The Ultimate Guide to the 2021 Digital AP® Exams

There are a few major differences between the paper-and-pencil AP Exams and the 2021 digital AP Exams. In this article, we are going to show you everything you need to get ready for the digital AP Exams.

UPDATE on 4/8/21:

The College Board modified the format of some digital AP Exams again on April 8, 2021. Here are some of the key highlights:

  • On the AP English Language Exam, both the multiple-choice and free-response questions will be presented in a different order on the digital exam from that of the paper-and-pencil exam.
  • On the AP U.S. Government and Politics Exam, the Supreme Court Comparison question on the free-response section will be structured differently on the digital AP Exam.
  • For both AP Macroeconomics and AP Microeconomics, the digital exams will allow for calculators, unlike the paper-and-pencil exams. The free-response questions will also be presented in a different order.
  • The AP Calculus AB and BC Exams will allow for calculator usage throughout the digital exam.

To see all the changes, check out our AP Exam Formats Guide.

How to Get Ready for Test Day

  1. Download and log into the digital exam software. On Thursday, April 8, 2021, the College Board released the 2021 Digital AP Exams app. You can download it here to practice. After logging in with your College Board account, you will be able to access practice questions for AP Exams that you are registered to take.
  2. Understand the terms and conditions. In order to take the digital AP Exams, you must agree to the official terms and conditions of the exam. While the College Board had originally announced that digital AP exams would require a camera and a photo identification, that requirement has since been removed. Nevertheless, there are other important parts of the terms and conditions that you can read about here.
  3. Ensure you have the proper software installed. There are minimum requirements for using the 2021 Digital AP Exams app. Unlike the 2020 AP Exams, you cannot take this year’s AP Exams on a tablet or mobile phone. You must use a laptop or desktop computer that meets the basic requirements specified by the College Board. You can read about the detailed requirements on pages 31 to 35 of the Digital Testing Guide.

  1. Study the differences between the digital and paper AP Exams. On many of the digital AP Exams, you will be asked different types of questions or different numbers of questions. Before test day, make sure you know exactly what to expect on test day. You can download our guide detailing those differences here.
  2. Plan ahead for the dates and times of the exams. This year’s AP Exam calendar is complicated. There are multiple administrations of each exam, and some exams are offered only in school. Also, the College Board has indicated that the 2021 digital AP Exams, like the 2020 digital AP Exams, will “begin at the same time worldwide with synchronous section start times.” For some international students, that will mean taking the exams in the middle of the night. Be sure to check out our calendar of exam dates.
  3. Make a study plan for all subjects. We have designed a fillable calendar for the 2021 AP exams that you can use to develop a winning study plan for this year’s exams. It comes with instructions and links to free resources for AP Exam preparation. We also created a fillable productivity planner that you can use to organize your study materials and study efficiently. For more on using these guides, check out this video. 

Test-Taking Strategies for the AP Digital Exams

To do well on the 2021 digital AP Exams, you need to make sure that you understand the actual experience of taking the digital exams. There are several important features about the digital AP exams you should fully understand before test day by practicing within the platform.

  1. No moving back and forth between questions. On the paper-and-pencil AP Exams, you can move back and forth between questions within a section of the exam as you normally would, but on the 2021 digital AP Exams, you cannot return to a question once it has been submitted. This could have important implications for how you manage your time and make decisions on test day. If you move too quickly through the multiple-choice section, you cannot use any leftover time to review your work. If you move too slowly through the multiple-choice section, you will need to hurry at the end to make sure you submit an answer to each question. (Remember that there is no “guessing penalty” on AP Exams, so you should submit an answer for each question.)
  2. Annotating on the digital AP Exam. Many AP teachers, especially teachers of AP English Language and AP English Literature, teach their students strategies for annotating texts on the AP Exams. Physically writing notes on a paper test with a pencil in your hand is different from using the College Board’s annotation tool. This tool allows you to highlight or underline text and even add notes to yourself. As you practice with the software, study yourself as a test taker. Is the annotation tool slowing you down? Is it helping you navigate through long texts? Can you change your strategy before test day to make this tool work for you? Make sure that you adapt your strategy around your own preferences and habits.
  3. Typing your free-response answers. This year’s AP Exams will not allow you to submit handwritten answers that you upload into the software, even for subjects like AP Calculus AB and AP Macroeconomics. You also cannot type your answers in a Google Doc or Microsoft Word document to upload. Your answers must be typed within the platform. (Remember that you will need to enter a “lockdown mode” for the exam and cannot access other programs while you are taking the test. As you practice typing, remember that there is a special symbols field for math and science exams and that you can copy and paste text and move it around during the exam. This is an important feature that you should take full advantage of before test day. If you are a slow typer, you can improve your typing skills by using this resource.
  4. Managing your time. On standardized tests, timing is everything. If you manage your time poorly, you could lose out on easy points during the test. It is important to remember that the 2021 digital AP Exams will begin automatically at the exact start time for the exam. The breaks will begin and end automatically. According to the College Board, you will need to “pace yourself” through the free-response section, but you cannot return to any questions once they are submitted. Using the College Board’s software, study your timing closely and identify specific changes you can make so that you are not running out of time or finishing too early.

For more information about the digital experience, download the software or check out this page.

There have been many announcements and changes about this year’s AP Exams, and we want to be here for you to make sure you know how to navigate your way through them. Follow us on social media and we’ll help keep you up to date on any changes as they come.

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