AP exams are typically administered once in May and are two to three hours long. Due to the pandemic, these tests looked very different last spring. The exams were given digitally and were forty-five minutes long. Students had access to their notes, and the questions were mainly essay-based. With a hybrid schedule in place at many schools this year, the exams have been further altered.
On February 4th, 2021, the College Board announced that the tests would have three separate administrations. Administration 1 will be in early and mid-May and will occur in schools. Administration II is in late May, and exams will be offered at home and in-person during this time. In early June, Administration III will occur, and there will be at-home and in-person options. It is up to schools to determine which testing slots they will offer, and students cannot choose which day they will test.
The AP exam will be either on paper or digitally, and both tests will be full-length. Unlike in 2020, the digital test must be taken on a computer and will be inaccessible on a smartphone. However, the test does not require a constant internet connection. The digital exam is different from the paper test in two main ways. Firstly, the online test will follow a slightly different format. Additionally, the virtual version will not allow students to move between questions.
I am not happy with the changes the College Board has made to the AP exams. Although I am glad they will offer at-home and in-person options for students who cannot make it to school, I still think this arrangement is inequitable. As I see it, there are three main issues with this system.
Firstly, it is unfair that students who take the exam online will not be able to switch between questions. The ability to move back and forth between questions is essential, as it allows students to ensure that they do not spend too much time on a particular problem. If they struggle with a question, they can circle it and go back to it if they have time at the end of the test. Many students also like to start with problems they feel comfortable with, as to go into the exam feeling more confident. This technique can only be used when students can jump between questions. The inability to use these strategies is a disadvantage, meaning that these exams are unfair to students who will need to test digitally.
Secondly, students working from home may not be in a quiet environment. It is unfair to make them take a three-hour test when they may be in a noisy household or may not have space to take the test by themselves.
Finally, students who cannot go to school will have to take a different exam than students who have the privilege of attending in-person. Therefore, the College Board is doing a disservice to students who will take their exams remotely.
Jared Rhee ’22 took an AP exam in 2020 and plans to take a few tests this year as well. “The AP exam only had two questions, and you weren’t able to go back and forth between them,” says Jared about his experience last year. “However, this made sense because each question had ten parts, and there was a text associated with each question. You were able to move back and forth between the parts of each question, and so I believe that this system was effective and fair.”
Jared also shared his thoughts about last year’s open-note structure. “The exams were open-note, so I learned more by taking very detailed notes. However, the exam wasn’t as challenging as it would have been in a standard format, as I did not have to remember the information I recorded in my notebook.”
However, Jared felt that this system was inequitable to students who do not live in the Eastern Standard Time zone. “I also got lucky taking it because I lived in the EST time zone, which meant that I was able to take the test at a normal hour,” he says. “I didn’t have to stay up late or get up early to take the test like people in other time zones.”
Despite complaints, digital exams in 2021 will still favor students who live in this timezone. “Fortunately, I won’t be affected, but the digital exams will still take place at times that are only convenient for students who use Eastern Standard Time,” shares Jared. “However, for international students and students who live in California, tests will occur at inconvenient times.”
Jared has other concerns about the College Board’s changes to the AP system this year. “I’m glad that they are bringing back the traditional in-person exam, but I’m concerned about how they’re formatting the digital exam,” he says. He also feels that the College Board is not prioritizing students’ performance.
“To me, it seems that they’re sacrificing students’ abilities to show all that they’ve learned in place for anti-cheating measures,” says Jared. “I like that they are working to make sure students testing at-home are not at an unfair advantage, but it concerns me that they are willing to do so at the expense of students’ testing experiences and possible scores.”
Although the College Board has effectively created a testing system that will keep students safe and healthy, it is not equitable. Students who will take the digital version of the test are at an unfair disadvantage, as are international and some domestic students. The College Board has not been transparent in this process, and like Jared, I fear that their priorities are out of line.