In Response

Written by World Language Department Instructional Supervisor Anne Jensen in response to factually incorrect information that was part of an article arguing the ethicality of native speakers taking language tests:

The World Language Department at Gunn offers AP exams in the 5 languages we currently teach :  Chinese, French, German, Japanese and Spanish.  Students in our classes prepare for these exams, but the College Board also allows students who are not enrolled in our world language classes to take these exams as well.  There is some confusion among students and parents about who takes these exams and how they are graded.  The purpose of this article is to clarify these questions.

The AP world langauge exams are designed for non-native speakers to prove their proficiency after studying a world language in middle school and high school.  When these exams were first created, almost everyone who took the exams had the same background.  As AP exams became more wide spread, however,  more students from a variety of backgrounds signed up to take these exams.  For example, there are immersion  and bilingual programs where students take foreign language beginning in kindergarten.  Some students begin foreign language in elementary school and continue with the same language in middle school and high school.  Other students have parents who speak the target language or have grandparents who speak the language around them.  Even though they don’t write the language, their comprehension is very high.  There are also students who have lived abroad for several years and learned the target langauge in an immersion setting.  Finally, there are students who are immigrants from a country where this language is spoken and have received formal schooling in the language.  All of these students are allowed to take the AP world language exams.

Students preparing for the AP exams need to be aware of the fact that they are competing with students from this very wide range of backgrounds.  There is only one grading scale on the exam.  Students receive a score of 0 through 5.  Non-native speakers and native speakers are graded on the same scale.  There are not separate divisions for these two groups.  This is why non-native speakers who have only studied their language for 4 or 5 years may not be able to receive a 5 on this exam.  However, native speakers do not automatically receive 5’s either, particularly if their writing skills are weaker than their speaking skills.  The AP exams test listenng, reading, writing and speaking and students are often not equallly proficient in all skill areas.  At Gunn we encourage all students in our classes to take the exams.  We also encourage native speakers who take the exams to make sure that they take a true foreign language and not just validate their native language.

Unfortunately, there are some high schools that have been known to encourage only native speakers to take the AP world language exams to boost their average test scores.  We do not do this at Gunn.  We encourage all world language students to try the exam.  Many students in our AP language courses have prepared for two exams, one in their foreign language and one in their native language.  On the exam information sheet and college application form, native speakers have to list their home language background.  Colleges look at this information very carefully when they evaluate a student’s qualifications for entrance.  Obviously admission officers consider many factors when they decide whether or not to accept a student.

I would be happy to answer any further questions about the AP world language exams.  Please feel free to contact me at :

Anne Jensen, Gunn World Langauge Instructional Supervisor


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