3.2 Sustained Investigations

3 min readoctober 27, 2020


Sherry Ross

AP Art & Design 🎨

18 resources
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What is a Sustained Investigation (SI)?

A Sustained Investigation (SI) makes up the majority of your AP portfolio. It should be a cohesive body of work that significantly explores an inquiry.
The Inquiry is the work created through the process of developing, creating, revising, and exploring the idea of your guiding question.

What is a Guiding Question?

Your guiding question is an idea that you are interested in EXPLORING, EXPANDING, and REVISING over a year-long investigation (hence the name Sustained Investigation) 🙌🏽. While it does not have to be written as a question, that might help you to think of the resulting work as being a direct answer to a question being posed. 
Pro Tip: A guiding question needs to be significantly broad to give you ample area to explore, but defining enough to GUIDE you. Think of it as a thesis statement for your art. 😉 When someone reads it they will know what they will see in the rest of the work. Check out the Guiding Question post for more information. 

What Should I Have in My SI?

If you use the analogy that the Guiding Question is the thesis of your SI, then the work is the body of the paper. The work will be all of the information generated by your exploration: sketchbook pages, media trials, unfinished work, work that changes your direction, ideas you explore that don't quite work out, and any finished pieces you create.

How Many Pieces Make Up a SI?

The simple and, oddly, not so simple answer to this is you have fifteen IMAGE SPACES to show your work. What you put in them is up to you. I hear you asking "What can I put in these spaces?". Well, here's your answer!
  • These spaces can be used to show sketchbook work, early drafts, and materials trials—these would be considered documentation. It will show how you thought, planned, and revised the idea or resulting work as your SI progressed.
  • If you want to show progress shots. To show the work as it progresses in a linear fashion, try a composite image. With the composite image, you could show multiple stages of the work or different views. Be wise with progress shots, as they might not be the best way to show inquiry and may, instead, just show time passing.
  • If you want to show a detail shot of a finished piece, you can use one. 🔍 The rule for detail shots is to show SUBSTANTIALLY more evidence about an important section of a work. They are not just filler pieces. The shot needs to include vital information to support your investigation.
  • You will show finished pieces. 🖼️
You don't have to have 15 FINISHED PIECES, just 15 images. Those 15 images are the visual evidence that you used practice, experimentation, and revision throughout the extended period of your SI. You can use whatever combination of the list above in order to best demonstrate your investigation. Choose them wisely.

Are There Any "Rules" About My SI?

Yes. There are several "rules" that you need to know so that you can plan your work and time accordingly.
  • You have 15 image spaces.
  • Your work should have a Guiding Question that directs an Inquiry over a sustained period of time, typically a semester or a year.
  • You will need to SHOW the physical evidence that DIRECTLY TIES and supports your Inquiry.
  • Make sure you show PROCESS, EXPERIMENTATION, and REVISION as defined by the AP Art and Design rubric.

Can I change my SI?

YES! 👍🏽 It is expected that your original idea will change and grow over time. Your SI should not be a direct line from point A to point B. Think of it as a journey, an artistic road trip ..... sometimes you stop along the way, try different routes, etc.
A great visual example of this is to think of your SI as a tree branch. While there's the main part that grows out, there are smaller branches that spring off of it and grow in different directions. Remember, sometimes those smaller branches, have even smaller branches growing off of them, too. 🌱

How Much Does My SI Count?

Your SI counts for 60% of your overall score. We will go over HOW the score breaks down in another post, but keep in mind 30% of the overall score comes from the inquiry identified and explored in your SI.

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