by John Moscatiello

It’s official: AP® exams will not be administered in-person, but can be taken online. The College Board announced on its website that AP® exams will shift to an online format that can be administered at home. Crucially, these digital AP® exams will only last 45 minutes and will only include part of the exam. The exact dates of the exams and the format will be announced for each exam by April 3.

But why did the College Board make these changes and what are the implications for AP® teachers and their students?

1. Why AP® Exams Have Not Been Canceled

According to the College Board, thousands of students reported that they did not want the exams canceled. In this respect, the College Board had no other choice than to administer AP® exams this year. In the past two decades, the AP® program has ballooned into the largest and most lucrative testing regime in history—with some 2.8 million students taking 5.1 million AP® exams every year. Each AP® exam costs $95, so canceling the exams outright would have led to a shattering loss in revenue for the College Board. It would have also led to a shattering loss of morale for AP® teachers and their students, who have dedicated an entire school year to studying for these exams. Some teachers have focused months of class time on exam preparation, even from the first weeks of school. Canceling the exams would have seemed like canceling the entire year for some students.

2. Why AP® Exams Are Online

Another concern that teachers and students have raised in recent weeks is about access to secure, reliable internet connections. By offering options for at-home and in-school testing, the College Board is attempting to address these concerns. But there are major inequities in access to internet usage among students in the United States, and AP® teachers have expressed serious concerns about how students in rural areas and underserved urban communities will be able to count on reliable internet access, even with the generous support of internet providers, who have offered free internet access to students in need.

This is going to be the biggest challenge for the administration of this year’s AP® exams. Many AP® teachers and their students are unsure about how the College Board can protect the integrity of AP® exams administered digitally. How can they prevent cheating and information sharing among students? What will happen when students have internet or computer malfunctions? Will they be allowed to retake the exam? How many different versions of the exam will exist? These are just some of the many questions AP® teachers and students will be asking in the coming weeks.

According to the College Board’s announcement, “The exam questions are designed and administered in ways that prevent cheating; we use a range of digital security tools and techniques, including plagiarism detection software, to protect the integrity of the exams.”

3. Why the Exams Are Free-Response Only

Most AP® exams are approximately three hours long and consist of a multiple-choice and free-response section. In the days leading up to this decision, students began receiving survey questions about taking a multiple-choice-only or free-response-only exam.

“Given the many school closures around the coronavirus (COVID-19), the AP® Program is considering offering a 45-minute online exam made up of only [multiple-choice or free-response] questions. The exam could be taken either at school or at home. Faculty at colleges and universities have indicated that they will accept this type of exam for college credit if the student receives a qualifying score.

 How likely would you be to take the 45-minute online multiple-choice AP® Exam?”

Informal surveys on social media indicated that students strongly preferred the multiple-choice-only option, though the choice to use only the free-response part of the exam will look different for each of the 38 AP® exams. Trevor Packer has tweeted, “The at-home AP Exams this year will not include any multiple-choice questions, only free-response questions, adapted for secure testing at home.” The College Board has indicated that the specific format of each exam will be announced on April 3.

4. Why AP® Exams Will Be Offered on Two Days

There are two major reasons for the option for two dates in AP® exams. The first is that there remains a lot of uncertainty about when students and teachers will return to school in many states and districts in the United States. In dozens of countries around the world, initial delays of two or three weeks extended into four weeks and then eight weeks. Kuwait recently announced that schools are closed until August, and the new academic year will not begin until December 1, 2020. Kansas was the first state to announce complete closure for the rest of the academic year.

5. Why They Have Shortened the Curriculum

The College Board has modified the requirements for each exam because even the disruption of one week has been enough to upend the exam preparation of millions of AP® students. Before this announcement, there was a major concern about the instructional time we have already lost as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. By removing the final units from most courses, the College Board has bought teachers and students at least some time to review the material they have already learned in class instead of learning new material.

6. How Colleges Will React

Colleges and universities across the United States have already been making sweeping accommodations and changes as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, according to the College Board, “for decades, colleges have accepted a shortened AP® Exam for college credit when groups of students have experienced emergencies.” According to the survey quoted above, many colleges have already indicated that they would accept a modified AP® exam for credit. It is safe to assume that most colleges would probably give students the opportunity to earn credit and place out of requirements on similar terms, though each college maintains its own policies on AP® exams and credits, though we have yet to hear official confirmation from college admissions officials.

7. Should Test-takers Cancel Exams?

With all of this new information coming in so fast, you might be wondering if test-takers can or should cancel their exams. We’ll learn more about these changes on April 3rd, so it’s a good idea to hold off on any actions related to canceling your exam until we have more information. But, rest assured, the College Board says “While we encourage you to wait until closer to the test to decide, any student registered for an exam can cancel at no charge.”

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John Moscatiello

John Moscatiello is the founder of Marco Learning. He has been a teacher, tutor, and author since 2002. Over the course of his career, John has taught more than 4,000 students, trained hundreds of teachers, written content for 13 test preparation books, and worked as an educational consultant in more than 20 countries around the world.

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