Not-Your-Average APs

By Gayathri Suresh



On May 14th, David sat down in front of his computer to take his AP Chemistry exam. His exam begins, and he works to finish all parts of the chem question while frantically racing against the clock. With 3 minutes left, he tries to submit his response, but he is met with a loading icon and his submission does not go through. Just like David, millions of students who took the 2020 College Board Administered AP exams worldwide were faced with difficulties that prevented them from submitting responses.


The greatest disadvantage of the 2020 AP Exams were the technological problems...

Faced with the COVID-19 epidemic, College Board shifted from its traditional two hour with multi-formatted questions to a 45-minute, long response structure. Not only did this new format surprise students, but they were also posed with another challenge when AP exams were announced to be taken completely remotely. Students who had been preparing for multiple choice questions and SAQs now had to take an exam made up of FRQs and DBQs, which did not seem as if it could provide a sound judgement of a student’s capability and knowledge about their respective courses. What happens if the two questions that make up the whole exam are based on the student’s weakest topic? What if a student who was not prepared got an exam where the two questions were about their strongest topic? The 2020 exams had no way to correctly assess a students level of mastery of a subject with limited questions and format.


In order to reduce cheating, students from each class were given many different types of questions. This also posed a problem as the large number of different questions and texts fails to make an exam that has a uniform level of difficulty. Therefore, some students may take an easier exam compared to their classmates. The greatest disadvantage of the 2020 AP Exams were the technological problems.


College Board had to change the exam in such short notice, less than a month, as the severity and duration of the coronavirus quarantine period was unknown. So, the site was always crashing, many submissions did not go through and they only created the email submission policy after more than half of the exams were administered.


However, considering these circumstances, College Board was able to provide students with a positive and educational experience. The newly formatted exams were to be open book, so students could refer to their notes and any learning material given by their teachers. They also had access to the Internet, even though scouring the Internet for answers would prove to be a waste of testing time. College Board also ensured that all questions were formatted in a unique way so answers would not be found directly on the web.


The open-book policy also helped students engage in an experience similar to college testing, where professors often encourage open book assignments and evaluations. Taking advantage of the current situation, the AP Exams gave students a glimpse of their college coursework in the future. Students without internet or proper resources were sent temporary testing materials, such as iPads, ChromeBooks, calculators, and reference tables in order to ensure all student had a fair shot at the prestigious exams.


Student also had the chance for retakes if they experienced difficulties or scheduling errors, and they were also given the chance to practice submitting responses in a demo setup. The curriculum for all subjects were cut short, as students were not going to be tested on units, they were not able to cover in school, even though there were free review sessions for exam prep and useful tips. And most importantly, college would be accepting the credit for the exams taken in 2020, as this was the primary concern of the students taking the exams. Students would be more likely to get a score of three, four, or five, and it would translate into credits during their college years. Teachers would be sent student responses and they have the ability to “appeal” to the AP scorers regarding their students’ scores.


The 2020 AP experience has been an unforgettable one, leaving not only College Board but also students to be flustered and scared to see what the future holds. From sarcastic backlashes on Instagram to cheating scandals to lawsuits and petitions to millions of retakes and invalid submissions, the AP exams this year did not meet their standards in efficiency and practicality. However, students and administrators can only keep their fingers crossed for everything to go back to normal next year.