Any reliable breakdown of which concepts the AP CSA exam emphasizes/prioritizes?

I’m a little concerned that I won’t have enough classroom time with my students to get through the entire course. Naturally, some lessons and activities can be completed for homework.

That said, for you experienced AP CSA teachers who are familiar with the exam content, are there certain concepts that are more emphasized than others? I want to ensure that I allocate sufficient time for key concepts.

Thanks in advance for your help!

@gaylon.alfano The College Board includes some of this information in the Course and Exam Description. Page 194-195 shows the breakdown of what is on the exam. You may be able to better prioritize what you spend more or less time on during the year.

Hope that helps!

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@gaylon.alfano - As an experienced CSA Teacher and AP CSA Reader, I can tell you that this curriculum covers the AP Exam requirements well. If I would add any supplement, it would be additional practice on String manipulation.

@sylvia.wood I think you missed the point of the original post. I’m in the same boat, first year teaching CSA and worried already that I am behind with the curriculum. Not looking to supplement, looking at which lessons are the most valuable to keep, and which to “do later” if there is time.

@ron.knapper - I apologize for misunderstanding your post. The lessons are packed with a variety of exercises to give students a choice. The suggested timing for each lesson is 45 minutes. In my experience, I used this guideline to pace my class periods. Some lessons may take longer depending on how the class is progressing through the activities.
Last year, my class completed through Unit 6. I used AP classroom as a supplement. My students were well prepared for the exam.

Thank you. I am having a better time with AP CSP, the lessons seem to “fit the time block” better. The AP CSA… maybe it is the mix of students that I have but, about 70% of the students are getting it but I have to slow down to not lose the other 30%.

I’m going to start looking at some supplements/auxiliary content to see if I can help build understanding.

For my own edification, what do you have for pre-requisites for AP CSA? College Board says Algebra (Algebra 1 I would assume…) and English. After reading some feedback from other teachers online I am requiring Geometry with a C or better but I’ve seen some people putting an Algebra II minimum. I’m wondering if I should bump this for next year.

Hi @ron.knapper, its really great your thinking of pre-reqs to help direct student to have the best experience. My school has Algebra II or AP CSP as a pre- req for AP CSA. I know different schools have different math pathways which generally seem to be a pre-req for CSA.


Hi, thanks for sharing your concerns about pacing, Gaylon.

I will add to the other responses that I did the pilot last year, and found that I was able to shorten the projects and some of the lessons in units 7 and 8 to be able to prepare for the AP exam, and then we did the unit 7 and 8 projects after the AP exam. I did nearly every lesson in units 1-6, and tried to stick with one lesson per day.

One feature of the curriculum that helps with this is seen in the unit 1 lessons that are working on PainterPlus-- if there were methods added to the class in the previous day, then the next level that adds to PainterPlus has correct code that students can bring in to use if theirs didn’t work. This is also nice for students who were absent. Using this “safety net code” as I call it with my students has allowed me to move through unit 1 at the suggested pacing of one lesson per day.

Thanks. I have the dilemma that this is the first year we are offering APCSP AND APCSA, so we could not have made CSP a pre-req for CSA. I am however thinking of instituting a minimum GPA along with the Alg II pre-requ, the only students I have that are truly struggling in CSA have taken no other AP courses, and have GPA's that are very low (sub 2.0 cumulative GPAs).

I’m going to look at upping the pre-reqs so we have better outcomes next year (assuming I can get some of these students turned around).
Probably also need to talk with the counselors about who is appropriate for which class… again.

Thank you. I just started doing this too (with the “safety net code”).
I also just did a day of procedural coding. I think they are getting a good understanding of the object based paradigm, but when working through the algorithms they are struggling more with the while/if/if-then/System.out.print(ln).
Thank you also for helping with how you modified the curriculum. That is helpful to me to see some ways that others have done that have been successful.

@ron.knapper to clarify on pre-reqs, the image below is pulled from the College Board’s description of pre-reqs for CSA:

And this image below is pulled from the curriculum Guide, specifically describing’s suggestion to pre-requistes.

The CSA curriculum is recommended for any high school student who wishes to continue their computer science education after completing an introductory course such as Computer Science Principles (CSP) or Computer Science Discoveries (CSD).

As a side note, I was always trying to consider how I could get as many students as possible enrolled and eliminate barriers to CS. I found that students in my school perhaps hadn’t taken CS before but had CS experience from other experiences (or interests) and it can be intimidating for some students to seek out the teacher and ask for an exception. Finally, I, personally, am always concerned about using GPAs as a factor in determining what classes students take. For example, a student maybe had a concussion one semester which meant that their grades were lower than expected which ruins their GPA or another student might struggle with a learning disability that makes reading or writing difficult impacting their grades in certain classes. These are just some things to consider when deciding what is right for your school and context.

Good luck with counselors too! I know that can be a tough but important ally to have when building a strong CS program! The Counselors for Computing resources might be helpful there if you haven’t looked at them yet.

Thank you @kaitie, yes, I do know about that the College Board says and I am trying to make it work with what I’ve got. A new program where “no one” has had CSP and their prior CS work at earlier levels was minimal. (We’re working on it, but even now I’ve got fewer students in CSP than CSA so my pipeline in that regard is rather meager.)
I know part of the challenge is that I am starting from a clean slate so to speak, but it is a challenge seeing students struggle mightily (with as much support as I can give them) and shutting down due to not being able to grasp the concepts. I wonder if it is reinforcing to them that “they aren’t cut out for CS” instead of giving them the confidence.
Thank you for something to consider regarding GPAs and other determining factors.
Thank you for the link to the counselor resource, I have not taken the time to fully absorb them.