Students Have Difficulties with AP Testing During Online Learning

Michelle Zhou, Staff Writer

A student squints at their laptop screen, trying to study at 3 a.m. through their heavy eyelids. This is the case for thousands of students around the world who spend countless hours studying for their Advanced Placement (AP) exams. They’ve been working hard all school year and preparing for weeks, from reading textbooks late at night, to making Quizlet sets and watching review videos on Youtube. 

The non-profit organization, College Board, administers AP exams in 60 countries.

Exams are taken every year in May and test the mastery of AP classes. This year’s exams were administered online for students to take at home rather than the typical hand-written exams taken at school with proctors. AP exams typically take several hours to complete, while this year, the exams were 45 minutes, plus an extra five minutes for submission. 

All exam questions were free response rather than the usual mix of multiple choice and free response. “I put great care into making sure my students were ready… I think having one essay question to assess your entire year of learning is not always that fair…although they didn’t give you options [multiple choice]… they basically made it as fair as they could,” AP European History teacher Kelly Ginocchio said.

While the goal of this change was to make the AP exams easier to take and submit with our current situation, students came across issues. Some students had problems submitting their online AP exams. “I finished my AP Calculus AB test on time, but when I hit the submit button at the end of the test, a screen popped up informing me that one of my sections had not been submitted, even though I had submitted both sections,” senior Bella Deanhardt said. Many students were unable to submit their answers even after clicking the “submit” button multiple times within the five minutes submission period. Issues with AP testing were not just local, but all over the country. Many videos online on platforms such as Tik Tok show students unable to submit their tests and instead watching their timer run down to 00:00 without a confirmation message saying that their exams were received. About 2.186 million AP exams were taken this year and, “less than 1 percent of students were unable to submit their responses,” the College Board said in a statement to CNN.

The College Board allowed students who were unable to submit their responses to retake the exams in June. “We share the deep disappointment of students who were unable to complete their exam — whether for technical issues or other reasons. We’re working to understand these students’ unique circumstances in advance of the June makeup exams. Any student who encountered an issue during their exam will be able to retest,” the College Board said in a statement to InsideHigherEd. “My request for a makeup exam was accepted, so I was allowed to retake it. I was still frustrated to have to take the exam a second time though,” senior Cara Holden said. 

According to PrepScholar, some of the hardest AP exams are AP Biology, AP Chemistry, AP U.S. History, and AP Calculus BC. According to Total Registration, comparing the test results from 2019 to 2020, the percentage of students passing the exam was relatively the same or just one to two percent higher. Even though the percentage of people passing was similar to last year, some students disputed the validity of the scores.“I feel like the score I got was reasonable, but I know some people who had good grades the whole school year and who were very strong writers who only got threes [on the AP European History Exam], so overall, I think that the grading system was questionable,” junior Mia Schraith said. 

To ensure test security, the College Board had to find ways to prevent cheating. Students were allowed to use their notes, books, and the internet while taking the exams, however, communicating with other students was not permitted. According to the Princeton Review, “The College Board is using a range of digital security tools, including plagiarism detection software, to safeguard the integrity of the exams… The College Board has also said that the consequences for cheating will be severe.”

This year and every year, students worked day and night to study. Finally, at 8 a.m. on a morning in May,  the student sits down at their desk, ready to take their exam. After all the hard work and long hours they have spent studying, they hope the exam will go well.