The University Network

The College Board Announces Changes To AP Exams

In response to COVID-19, the College Board has announced substantial changes to its Advanced Placement exams. 

All AP exams will be offered online so that students can take them at home. Additionally, the exams will be shortened in length to 45 minutes and require free-response questions only for the majority of the subjects.

Details on specific changes to each of the AP exams are available at TUN’s special AP section, which also shares information about available resources for online prep.

The College Board has also confirmed that colleges and universities intend to accept passing exams as course credit.

And students who are already registered for an exam can opt to cancel at no charge. 

Students can pick one of two dates to take their exams. The dates will be announced by April 3, when the organization will also reveal sample questions for each exam to give students an idea of what types of questions they can expect. 

The College Board is allowing students to take the exams on “any device they have access to.” That includes a computer, tablet or a smartphone. If none of those devices are an option, students will be able to take a photo of handwritten work.

In an effort to be fair to all students, AP exams this year will only include questions on topics that teachers are supposed to have covered in class by early March.

Overall, AP teachers, students and tutors are accepting the changes and taking them for what they are — a fair response in the midst of a difficult, unprecedented time. 

“Given the circumstances, which are less than ideal, I think this modified exam still gives students the chance to demonstrate the skills they’ve developed in the course or courses they’ve taken,” said Erik Powell, an AP English Literature and Composition teacher at Ferris High School in Spokane, Washington. “It would have been an absolute shame not to give them any opportunity.”

The changes do raise some concerns, though. 

“I know that this is one of the best solutions they could’ve come up with to still have the option for the testing. But it definitely leads to, at this point, more questions than answers,” said Amanda DoAmaral, a former AP history teacher and founder of Fiveable, a social learning community that provides free online AP resources to students and teachers.

Because of the pandemic and all that it has caused, students’ stress levels are really high right now, she said. Canceling the AP exams this year would fail to reward the many students who’ve already put lots of time and money into preparing for them. But at the same time, making significant changes amid already stressful times may only stress students out more. 

“I’m mostly concerned about the social and emotional well-being of students,” DoAmaral said. “And I worry that their stress is really peaking. And so, I’m hopeful that the College Board will send more answers on April 3.”

There’s also the issue of the technology gap. Many students throughout the United States don’t have access to a working computer or the internet, putting them at an immediate disadvantage. 

Both DoAmaral and Powell, who currently teaches in a district with over 50 percent of students on free or reduced lunch plans, acknowledge the severity of this issue. Powell said his district is working hard to provide internet access and computers to students who don’t currently have them. And the College Board has told students who don’t have access to such technologies to contact them here

Even with these efforts, though, moving exams online remains an issue. To effectively understand how to take their exam, students would first have to practice things like logging in and potentially uploading documents, DoAmaral explained. 

In terms of the College Board’s decision to do away with multiple choice questions and only include free-response questions, the organization is seemingly acting to keep students from cheating. From a grading perspective, It’s easier to notice plagiarism than it is to keep a student from looking up the answers to multiple-choice questions online. 

Some, more than others, are proponents of this change. 

“For my course, which is English Literature and Composition, I sort of prefer the free response option, because so much of what we’ve done this year in class is based off of that literary analysis,” Powell said. 

But naturally, this does hurt the students who aren’t as skilled as writers and rely on multiple-choice questions to boost their scores. 

Finally, there’s the issue of shortened instructional support. Due to school closures and social distancing rules, students are no longer able to prepare for their AP exams in class with their teachers or in person with hired tutors.