An Update on the 2021 AP Exams

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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the nature of this year’s AP exams will be different from the past years.

Kelly Zarate, The Scroll, Co-Editor in Chief

As the second semester progresses further during these turbulent times, the constant stress of studying for the Advanced Placement (AP) exam remains relevant. This year, many changes have been made to the AP exams to ensure that students will be able to perform to the best of their ability, whether online or in person.

Last year, when schools were beginning to shut down, the College Board–a non profit organization that administers the AP exams– considered cancelling the exams altogether. However, a survey showed that 91 percent of students still wanted to take the test and earn their college credit.

With limited time, the College Board had to develop a test that would be long enough to demonstrate the students abilities, but also short enough to be accessible from an online environment. Eventually, they decided on a 45 minute free-response question (FRQ).

However, there were many issues with the exam last year. According to Trevor Packer, the head of the AP program described, “Most students were able to take the test just fine and upload their answers, but with 3 million students, it wasn’t surprising. We warned it would be bumpy and that some people would need to do makeup tests. We knew errors would happen—if there was a local internet outage when a student tried to submit their test, they’d need to retest. If a student didn’t use an updated browser, or if they took a blurry photo, they’d need to retest.”

All the glitches and errors from last year’s exam led the College Board to reevaluate the format of the upcoming test.

This year, most exams will be offered for both pen and paper or in a digital format. Depending on the date chosen by the administration at Saugus, the testing dates will range from early May to mid-June.

This is the schedule for each of the three different exam periods. (Courtesy of the College Board)

In order to prevent cheating, there will be a few exams that will only be offering a pen and paper option. These exams include all non-english language courses as well as music theory. If a student is unable to take this exam due to high COVID cases, there will be no digital alternative. Students will be able to sign up to take the exam at a different school that is offering it, wait until the next year to take the exam without receiving a penalty fee, or if the student is graduating they may opt out and take a placement exam for that language before entering college.

Due to the nature of all the math, chemistry, and physics exams, the College Board is encouraging students to take this in person. Despite the encouragement, the exams will still be offered on the online format.

There are still significant changes between a digital and in person test as well. For example, the long essay questions for history based subjects will only be in the pen and paper test. There will also be no drawing pictures or graphs for subjects such as Environmental Science, Biology, Micro/Macro Economics, and Statistics in the digital format. For more information on this, ask your AP teacher or check this website: https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/about-ap-2021/updates/digital-exams
If the exam is taken online, there will be many differences from last year’s 45 minute FRQ. This year, the College Board has decided to revert back to a full length exam, no matter in person or online. In order to prevent cheating, a student can not go back and forward between answered questions or unanswered questions, and exams will be run through plagiarism detection software. Another digital difference is that all exams will begin at the same time worldwide to prevent collaboration.

The new digital security protocol requires students to use a device that has a working keyboard and a working camera. No smartphones, tablets, or devices without a camera will be allowed for the exam. Students with an unstable internet connection, will have time to reconnect and continue their work from where they left off.
With all the new regulations, the College Board understands the difficulty of the situation and as a result there will be no cancellation fee for the exams.

Despite the current situation, teachers have been going through the required information to ensure students are prepared for both a physical and digital exam.