Online AP Exams- Mess or Success?

During this time of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, many activities either have to be postponed, canceled, or done in an alternative fashion. This significantly affects school events, like club meetings, sports, and even testing. As the pandemic continues to restrict large gatherings, major exams like the SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test), ACT (American College Testing) and AP (Advanced Placement ) exams have either been limited in capacity, canceled or moved online. CollegeBoard, the American organization which administers college preparedness exams such as the SAT, ACT, AP exams, etc, made the decision to hold AP testing remotely for all 2020 exams. 

Guidelines were made by the CollegeBoard to create secure, well-functioning exams. The online AP exams were able to be taken on any device, to increase the number of students being able to take the exam. However, there was no suitable alternative option if the student did not have access to a device, or if they were disabled with no appropriate accommodation available. All exams were open book/note due to there being no way to tell if students used outside sources. The content of the exams only included information learned by March 2020, since that is when many schools closed down from the pandemic. For all exams, the questions were all free-response and did not include any multiple choice. Answers could either be typed and added as an attached file or, done on paper and uploaded as a photo. Certain exams such as speaking or art-related ones had different submission requirements. If there was an issue of submitting, for technical issues or any other reason, the only option was makeup dates to be given the next month, where the student would have to completely retake the exam.

The College Board stated that 91% of students showed a desire to take online exams rather than have no exams at all. However, how did students feel about the online AP exams once they were over? I asked around at Amsterdam High School to find this answer from students. While it was true for many that they would rather take the exam than not, some expressed difficulties with the exam’s online structure. These included submitting issues, at-home distractions, timing, outdated devices, etc. A student who had to retake their exam on the makeup date mentioned how stressful this was since they had to go through the entire process over again due to one technical issue.  

Najah Martin, a senior at AHS, took the online AP exam for Biology in the 2019-2020 school year. She said while she did not think the content would be much easier in person, the visible time limit gave her stress and she did not feel she had enough time to complete the numerous sections given for the two questions. However, she does not think taking the exam online rather than in-person hindered her score. According to Najah, while “multiple-choice would have been easier” she did not mind the two question structure, since it was less content for her to remember. 

Another AHS senior, Alinah Marinov, took the online AP exams for Physics, Calculus AB, and U.S. History in the 2019-2020 school year. She said a fair amount of time was given, but being given only two free-response questions as the entire test did not seem fair. When asked if one subject was more difficult to complete online than another, she told me that the U.S. History exam was particularly difficult, because she had to scroll back and forth between the documents for the document-based question essay in the allotted time. This year, Alinah will take the AP Biology and AP Calculus BC exams. If given the option to take the exams online again this year or to take them in-person, Alinah would choose in-person, since she says “taking the exam at home poses too many distractions.”

The online AP exams were not only a new adjustment for the students, but for the teachers as well. Regular AP review sessions that some teachers arrange in the month(s) leading up to testing had to be canceled or done in the form of videos. This left some teachers having to post review videos for all of the curriculum covered by the AP exam. Doing this would account for any problem a student may ask, since a student would not be able to request a review on a specific topic as they could in-person. These review videos either had to be made by the teacher themselves or found on the internet. Also, many strategies that the teachers taught their students would not be able to be applied to some questions. This would include eliminating wrong answer choices or picking an educated guess. These would not work since the online AP exams did not include multiple-choice, and only had free-response answers.

Collegeboard insinuates that the exams were successful with little issue, saying “less than one percent of students had a problem submitting their responses due to issues like…”. They also give statistics that show there was a two percent increase in completed AP exams in 2020 as opposed to typical years. However, “less than one percent” of students who had “submitting issues”, does not factor in the students who experienced issues such as at-home disruption, a broken device, or a mix-up when submitting files. There was no specific average score for the 2020 online exams, they varied by subject and are scored on a scale of 1 to 5. The College Board had to make arrangements for online exams relatively quickly because of the pandemic and most schools closing in March. Currently, the College Board does not plan to hold 2021 AP Exams remotely, but this decision could change as the time for AP exams grows closer, depending on the percentage of COVID-19 cases near testing locations.

Source: Information provided by the College Board-

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