources – you’ll get used to Spanish structures and they will come naturally in your own writing and speaking. Thanks to Srta. D in Ohio for the tip.
11. Know the three cultural Ps: productos, prácticas, y perspectivas. These categories will better help you understand different aspects of Spanish-speaking cultures, so that you can draw on them specifically during the cultural comparison. Productos are things, whether tangible or intangible, that are important to a culture. They can include physical objects, like a house or a road, as well as laws, the education system, and other institutions. Prácticas are actions: festivals and celebrations, weddings, and daily interactions. Perspectivas are broader; they indicate how the people of a culture see the world. They include values and patterns of behavior and beliefs, such as the role of the family, religious tradition, the value of work, etc. Familiarizing yourself with these ideas will help you understand many parts of Spanish-speaking culture, instead of only knowing about the differences in laws or the different types of ferias in Spain. Thanks for the tip from Sra. A at Bloomington High School North.
12. Directions. You should know the directions, don’t waste valuable test-taking time reading them. But make sure you follow them! “You would think this would be obvious, but I see it all the time at institute when we’re grading the AP Spanish Language and Culture exams: students not following directions. How can you hope to get the right answer if you don’t know the question? This is especially critical for the written section, I think, where not only do you need to respond to a prompt, (and only that prompt – anything more/less will lose you points!) but you also must utilize all three sources provided.”
Insider tip: Graders are instructed not to punish students who forget to use one source. So, you can still get a very high score if you do forget about one. But don’t take that chance! Incorporate all three and get the grade you deserve.
13. Sources. We talked about the importance of knowing and incorporating your sources and the experts back us up: “And speaking of sources… use them all! I am always so disappointed by how many students I have to dock points for the silly reason that they didn’t incorporate the sources. Sometimes they have such nice theses and well-constructed arguments but no sources – at all! You cannot receive a passing score if you do not include at least one source.”
Insider tip: You do not need to explicitly cite the sources in your written essay. Sometimes doing so can even make your writing a little clunky. However, keep in mind that graders are looking to check off the three sources as one element of a good essay. Make it easy on them! Find some way to cite your sources clearly in your essay: boom, boom, boom. One less thing for you to lose points on.
14. Oh no, audio. We’ve said it before, speak clearly. Too often graders will not that they have a hard time just understanding students such as one grader of the audio section: “I sometimes struggle to just understand what the students are saying. Once in a while a student will speak far too fast, for example. Others are too quiet. As you record yourself, imagine yourself on the receiving end of the audio. Would you be able to understand yourself at that volume? That speed? I even go so far as to have my students record themselves speaking and play it back so that they can see how their speech comes across on a recording – not always how it seems!”
Are you a teacher or student? Do you have an awesome tip? Let us know!
The AP Spanish Language and Culture exam is a doozy. But every year more than 100,000 students take the test with almost half receiving a score of 4 or 5. They rely on excellent study habits beginning from day one of class, a great resource in their AP Spanish teacher, and sources like this list of exam tips. Come prepared to test day with not only your verb charts memorized but also a bunch of insider tips on how to beat the exam from the inside. Let’s recap:
– Use. Your. Sources. (Do we need to say it again?)
– Actually respond to the prompt!
– When in doubt, keep talking.
– When in doubt, stop writing.
Armed with this knowledge, there’s no way you can’t succeed on the AP Spanish Language and Culture exam. On test day, perform your best knowing that you’ve done all you can to prepare: incorporating Spanish into your daily life, constant review of vocabulary, taking full practice tests. These are all the things that will get you to a passing grade on the exam. ¡Ánimo!
Keep reading for great insider tips on other AP foreign language tests including the AP Spanish Literature and Culture exam.
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