AP tests administered online and in-person

by Paul Hong, News Reporter, & Sarah Wei, News Editor
graphic by Angus Nichols

Advanced Placement (AP) tests, taking place between May 3 and June 11, are in the midst of being administered for the 2020-2021 school year. 

Tests were offered both digitally and in person on paper, with the exception of Music Theory and world language exams, which were only available in person. The College Board introduced online testing in the 2019-2020 school year as a result of the pandemic, taking months to develop a downloadable testing application to ensure security during exams. For years prior, tests had only been available in person.

The online and in-person tests differed in sectional composition as well as in question styles.

Junior AP U.S. History (APUSH) student Shanae Venter said that she felt unprepared for the digital exam.

“I had done a variety of short-answer question practices on AP Classroom … and I felt that the wording of the questions on the actual exam were unlike those of the practices,” she said. “Also, with being unable to go back and forth, it made the new format of questions harder to adapt to.”

Though students were registered for a total of nearly 1400 exams, in the first nine days of testing, only 64 students tested in the building, AP Testing Coordinator Mary Ann Price said. She said that although the total number of registered tests was comparable to previous years, an atypical amount got canceled as the test dates drew closer. 

“The biggest difference this year is the number of canceled exams — students have canceled about 500 exams,” she said. “Prior to 2020, students might have canceled 50 to 100 exams in total.”

To account for turbulence in student’s lives and the stress load of AP tests, the College Board offered full refunds for canceled tests for the first time in history.

Junior AP Chemistry student Jessie Traxler said that the refund policy allowed for flexibility and hopes that it will continue.

In preparation for the test, teachers, including AP French teacher Deborah Hahn, said that they grappled with challenges trying to adapt to constant changes in South’s schedule and College Board’s testing format. 

“I had less time to prepare my AP students due to many factors [such as] the later start to our school year, the continual need to pivot as our learning model fluctuated and the decision to limit out-of-school required assignments,” Hahn said.

AP Chemistry teacher Marianne McChesney said that she had to adjust her teaching style to prepare her students for digital testing.

“Test prep this year has included more practice using AP Classroom online progress checks so that students could get used to the online format. Entering responses on the computer is different from writing on paper because of all the special formatting involved in making chemical equations and chemical structures,” she said. “These changes in test prep help students become more familiar and confident in their ability to perform well on exam day.”

Students, like Junior MJ Kim, who took the APUSH exam, felt the pandemic’s effects on their learning. Kim said that he had trouble staying concentrated while attending school online.

“The disadvantages of online learning is that it is really easy to lose focus, and while it’s very comfortable, I would have learned a lot more in person,” he said.

Traxler said in-person preparations for exams could have been more valuable and is disappointed to have missed out this year.

“Studying for my tests has been alright, but I definitely miss study groups. Voice calls and messaging are great, but it’s not the same as studying in person with a group of friends,” she said.

Through the various challenges of online preparation, Hahn said that her students have learned and grown throughout the year.

“Most students felt very positive about their experience … they were challenged and exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking,” she said. “That, to me, is the true definition of a successful year.”