AP exams see changes due to COVID-19

Due to complications created by the pandemic, AP testing is seeing various changes. With some schools virtual, some in-person and some implementing a hybrid model, students have been learning in a variety of different ways. These discrepancies among schools and students raise questions as to how AP tests will function this spring.

This year, students with health concerns will have the option to take most of the tests virtually if they need. However, the French Language and Culture, Spanish Language and Culture and Music Theory exams cannot be taken virtually.

In a letter sent out to students and families, the College Board states that “unlike last year’s AP tests, these tests will mimic the paper-and-pencil tests; most will be around three hours in length and most will include multiple choice and free response questions.”

The College Board has provided three exam administrations for the spring. Administration 1 will take place on May 37, 1012, 14 and 17. This will be a traditional in-school exam for all subjects. Administration 2 will take place May 18–21, 24–28.  Half of the subjects will be administered in school with paper and pencil and half will be full-length digital exams that will be taken in school or at home. Administration 3 will take place on June 1–4, 7–11. This option will also be in school and at home. Most of the subjects will be full-length digital exams only, administered in school or taken at home. If students decide to take a virtual exam, they should plan to email Scott Brown, school counselor and AP exam coordinator, at least seven days prior to the digital testing date, preferably by April 1

There are certain differences in the virtual and in-person tests. In the online version, students will not be able to look ahead or return to questions they’ve answered. 

I would highly recommend students take the in-person test on paper

— Kelsey Burke, AP Biology teacher

Kelsey Burke, AP Biology teacher, encourages students to take the exam in-person if possible.

“I would highly recommend students take the in-person test on paper as the virtual option has some limitations that go against good test-taking strategies,” Burke said. “For example, you are not able to return to a question on the virtual test or look ahead; little things like that can make a big impact on testing.”

With the exams on the horizon, students are starting to review their materials and get ready to take the test. Brown advises students on the best ways to  prepare for the upcoming exams.

“I would recommend first talking to the AP teacher to get tips,” Brown said. “Then I would check out the various prep opportunities within AP classroom, teachers use this some or a lot depending on the particular teacher, and then I would check out the AP daily videos.”

Brown also commented on the dedication of AP teachers who have been working hard to deliver a quality education throughout remote learning.

“I think they have all been working really hard to prepare students, despite the difficulties of teaching in a virtual environment for most of the year,” Brown said. 

Burke speaks on some of these challenges as well. She explains how this school year, teachers have lost a lot of class time and have had to make adjustments to the curriculum.

“Virtual learning has been tough for two main reasons,” Burke said. “We’re missing a lot of instructional time; we’re down from 250 minutes a week to 140 minutes a week. The other big adjustment has been labs, which I was not able to run in-person this year. I think we’ve made do with the programs we started using [Pivot Interactives, Gizmos] as the data analysis is still included, but I know that students are missing out on the hands-on experience.” 

Nawshin Murshed, senior, has experience in both the 2019 and 2020 AP tests. The 2019 version was the traditional, pre-COVID, paper and pencil test. 

“We went into one of the second-floor rooms in the P.E. building, sat down with a pencil, and took the first half of the test — MCQ (Multiple-Choice Question). Then we had a short intermission, then began the second half, the FRQ (Free-Response Question) portion,” Murshed said.

While the 2019 pencil-and-paper testing process was longer and straightforward, the 2020 AP exams were shorter, with a different format . 

“While 2019’s test covered pretty much the entire year, 2020’s tests were snippets of what we’d learned,” Murshed said. 

Through all of the differences between the exams of 2019 and 2020, the amount of nerves involved were virtually the same, Murshed reflects. 

“[The 2020 AP tests] were just as nerve wracking, but a lot shorter so it was a bit easier to recover,” Murshed said.

There was one distinction she noticed though, and did not have to do with the actual test itself. 

[The 2020 AP tests] were just as nerve wracking, but a lot shorter so it was a bit easier to recover,

— Nawshin Murshed, senior

“One difference between the two years is that 2020 missed the class AP test trauma bonding moment that happens when we all struggle in-person,” Murshed said.

As Murshed prepares for her third round of AP exams, the experienced senior offers advice to the younger students who may be taking their first AP tests this year. 

“I can’t emphasize this enough — review and study. Cramming is painful and reviewing bits and pieces here and there will save you a lot of pain — trust me,” Murshed said.

Amid all of the general test advice, Murshed also suggests guidance that is more specific to AP exams. 

“One of the things I’ve noticed from taking AP exams is that half the challenge of AP questions is the wording. It’s part English exam, really,” Murshed said. “You have to poke at the question until you find exactly what they’re asking you to solve. It’s usually not clear cut. This can be really hard to get used to, so practice, practice, practice.”