AP Testing Takes on a new look during the COVID-19 Lockdown

Kaelyn Rodrigues | Staff Writer

At-Home AP Exam Details graphic provided by The College Board

Each May, students enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) classes can take exams to determine whether or not they will receive college credit. Amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the College Board, the organization that offers the AP program, has altered the exam from the typical 2-3 hour pen-and-paper test to a 45-minute online exam.

In previous years, the exams were composed of both multiple choice and free response questions. However, multiple choice questions will not be part of this year’s exams, and they will only contain the units that teachers were expected to have covered by March through in-person learning.

Dee Dee Messer teaches AP Physics C: Mechanics and AP Physics C: Electricity & Magnetism. Messer said that in order to effectively prepare her students for the new exam, she had to teach her students how to answer the new types of questions.

“AP Physics C questions have verbs like ‘derive’ and ‘calculate’, [so] we spend all year learning how to communicate using math and equations,” Messer said. “The development committee did not want students to upload pictures of their handwritten work [because] it is difficult for a student to ensure that their picture is clear and shows all their work. So, they wrote exam questions with verbs like ‘explain’ and ‘justify’. We have not only reviewed the content but have learned how to use words and not math to communicate their knowledge.”

In past years, the AP Physics C exams have occurred during the second week of AP exams. This year, however, AP Physics C exams were scheduled for the first two time slots on the first day of online exams, and therefore were the first to try out the new exam.

“We definitely experienced some technical difficulties, but my students said they felt very prepared for the style and content of the questions,” Messer said. “[The] College Board has been making technical adjustments on their end, so hopefully the other exams have a better success rate.”

Messer is also an AP Physics Exam Leader for the College Board. As an exam leader, she helps develop the rubrics by which both exams are graded.

“The first week of [grading] the exams, a small group of leaders go through thousands of student responses to see how well the rubrics work with actual student answers,” Messer said. “We then make changes as needed and if there are any disagreements, I make the final call. I take this back to the students in my classroom and help them to not only learn the content, but also how to communicate effectively and concisely to earn as many points possible.”

Nichole Wilson teaches AP Literature and Composition and is a certified AP English Literature consultant and exam reader for the College Board. Like Messer, Wilson had to change the way she prepared students for the exam in response to the details and format of the new exam.

“This year, the exam will only include one essay — the Prose Passage essay,” Wilson said. “However, many of the assignments students had completed during the year focused on the close reading skills of the test. The College Board was great about releasing videos to help students fill in the gaps in their knowledge, but as most students reflected on the videos, they felt they had already been introduced to the essential skills.”

Junior Katya Sander AP exam for Calculus AB on May 12. Sander said having multiple parts per question to complete in a short amount of time was stressful, despite the College Board’s intention for the new format to ease students’ worries about being tested over fewer skills.

“I know that the College Board purposefully created more parts per question to give students a better chance of getting questions over different material correct, which I appreciated, but it was nowhere near the same as being given multiple questions over different topics,” Sander said. “The fear of not fully understanding one question or topic leading you to lose a large percentage of the exam’s total points was definitely still there.”

Sander said that although she has more time to study, she struggled to find motivation to do so without the typical school environment.

“I think my motivation to study has definitely been less than it would usually be,” Sander said. “I’m still probably studying close to the same amount since I have the time. I think I owe it to the fact that I am not surrounded by others who are also studying for the exam or teachers who are motivating me to study and hyping me up for the final end-of-the-year push.”

Overall, Sander said she was satisfied with having a shorter exam under these circumstances because the outcome is still the same regardless of the exam’s format.

“I understand where people are coming from when they express their frustration in regards to the fee being the same as usual for this year’s much shorter, online AP exams,” Sander said. “I mean, $94 for 50 minutes? But frankly, in the end, the college credit we would earn would be the same whether the tests were online or on paper — and it’s less time and stress out of my day.”

Image contributed by The College Board