Friday, May 1, 2015

DSM 5 and the AP Psych test: What is the big deal?

There has been a lot (a LOT) of chatter in the AP Psych community about the implications of the change from DSM IV TR to DSM 5. Depending on who you listen to, the impact is either HUGE or little.

Here's the "official word" from College Board:

"The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) was published in May 2013 with revisions to the criteria for the diagnosis and classifications of mental disorders.
Beginning with the 2015 AP Psychology Exam, all terminology, criteria and classifications referred to among multiple-choice and free-response items will adhere to the new fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5)." 

That's a nice, clear message, but based on email/twitter/AP Central discussion board chatter, many AP teachers seem to disagree about how big a deal this change will be in terms of items on the exam. Some teachers seem to think it will cause major changes, and they are spending quite a bit of time working with students to understanding the changed features in DSM 5 , while others aren't sweating it and continue to focus on the information their textbook provides about psychological disorders.

My opinion, for what it's worth (and it may not be worth much - I'm not teaching AP Psych right now): the important understanding about the DSM for students remains the same as it ever was - they need to know that the function of the book is to categorize and provide official labels/descriptions of disorders, and that it's mostly used by clinicians for insurance purposes. I don't think it's worth the time to dive deeply into changes in the DSM (including the elimination of the Axis system, etc.)

Please chime in the comments section and let us know what you're doing, if anything, regarding DSM 5 in your classrooms.

(image source:

posted by Rob McEntarffer


Steve Jones said...

To echo Nancy Diehl's comments on the "last minute prep" thread: so much of the DSM is the same that I feel we (myself included) are over-focusing on those changes. I just finished my first year on the AP Psych test development committee, and while nothing I have worked on will show up in this year's exams, I can tell you that I don't see any spirit of "gotcha!" from the teachers, professors, and the excellent folks at ETS who build this test. In fact, there's been a big effort to make sure that all questions in "the pipeline" to be on future tests are DSM-5 compliant.

Brett Powers said...

My intent with prep this year is to follow the above advice, though I will explicitly tell my students to disregard the Axis system, as it was abandoned in the DSM V