AP testing in a time of COVID

Rachel Simmons, Reporter

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to infect the United States, high school students nationwide are transitioning to online learning. Students are not only missing out on their in person education, but are also missing out on important standardized tests such as AP tests and the ACT / SAT. 

When COVID-19 struck in early 2020, the College Board had to transition the spring AP tests online quickly. 

“It was a very difficult transition to an online test in 2020,” junior Delany Fitzgerald said, “I was preparing for the rigorous, three-hour paper pencil test all year, and last minute I had to scrap my preparation and figure out a whole new testing style.”

Once the College Board announced the AP test would be online, students began stressing about the new format. However, the College Board adapted the test to help students. 

“In previous years, the test consisted of 60 multiple choice questions and seven free responses,” AP Chemistry teacher Jacob Davis said, “The online test modified the testing curriculum, and was shortened dramatically. There was no multiple choice, and there were only two open-ended questions. The test went from about three hours long to only 45-50 minutes.”

The switch to an online test created many technical difficulties.

“In my APUSH class, many kids finished their tests,” Fitzgerald said. “But because of a College Board black out, their tests didn’t submit and they had to completely re-take their test.”

Technical issues weren’t the only challenge. In the absence of an in-person instructor, cheating became a huge concern. 

“With the fear of online cheating, the College Board announced the AP test would be open note,” Fitzgerald said. “However, because they made the test shorter but didn’t give us enough time, you didn’t have time to look at your notes. I had my notes next to me the whole time, but I never had time to sit and look through them.”

The consequences for students caught cheating included cancelling their scores and notifying colleges of interest. The College Board added still other security measures. 

The exam time [was] too short so students didn’t have time to look anything up,” Davis said, “When an answer was submitted it would go through software to make sure students didn’t plagiarize. They also made questions more focused on ‘agree or disagree’ so the answers weren’t easily found online.” 

Perhaps the ones most impacted by the College Board’s efforts at security were international students. The College Board required all students to take AP exams at the same time worldwide, regardless of time zone. 

“For students living in the United States this isn’t too big of an issue. In 2020 all of my test times were times I would usually be awake and my brain is used to being active during,” senior Katelyn DeKeersgieter said, “For those living internationally this rule makes them wake up at unimaginable times to take a very important test. It’s also hard for them because they have to practice waking up and making their brain alert for their crazy test times.”

As COVID-19 continues, the College Board is working hard to make sure students have support. 

“The College Board has created a lot of online resources,” Davis said. “They have review videos going topic by topic, personal progress checks, and quizzes and exams built using previous tests.”

As students struggle with online academics this year, teachers are finding new ways to motivate them.

“To motivate my students during this time, I build positive relationships with them and make sure they know I care about them,” Davis said. “I balance expectations with students as well as the content so they are prepared for the AP exam.”

Despite the challenges presented by this year, Davis encourages students to try an AP class. 

“Don’t fear the challenge of an AP class. You will grow in different ways by challenging yourself,” Davis said. “You will form connections with students who are also pushing themselves to be the best student they can be.”