AP tests are promised to be full length this year

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Dennis Krolevich

Slider image by Dennis Krolevich.

AP tests this coming May are planning to revert back to normalcy in order to improve the situation caused by the national lockdown in 2020. Tests will have three different windows of time with a variety of test-taking options: in-person paper tests, in-person virtual tests, and virtual tests at home. The College Board also decided that the tests will be the full length of two to three hours, compared to the 45 minute cap in May of 2020. AP tests may be changing for the better in 2021, but exactly how problematic was the situation last year?

Last year, in shortening each test, the Advanced Placement Organization (AP) consequently reduced the amount of content of the class that would be covered on the test. By doing so, AP hoped to quell the worries of students taking online classes and tests, as the sudden change in learning was certainly not welcomed by everyone.

Another major change to the tests was that they would only contain free response questions (written answers by the student), meaning that the usual multiple choice section would not be found. This change, coupled with the shorter test, proved frightening for some students who were worried that a lower chance to demonstrate their knowledge would mean a higher risk of getting a low grade.

Anna Clauer, a Senior at Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy (HBHA) who took both the AP Government and Politics test and the AP Literature and Composition test, said the following about the dilemma of shorter tests: “On one hand, the test was going to be easier because there was only one section we had to do- whether it was a timed writing for Lit or an essay or two for Gov…but also that means it was going to be weighted more. I think I definitely would have gotten a better score had I actually taken the full test.” 

As for the security concerns of a nationwide virtual test, AP delineated some guidelines to address the problem of cheating. Students could use any resources available to them on the test, such as notes or textbooks, but they were prohibited from communicating with other students during the test. 

According to HBHA Senior Abbie Davis, who took the same tests as Clauer did, “they [College Board] knew that students were going to use their notes, [so] they said that it would be open note.” Davis explains that this could have affected the AP’s grading, as graders would be evaluating a student’s application of knowledge, not how well they memorized it. 

The College Board is responsible for administering all AP testing. Image taken from Wikimedia.

Another security measure used for the tests was the randomized questions for each student. According to HBHA Senior Ilana Fingersh who took the same tests as the former seniors, “everybody had different questions because they wanted to prevent cheating- which I understand- but I also feel like it made it harder to grade.” Fingersh elaborates that this resulted in the grading to be more subjective and specialized to the pairing of the question and the student’s knowledge.

Clauer adds that she personally got “a really really bad prompt,” and that “people who got bad prompts were kind of screwed because you only had one chance and it was all going to be random.” 

What Clauer and Fingersh prove about the discrepancy between specifically the literature and government tests of 2020 is that one prompt does not fit all. Based on their understanding of a topic, or their understanding of a prompt, a student can excel or fail. 

Of course, this is apparent on a normal AP test, and on the traditional AP format, students had more opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge with a wide variety of sections, not having to rely on a limited free response questions for the entire test like they had to in 2020. 

Another factor most overlooked was the effect of online tests on students in low income households or rural areas. Not only was good internet connection vital for these tests, but some students simply did not have access to devices to use for the exams. According to the College Board, they responded to around 10,000 students about their issues with secure internet connectivity and access to devices. Fortunately, 100 students in a Detroit school district were allowed in schools to take tests using the school’s internet and devices, as they had been unable to take the test otherwise.

On the bright side, since the beginning of the first semester of 2020, the College Board had promised that tests would be full length and in-person by May 2021. And it seems now that it is a very probable outcome. The AP exams for 2021 will be administered in three time periods: May 3 to May 17 in school, May 18 to May 28 in school or at home, and June 1 to June 11 in school or at home. 

Unlike last year, students are able to take all parts of the AP test to demonstrate their knowledge. Image by Dennis Krolevich.

Both the second and third time periods have options of paper or digital tests, attending to the needs of the students and the school. 

While 2020 AP exams may not have been the best experience for students and former graduates, we can at least be grateful for the reverted tests coming in May. Clauer concludes that overall, “I don’t think there was a better way that they could have approached this.” On the other hand, Davis wished that the AP could have utilized short answer questions for an exam like AP Government in order to expand her ability to prove her knowledge of the course. 

In the end, a national emergency will be met with executive decisions that may seem unorthodox at the time, but there was certainly no way to satisfy every student’s needs during virtual school in 2020.