AP Gone Wrong


by Ellyssa Jeong and Anya Lefkowitz, Centerfold Editors

graphic by Emily Zhang

Junior Stephanie Tian said her experience taking the Advanced Placement (AP) United States History (APUSH) exam taught her less about American history and more about the importance of keeping a clear head even when setbacks are probable. 

“Before the APUSH exam, I saw these TikToks of people who couldn’t submit their [tests], and I was freaking out about it,” she said. “I was worried about converting it into a pdf, and I was worried about uploading.” 

Tian said it was clear that the College Board made as many efforts  as possible to limit cheating.

“I heard from my APUSH and Stats teachers that there were over 20 different versions for each subject,” she said. “For the document-based questions, there were four different questions, but there were different documents so there were 20 different sets of documents or something like that.”

Tian, who took the 2019 AP Chinese exam, said that the model of last year’s exams better allowed her to showcase her knowledge.

“I feel like while the old AP exam sucked because it was so long and grueling, at least you had multiple choice, free response and short answer parts, so even if you weren’t necessarily good at one part, you still had some part of the test to display your capabilities,” she said. 

Sophomore Frank Liu took two AP tests this year and used two different methods to submit his work.

“For AP Calculus, I decided to write everything out and then text myself the pictures,” he said.  “For AP Chem, since I knew there were going to be a lot of questions, and it was going to be a lot of writing, I decided to type everything out so that submitting would be easier, and I would have more time to work on the exam itself.”

Liu said that his AP testing experience was exactly what he expected, especially after reading about other peoples’ experiences online. 

“It was basically what I was expecting. I heard from people online about how the test was very different as they expected, but the thing is the College Board did put out two sets of practice exams before the real test with the exact same format,” he said.

Liu said that providing students with online exams was the correct decision given the extenuating circumstances.

“Some people wanted them to cancel the exam, but in my opinion, that [would] cause more problems than it [would] solve, so using an online format with tests that were long enough to basically stop anyone from effectively cheating [was] a pretty reasonable compromise that they set up,” he said. “I honestly can’t think of a better solution.”

Senior Amanda Lookner, who took the BC Calculus, Environmental Science, French Language and Culture and U.S. Government and Politics AP exams, said she expected to struggle submitting at least one of her exams, but was able to successfully submit her exams. 

“The whole process happened so fast from the time that COVID-19 started,” she said. “I thought that there was going to be no way to make the exams work.”

Lookner said that the experience of taking her French exam on an app was far different from the experience taking her other exams on the College Board website. 

“I didn’t even have my computer — I was taking the test on my phone, with a piece of paper and a pencil so that I could write things down if I ever wanted to,” she said.

The countdown timer displayed on the exam site added an extra level of stress to Lookner’s testing experience.

“It’s helpful because you know how much time you have left, but it’s so stressful,” she  said. “It even turns red when you have five minutes left, and they tell you that you have to submit immediately.” 

Although she didn’t face any technical difficulties, junior Shona Goodkin was unable to take her AP Statistics exam due to the National Speech and Debate tournament taking place online at the same time. She said that she was worried that the College Board wouldn’t accept her request to take the exam on the make-up date. Fortunately, they accepted it.

After her class moved on from test preparation, repreparing for the exam independently was tedious and frustrating, Goodkin said.

“Since most people already took it, we weren’t preparing in class anymore,” she said. “I had actually intended to take it the same day, so I spent a ton of time studying and then I did all of that preparation all over again.

Goodkin said that the AP testing dates and times didn’t take into account all students taking these exams. 

“Not everybody has equal opportunities with online AP exams,” she said. “Especially for individuals taking it outside of the United States, many had to take the exams at absurd hours since it was happening the same time everywhere.”