2020 marked the first year in which AP exams were administered at home as a side-effect of the coronavirus pandemic. The major change in testing style generated a host of issues regarding equity and fairness. Since the exams were conducted through an online platform, students taking the exams needed an electronic device as well as stable internet access, constructing considerable barriers. In addition to the financial, medical, and mental pressures caused by the pandemic, many students also lacked a quiet place to focus on the test. Moreover, the online format failed to be appropriately adjusted for students with disabilities, further exacerbating the disparities in standardized testing. Over 10,000 students who were able to take the test encountered flaws in College Board’s software that inhibited them from submitting their test. Despite complaints, College Board mandated that these students’ only alternative option would be to retake the test over the summer.
In addition to the logistical and access issues, many students, parents, teachers, and even colleges expressed concern at the accuracy of the tests in comparison to previous years. Each test was only 45 minutes long, severely shortened, and only tested a fraction of AP material. The condensed tests were largely beneficial for students that were already stressed by extraneous circumstances. However, as some colleges felt these tests were unreliable, they changed their credit policies or obligated students to take placement exams to determine classes. Besides the nature of the test itself, many students had created posts on social media that implicated they had cheated, and some anonymously came forward explaining that their peers had used Discord, Facetime, and private messaging to collaborate on the tests. Due to the swirling rumours of cheating, College Board was accused of conducting a phishing scam through Reddit in an attempt to catch students in the act.
In lieu of the controversies generated by last year’s AP exams, College Board significantly modified the distribution of the 2021 exams. With the development of coronavirus vaccines, many schools have already begun at least partial in-person instruction. This has opened many avenues for College Board in terms of testing. This year, they will be offering three different testing periods from May 3rd through June 11th encompassing both digital exams and written exams. Each period comprises a different set of instructions to accommodate for the pandemic, technological complications, and other impediments to access. Rather than students being allowed to chose their own test dates, College Board has left the choice up to each school’s discretion in early March.
Administration 1 will take place from May 3rd to May 17th and include in-person traditional pencil and paper exams proctored at school. Administration 2 from May 18th to May 28th. The first option for testing over this period will be digital exams that may be taken either in school or at home. The second option offered is paper exams in school. Likewise, Administration 3 also has two options. Option 1, from June 1st to June 11th, will be digital school or home exams while option 2, only offered June 4th, are on paper school exams. The exceptions to this schedule are the AP Japanese Language and AP Culture and Chinese Language and Culture tests which must be taken digitally at school.
In order to efficiently prepare for AP tests ahead of time, students can find their specific test timings on the College Board Website (or click here). This will help with early prioritization, especially for students taking multiple exams. It is also key to avoid cramming. Well paced preparation is one of the main factors that decreases stress and increases success. Setting study goals or creating a study schedule will aid this process. For example, mastering the principal concepts and taking a practice test would be an admirable place to be at by the beginning of May. To get to this position, there are two tips students can keep in mind. First, dividing the material from each test into manageable sections and setting daily or even weekly progress targets is a clear path to high achievement. Second, when taking practice tests, it is important to stimulate real test conditions. This would constitute being limiting distractions, being strict on timing, and not using any form of notes. While APs are rigorous tests and therefore are quite taxing for students, it is important to institute break and focus on one’s physical and mental health to make the most out of the academic challenge without burning out.