2021 AP Seminar Exam Guide

10 min readmarch 22, 2021


Your guide to the 2021 AP Seminar Exam

We know that studying for your AP exams can be stressful, but Fiveable has your back! We have created a study plan that will help you crush your AP Seminar exam. We will continue to update this guide with more information about the 2021 exams, as well as helpful resources to help you score that 5. Create a Fiveable account and join our Discord to stay involved in all things AP exams! 😁

Format of the 2021 AP Seminar exam

This year, all AP exams will cover all units and essay types. The 2021 AP Seminar exam format will be:
  • Team Project and Presentation (20% of score)
    • Team: 3–5 people
    • Objective
      • Create a multimedia presentation that communicates your conclusion or recommendations after identifying, investigating, analyzing, and evaluating an academic or real-world problem, question, or issue.
    • Evaluated Components:
      • Individual research-based essay (1,200 words), which is scored by College Board
      • Team multimedia presentation and defense (8–10 minutes), which is scored by your teacher
  • Individual Research-Based Essay and Presentation (35% of score)
    • Stimulus Texts (provided by College Board)
      • It will represent a variety of perspectives regarding a single theme or topic
      • You will create your own research question using these texts and then research, analyze, and evaluate evidence to develop your own argument and defend your conclusion
    • Evaluated Components:
      • Individual written argument (2,000 words), which is scored by College Board
      • Individual multimedia presentation (6–8 minutes), which is scored by your teacher
      • Oral defense (2 questions from the teacher), which is scored by your teacher
  • End-of-Course Exam (45% of score)
    • 4 questions in 2 hours
      • 3 short-answer questions
        • based on a single source
        • explain and analyze an argument
      • 1 essay question
        • based on 4 different sources on 1 theme
        • synthesize information and create an evidence-based argument

Scoring Rubric for the 2021 AP Seminar exam

Courtesy of College Board

Individual Research Report (30 points total)

  • Understanding Argument (0, 2, 4, or 6 points)
    • Getting full points
      • Understands complexities of a problem or issue (the topic should not be too broad)
      • Draws from multiple sources (some are academic/scholarly sources)
      • Shows the significance to a larger context (explain why the problem or issue is important)
      • College Board will check the research context in the title, first paragraphs, and Bibliography/Works Cited.
  • Analyzing Argument (0, 2, 4, or 6 points)
    • Getting full points
      • Understands reasoning and validity of the sources' arguments (direct explanation or through using the reasoning and conclusions)
      • Provide commentary that shows an understanding of the authors’ reasoning, using sources’ reasoning to draw conclusions
      • College Board will check that references are made to arguments from sources (often appears at the end of paragraphs or following an in-text citation)
  • Evaluating Sources and Evidence (0, 2, 4, or 6 points)
    • Getting full points
      • Uses relevant evidence from credible sources.
      • Demonstrates evaluation of the credibility of the sources and selects relevant evidence from the sources. This can be shown through direct explanation or purposeful use.
      • Makes purposeful use of sources, beyond just a description in the attribution
  • Understand and Analyze Perspective (0, 2, 4, or 6 points)
    • Getting full points
      • Draws explicit and relevant connections from various perspectives.
      • Uses different sources to explain specific relationships/ connections among different perspectives, beyond just identifying multiple perspectives
      • The organization of paragraphs and headings is a way of grouping perspectives. Transitions indicate connections between perspectives.
  • Citing (0, 1, 2, or 3 points)
    • Getting full points
      • Attributes and cites sources accurately.
      • The bibliography has a consistent style.
        • Contains few flaws
        • Internal citations match the bibliography
        • Clear and consistent attributive phrases and/or in-text parenthetical citations. 
        • If key components of citations (like author/organization, title publication, and date) are missing consistently, then the full 3 points can’t be earned. 
  • Written Style (0, 1, 2, or 3 points)
    • Getting full points
      • Communication is clear to the reader
      • Style is appropriate for an academic audience consistently
      • Contains few flaws
      • Sufficient word choice
      • Clear prose

Individual Written Argument (48 points total)

  • Stimulus (0 or 5 points)
    • Getting full points
      • The relevance of at least ONE of the stimulus materials to the argument by integrating it as part of the response. (For example, as providing relevant context for the research question, or as evidence to support relevant claims.)
      • An accurate understanding of the source AND understanding of its context (Ex. date, region, topic) AND a reference to the source
  • Larger Context (0 or 5 points)
    • Getting full points
      • Explains the importance of the research question within a larger context.
      • Specific and relevant details for all elements of the research question AND shows the sense of urgency or establishes the importance of the research question
      • The context is usually found in the first few paragraphs
  • Multiple Perspectives (0, 6, or 9 points)
    • Getting full points
      • Evaluates multiple perspectives (draws relevant connections between them and considers objections, implications, and limitations).
      • Demonstrates agreement or disagreement among perspectives (ex. evaluate strengths and weaknesses of different perspectives
  • Establish Argument (0, 8, or 12 points)
    • Getting full points
      • Clear and convincing argument. 
      • Logically organized and well-reasoned response
      • Connecting claims to evidence
      • The conclusion is well-aligned to the research question (details assess plausibility, limitations, and implications of conclusion/solution)
      • The commentary fully explains how the evidence supports claims
      • Bring in alternate views, developing a nuanced understanding
  • Select and Use Evidence (0, 6, or 9 points)
    • Getting full points
      • Relevant, credible, and sufficient evidence that supports the argument.
      • Connects evidence to argument effectively.
      • Purposeful analysis and evaluation of evidence, not just a reference.
      • Relevant evidence from several scholarly works (peer-reviewed, credentialed authors, independently verified, primary sources). 
  • Citing (0, 3, or 5 points)
    • Getting full points
      • Attributes and cites sources accurately.
      • The bibliography has a consistent style.
        • Contains few flaws
        • Internal citations match the bibliography
        • Clear and consistent attributive phrases and/or in-text parenthetical citations. 
        • If key components of citations (like author/organization, title publication, and date) are missing consistently, then the full 5 points can’t be earned. 
  • Written Style (0, 2, or 3 points)
    • Getting full points
      • Effective sentences
      • Precise word choice
      • Appropriate for an academic audience
      • Few errors in grammar and style
      • Clear prose (academic tone)
      • Clear communication of complex ideas

3 Short Answer Questions (15 points each)

  • Author’s Argument (3 points max)
    • Accurately identifies the author’s argument
  • Author’s Line of Reasoning (6 points max)
    • Gives a thorough explanation of the author's line of reasoning; clearly explains connections among relevant claims
  • Sources and Evidence (6 points max)
    • Evaluates the relevance and credibility of the evidence; explains how well the evidence supports the author’s argument

1 Essay Question (24 points total)

  • Theme (6 points max)
    • Identifies a theme/issue that connects the provided sources
    • Connects the provided sources through a perspective different from the ones in the sources OR insightful approach OR strong thematic connection between perspectives. 
  • Line of reasoning (6 points max)
    • Logically organized and well-developed
    • The commentary explains the evidence and connects it to claims to further an argument.
  • Evidence (6 points max)
    • Synthesizes relevant information from at least TWO of the provided sources to support the argument.
  • Conventions (6 points max)
    • Clear communication to reader AND effective integration and attribution of sources to develop an argument
    • Few errors in grammar and style
Check out our study plan below to find resources and tools to prepare for your AP Seminar exam.

When is the 2021 AP Seminar exam and how do I take it?

There are three different exam administrations this year and the tests will be taken in person at your school unless your AP Coordinator has indicated otherwise. Here is what we know from College Board so far:
  1. The first administration offers the exam on paper, in school, on Tuesday, May 11, 2021, at 8 AM, your local time.
  2. The second administration offers the exam digitally, in school and at home, on Wednesday, May 26, 2021, at 4 PM, EDT.
  3. The third administration offers the exam digitally, in school and at home, on Monday, June 7, 2021, at 4 PM EDT.
**The AP Seminar Performance Tasks need to be submitted by Thursday, May 20, 2021, at 11:59 EDT.
Create a Fiveable account to get updates on the latest 2021 exam news. 

How should I prepare for the exam?

  • First, download the AP Seminar Cram Chart PDF - a single sheet that covers tips for each portion of the exam. Take note of things you can improve or need to work on! 
  • Join our Discord channel to talk to real students just like you working on the course. We have TAs in each subject channel to support you this Spring. 

Pre-work: set up your study environment

Before we begin, take some time to get organized. Remote learning can be great, but it also means you’ll need to hold yourself accountable more than usual. 
🖥 Create a study space.
Make sure you have a designated place at home to study. Somewhere you can keep all of your materials, where you can focus on learning, and where you are comfortable. Spend some time prepping the space with everything you need and you can even let others in the family know that this is your study space. 
📚 Organize your study materials.
Get your notebook, textbook, prep books, or whatever other physical materials you have. Also create a space for you to keep track of review. Start a new section in your notebook to take notes or start a Google Doc to keep track of your notes. Get yourself set up!
📅 Plan designated times for studying.
The hardest part about studying from home is sticking to a routine. Decide on one hour every day that you can dedicate to studying. This can be any time of the day, whatever works best for you. Set a timer on your phone for that time and really try to stick to it. The routine will help you stay on track.
🏆 Decide on an accountability plan.
How will you hold yourself accountable to this study plan? You may or may not have a teacher or rules set up to help you stay on track, so you need to set some for yourself. First set your goal. This could be studying for x number of hours or getting through a unit. Then, create a reward for yourself. If you reach your goal, then x. This will help stay focused!
🤝 Get support from your peers. 
There are thousands of students all over the world who are preparing for their AP exams just like you! Join our Discord channel to chat, ask questions, and meet other students who are also studying for the spring exams. You can even build study groups and review material together! 

AP Seminar 2021 Study Plan

The following study guides will help you gain a greater understanding of the AP Seminar tasks and rubrics!

🤨 Big Idea 1: Question and Explore

Big Idea (BI) 1 is the first of the major themes of AP Seminar. You can sort of think of the BIs as the framework for the course that covers the main things that you will be doing and the ways that you will go about completing the Performance Tasks (PTs) and EoC.
Question and Explore refers to a lot of the preliminary tasks that you'll be completing when starting a PT, or even just a simple assignment. Questioning the world and exploring interesting 🧐 topics is part of what makes AP Seminar such a compelling class.
You as the student have the opportunity to explore areas that you find interesting. While this seems easy, there are correct ways to go about asking questions and exploring.

🧐 Big Idea 2: Understand and Analyze

Big Idea 2 is something that you will be spending a lot of time with so you want to be well-informed on the parts that make it up. The main ideas of BI 2 all center around sources and how you use them. A big part of what you will be doing in Seminar is collecting sources and analyzing them.

👥 Big Idea 3: Evaluate Multiple Perspectives

Big Idea 3 is focused on understanding 🤔 the complexity of an issue by looking at the multiple viewpoints 👀 that people have on it. Understandably, this Big Idea may seem smaller compared to something like BI 2, however, BI 3 does hold an important place in Seminar.

💡 Big Idea 4: Synthesize Ideas

Big Idea 4 covers the crucial act of taking all of your evidence and claims and turning them into one coherent argument 🗣️ In a lot of ways, this is the most important thing you do in AP Seminar. Yes, you gather evidence and think about arguments and perspectives, but at the end of the day you have to actually do something with them.
Think about it like this: if you want to build a house 🏠, you need to gather all of the instructions on how to build 🛠️ it. Then, you need to get all of the tools and supplies to put it together. But, if you stop there, you won't have a house. You have all the supplies and knowledge, but no house. You have to build the darn thing. That is what BI 4 is all about—building the house.

🗣 Big Idea 5: Team, Transform, and Transmit

This last Big Idea is all about how to work ✍️ productively with your team to create a polished finished project and present that to an audience.

✔ Exam Review

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