AP Exams in 2021

The school year is finally coming to an end. And with that, students in Advanced Placement classes (APs) recently took their final exams in their respective courses, referred to as AP exams. Some students have many AP exams within just a few days of each other and so the month of May is incredibly stressful for them as they are forced to prepare. In a normal year, the format of the AP exams depends on the specific course, but they are usually always taken in person with a pencil and paper. That trend came to an end last year when the pandemic forced students to stay home. Students had to take an extremely watered-down exam that most often only consisted of one or two free-response questions which did not appropriately evaluate the students on what they had learned. If a student got a question on a topic that they weren’t the strongest in, then they were at a severe disadvantage.

This year, the AP exams worked much differently. Schools had the option to pick either in-person exams or virtual exams because of coronavirus precautions. In-person exams worked the same as they had in previous years. However, virtual exams were administered in a testing application on students’ computers, which prohibited students from opening any other tabs or applications apart from the test during the time of the exam.

In order to inhibit cheating, the College Board made the exams so that students could not go back and change their answers to questions. The intention of this was to prevent students who had finished early from taking their extra time to go back and look up answers on any other electronic devices they may have with them. However, it was also a major obstacle for students, as they could not go back and edit their responses if a new answer came to them later. The College Board also severely amped up the difficulty of the exams, especially the free-response questions. This was in order to prevent students from simply looking up answers. Some students felt that these questions were extraordinarily difficult or that they were not based on content that they had been taught over the course of the year.

When asked for his opinion on the AP exams, junior Leonardo Castro reported, “I thought they were given in a much better way than it was last year, with it being an actual exam and in terms of difficulty it was somewhat fair with some questions not making any sense, as they most likely assumed that students would try to cheat and they went a bit overboard with the measures, thus those really weird and dumb AP questions and prompts.”

Junior Josh Alms generally agreed when he explained, “I found the online exam format to be very accessible and doable with the exams themselves only being slightly more difficult than I expected as a result of not being able to go back on the multiple-choice section as well as generally more challenging free response as part of the College Board’s efforts to reduce cheating.”

Ultimately, although students tend to agree that the AP exams were administered in a much better fashion than last year, they also felt that the College Board did not need to go to such lengths to discourage cheating, as doing so significantly increased the difficulty of the exams. Hopefully, the College Board will accept the criticism and, if they continue to give digital exams, will release even better adapted online AP exams next year.

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