How To Craft A Strong Research Question With The AP Seminar Stimulus Materials

How To Craft A Strong Research Question With The AP Seminar Stimulus Materials

With the sources we've been given, that sure might feel like the hardest part.

I feel like all 12,000-plus AP Seminar students nationwide let out a collective groan when they saw this year's stimulus materials. In the 2014-2015 school year, the first year Seminar existed, these sources ran the gamut from the importance of learning to code to the cognitive benefits of dancing. Now, the common thread among all our sources is work, and not all of these sources have pros or cons neatly spelled out for us readers.

But there's no need to despair. The selection we've been given is still a goldmine, even though it might take considerably more effort to unearth a precious nugget. Here are my tips for coming up with the kind of compelling, multifaceted question that Performance Task 2 demands.

1. Consider what the sources DON'T mention (but should).

If you've read all of them, I'm sure you already know the basic ideas stated: Work is central to one's sense of identity. The rise of automation, including artificial intelligence, poses a threat to many jobs. This country prides itself on its work ethic. Working long hours apparently doesn't seem to cause cancer. You know what questions these ideas lend themselves to (e.g., "Is artificial intelligence good for society?"), but those questions all seem so unoriginal - and rightfully so.

A source truly serves as a "stimulus" when it makes you think beyond what's plainly written. So remember the oral defense question "What is a gap in your team's research that, if addressed, would make you more confident in your conclusion?" and in that vein, be on the lookout for gaps in the sources' reasoning and/or evidence that you can address!

2. Look at related sources that interest you more, and then look back.

Just looking up "work current events" for the sake of this post, I found a CNN article called "Not every liberal arts grad is working as a barista."

Surely this can lend itself to a strong question about the hot topic of college degrees' value in this job market. And it does effectively connect to some of our stimulus materials! The excerpt from The Wealth of Nations explains why a good chunk of young adults go into the "liberal" fields even knowing that these fields tend to have lower success rates, whereas "A World Without Work" discusses how the future of jobs, period, is being threatened.

So I encourage you to just do some casual preliminary research. But one thing's for sure - College Board will mark you down for having a question that's "only tangentially related to the context of the source materials." So if you love an outside source, but you feel like any possible "connection" would be too much of a stretch, it might be best to scrap it.

3. Think about a solution first.

An argument in AP Seminar is supposed to lead to a "solution, conclusion, or resolution," but in reality, all of the high scoring projects have practical implications beyond simply answering a question. Explicitly or implicitly, they provide a concrete call to action.

So, for any problem these sources identify - such as the loss of jobs to artificially intelligent machines, the heartache and ennui of the unemployed, or the struggle of women in the workplace - what are some currently debated solutions?

Perhaps instead of investigating the true impact of a problem, you can take it as a given that the problem is serious (with reasonable limitations, of course) and choose to explore a way that people have tried, or are trying, to solve it. If you don't already know, this is where preliminary research really comes in handy!

4. Make sure the question is definitely argumentative.

I learned the hard way earlier in the year (not in my actual Performance Task 1, thank goodness) that just because the answer to a question is debatable doesn't necessarily mean it'll be an argument in the audience's eyes. What distinguishes an argument, at least in the context of Seminar, is the presence of some kind of subjective judgment.

A question like, say, "How does working under capitalism shape people's sense of purpose and identity?" can be answered in an expository paper. Changing it to something like "Does working under capitalism have a positive impact on people's sense of purpose and identity?" would require the writer to weave the facts into a clear line of reasoning, rich with thoughtful commentary.

Aside from that "Is this present phenomenon good or bad?" format, it seems like future-focused questions, in the style of "How should...?" or even just "Should...?", also tend to turn out strong.


It seems like with the sources we've been given for Performance Task 2, finding a good research topic that isn't overdone may be the hardest part. But I hope that with these strategies, it'll be much easier to craft a question you'll love.

Good luck!

Cover Image Credit: condley

Popular Right Now

​An Open Letter To The People Who Don’t Tip Their Servers

This one's for you.

Dear Person Who Has No Idea How Much The 0 In The “Tip:" Line Matters,

I want to by asking you a simple question: Why?

Is it because you can't afford it? Is it because you are blind to the fact that the tip you leave is how the waiter/waitress serving you is making their living? Is it because you're just lazy and you “don't feel like it"?

Is it because you think that, while taking care of not only your table but at least three to five others, they took too long bringing you that side of ranch dressing? Or is it just because you're unaware that as a server these people make $2.85 an hour plus TIPS?

The average waiter/waitress is only supposed to be paid $2.13 an hour plus tips according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

That then leaves the waiter/waitress with a paycheck with the numbers **$0.00** and the words “Not a real paycheck." stamped on it. Therefore these men and women completely rely on the tips they make during the week to pay their bills.

So, with that being said, I have a few words for those of you who are ignorant enough to leave without leaving a few dollars in the “tip:" line.

Imagine if you go to work, the night starts off slow, then almost like a bomb went off the entire workplace is chaotic and you can't seem to find a minute to stop and breathe, let alone think about what to do next.

Imagine that you are helping a total of six different groups of people at one time, with each group containing two to 10 people.

Imagine that you are working your ass off to make sure that these customers have the best experience possible. Then you cash them out, you hand them a pen and a receipt, say “Thank you so much! It was a pleasure serving you, have a great day!"

Imagine you walk away to attempt to start one of the 17 other things you need to complete, watch as the group you just thanked leaves, and maybe even wave goodbye.

Imagine you are cleaning up the mess that they have so kindly left behind, you look down at the receipt and realize there's a sad face on the tip line of a $24.83 bill.

Imagine how devastated you feel knowing that you helped these people as much as you could just to have them throw water on the fire you need to complete the night.

Now, realize that whenever you decide not to tip your waitress, this is nine out of 10 times what they go through. I cannot stress enough how important it is for people to realize that this is someone's profession — whether they are a college student, a single mother working their second job of the day, a new dad who needs to pay off the loan he needed to take out to get a safer car for his child, your friend, your mom, your dad, your sister, your brother, you.

If you cannot afford to tip, do not come out to eat. If you cannot afford the three alcoholic drinks you gulped down, plus your food and a tip do not come out to eat.

If you cannot afford the $10 wings that become half-off on Tuesdays plus that water you asked for, do not come out to eat.

If you cannot see that the person in front of you is working their best to accommodate you, while trying to do the same for the other five tables around you, do not come out to eat. If you cannot realize that the man or woman in front of you is a real person, with their own personal lives and problems and that maybe these problems have led them to be the reason they are standing in front of you, then do not come out to eat.

As a server myself, it kills me to see the people around me being deprived of the money that they were supposed to earn. It kills me to see the three dollars you left on a $40 bill. It kills me that you cannot stand to put yourself in our shoes — as if you're better than us. I wonder if you realize that you single-handedly ruined part of our nights.

I wonder if maybe one day you will be in our shoes, and I hope to God no one treats you how you have treated us. But if they do, then maybe you'll realize how we felt when you left no tip after we gave you our time.

Cover Image Credit: Hailea Shallock

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14 Honest College Things The Class Of 2023 Needs To Know ~Before~ Fall Semester

Sit down, be humble.


To The Class of 2023,

Before you start your college career, please know:

1. Nobody...and I mean nobody gives a shit about your AP Calculus scores.


" I got a 5 in Calc AB AND BC, a 5 in AP Literature, awh but I only got a 4 in AP Chem"

2. THE SAME GOES FOR YOUR SAT/ACT SCORES + nobody will know what you're talking about because they changed the test like 10 times since.


3. College 8 AMs are not the same as your 0 period orchestra class in 12th grade.


4. You're going to get rejected from a lot of clubs and that does not make you a failure.


5. If you do get into your clubs, make sure not to overwhelm or overcommit yourself.

visual representation of what it looks like when you join too many clubs


6. It's OK to realize that you don't want to be pre-med or you want to change majors.


7. There will ALWAYS ALWAYS be someone who's doing better than you at something but that doesn't mean you're behind.


8. "I'm a freshman but sophomore standin-" No, you don't have to clarify that, you'll sound like an asshole.


9. You may get your first ever B-, C+ or even D OR EVEN A W in your life. College is meant to teach you how to cope with failure.


10. Go beyond your comfort zone. Join a theatre club if you're afraid of public speaking. Join an animal rescue club if you're afraid of animals. College is learning more about yourself.


11. Scholarships do exist. APPLY APPLY APPLY.


12. Don't try to brag about all the stuff you did in high school, you'll just sound like a weenie hut jr. scout


13. Understand and be sensitive to the fact that everybody around you has a different experience and story of getting to university.


14. You're going to be exposed to people with different opinions and views, don't fight them. Instead, try to explain your perspective and listen to their reasoning as well.


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