AP Exams in a Global Pandemic

The notorious Advanced Placement (AP) exams will soon be administered throughout Bethpage High School. In fact, by the time you’re reading this, a few of the tests may have already been taken by fellow students. These tests are designed to provide some college credits that high school students can use for colleges, meaning that students with AP credits can start their college years with a small head start compared to other classmates. However they are very difficult tests, infamous for annoying and challenging questions to be completed in small time frames. 

In May 2020, all the AP exams were held online. They took significantly less time than normal, due to only certain sections of the exam actually given to students. Students were asked to take smaller portions of their exams in less time, but that did not necessarily make them any easier. The tests suffered lots of technical glitches that made submitting answers in time difficult. Students with poor internet had trouble submitting as well. One viral video published on YouTube last year, called “4 seconds to submit the AP Exam,” showed a student barely making the time limit, because when he tried to submit his answers, his computer screen froze. But with 4 seconds to spare, the computer thankfully resolved the issue and submitted his answers. However, that close call was far from the outlier, and many were not as lucky as him. 

The tests were rolled out following Eastern Standard Time for test takers worldwide, meaning that those overseas had to wake up at ungodly hours to take glitchy tests.  Many felt the College Board had not handled the situation properly.  

Technical issues were so bad last year that a group of students in California filed a class action lawsuit against the College Board. They claimed that a corporation with nearly half a billion dollars of revenue should have been much more prepared to switch their resources to an online platform. Additionally, they claimed that the company discriminated against those who did not have access to the proper technology to take the tests, and those with disabilities that make using standard technology difficult. The lawsuit seeks around $500 million from the College Board, and is ongoing.  

This year, the test looks a little different. The College Board announced on their website that the 2021 exam schedule provides “3 testing dates… for each subject between early May and mid-June.” Some exams will be digital, in which case students will have to download an app, where they will take the digital exams. In-person ones will be administered as normal. Schools have the ability to choose what exams they want to administer, and how they chose to do so. 

At Bethpage High School, some tests will be given in-person, while some will be given strictly online. For example, on May 5, the AP Literature exam will be administered at the Town of Oyster Bay Ice rink, while the AP Seminar Exam will be digital. If a student does not attend an in-person exam, they will take the exam in early June, between June 1 and June 11. 

Some tests have specific reasons why they’re being taken in-person as opposed to digital. As mentioned before, the AP Literature test is being taken in person. One reason for this is that the digital exams’ multiple choice sections may not allow students to go back to previous questions once they’ve been answered. This isn’t a bad idea to prevent cheating or illegitimate answers, however, it conflicts with the traditional structure of many of the English-based exams. A student may get to a later question and, based on the answers of the question, may realize their previous interpretation of the given passage was incorrect, and go back to the older question and change their answer. If the test is taken digitally, then such corrections cannot occur. As one BHS teacher explained, not allowing room for corrections “totally hurts you” when taking the exam. For this reason, Both the AP Literature and AP Language tests are being taken at the ice rink. 

Tests that don’t have this kind of structure, like US History or World History, are being given as digital exams. While it isn’t ideal to take these tests online, the traditional structure of these particular exams isn’t affected as much as others. 

These plans are a far cry from the state of the exams last year, and hopefully they will improve test-taking conditions for students this year. Nobody could have fully expected things to pan out the way they did in 2020. However, that does not mean that things can never resume to a point of normalcy. Certain procedures and protocols for test-taking will have to change, and this year’s plans are a clear attempt to make testing return to a more familiar structure for students. It has not been easy, but in time, things will adapt and there will be better protocols if events of this severity happen again. The plans for this year will hopefully be a step in the right direction.  

As of writing this article, the exams are only a few weeks away. It’s a stressful time for many students, and unfamiliar circumstances makes the testing season even more difficult. Last year’s exams weren’t ideal, but hopefully the College Board has improved the distribution of the tests for this year.