What you need to know — 2021 AP Exam season

As we have heard time and time again, this pandemic has negatively affected everyone. A rush of change has been thrust upon both students and educators; switching between home and school, adjusting to new ways of learning, and all the joys of a virtual classroom have been major challenges that have been endured on both sides of the desk.   

 Considering the significant changes that occurred during the spring of 2020, for those who take advanced placement classes, the unknown plan for AP exams has been pressing. The Spring 2020 tests were all online; many were shortened to be only 45 minutes, and all of the short answer questions and multiple choice answers were eliminated. The changes made for 2020 are not the continued plan during the ongoing pandemic for 2021 exams. 

The CollegeBoard has been elusive and unclear regarding both the tests and the plans. They only released their plan in the winter, months after AP instruction had already begun. This did not allow teachers to adjust their teaching to a timeline to prepare students for the AP Exams.

Ap 2020 Test Dates
Schedule of AP Exam Test Dates 2021. (MarcoLearning)

 Here at West Milford, students have the option to take their exams in-person or at home. Each course has a variety of adjustments to cater to the different styles of questions, which were announced on Friday, March 5. Students had to decide their testing location(s) by Tuesday, March 9.  Except for World language, Physics, and Statistics which are only offered in-person on one date.

There are a great number of considerations students have to weigh. Test dates are different if taken at home or in-person, and different restrictions at home should be considered. The times of some tests are not even during school hours, some tests are as late as 4 p.m. and may cause conflicts for students who work or have other obligations.  For students who opt to take the test at home, there are different formats specifically for math and science tests because students are not submitting pictures of their work like they did last year. This is actually a positive since last year the photographs students were required to provide caused a host of problems and issues. The at-home exam does require a program to be downloaded, similar to that of the PARCC app we have used before. Many students are worried about not being familiar with the program, and not being used to any challenges it may cause. Students who have been anticipating taking tests have been trying to adjust to the new changes. Guidance Supervisor, Mrs. Karen Johnson warns students, “Students testing online should be very aware of the software being used to prevent cheating, plagiarism, use of support materials while testing, etc. Exams will be reviewed for collaboration, the use of supplemental aids, or plagiarism; students suspected of such will forfeit their scores.” For more information about the format of the test, check out this link https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/pdf/ap-2021-exam-formats.pdf 

 Many students don’t enjoy the new preventative cheating tool the CollegeBoard instituted that makes it so students are unable to revisit questions once they have submitted their answers.  AP student Sarah Koblitz (who is registered to take the AP US History, AP Language and Composition, and AP Environmental Science Exams) says, “Not being able to go back to the questions was a factor for me to take the tests in person, it felt like such an added pressure.”  

Many AP teachers have been anticipating the decision for the test so they can focus their instruction on a proper timeline. AP United States History teacher Mrs. Cheryl Botsolas has been dealing with the adjustment from the original plan that the CollegeBoard shared, no tests would be taken digitally. Now students will be taking the exam on different days and in different formats, adding extra factors teachers were not prepared for when teaching. There is a difference in test questions, and teachers did not plan for the new dates. Botsolas recommends the CollegeBoard make lecture videos to “help ease the student’s minds with the material and better understanding…”  Outside of the CollegeBoard, there other credible studying resources such as Marco Learning, which offers plenty of free study guides

 Once the Board Released its original plan, one rule stated students would only be able to take the test at home if they had computer systems with cameras. Many critics saw this as unfair to lower-income students who would be unable to get computers with cameras, so the amended plan doesn’t require cameras.  The CollegeBoard has continued to work with school districts to try to give the option for students to take the test at home no matter their circumstances. Johnson noted that West Milford was lucky enough to have the choice between formats and have as much normalcy throughout the school year as possible, she said, “There are many districts that have been operating on a shortened-day schedule since September; how do those students keep pace?” She even thinks the CollegeBoard could have reduced some of the content and not continued as if this was a normal year because “It is not a normal year.”

AP tests are daunting even without a surging, year-long, pandemic, but with this added stress, is the CollegeBoard doing its job and taking the current situation into account while creating the plan for the exams? As an institution, overall the CollegeBoard has been listening to the public, but sometimes they miss the mark.