College Board Announces Changes To AP Exams

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the College Board has announced major changes, as well as stricter protocols, for the 2020 AP Exams.

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By Andrea Huang

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the College Board officially announced changes to the 2020 Advanced Placement (AP) exams on April 3. The exams will be open book and taken at home on the same day at the same time worldwide, from May 11 to May 22. Makeup test dates will be available from June 1 to June 5.

The AP exams will now cover fewer units from the curriculum (specific information on each AP Exam can be found on the College Board website), which most AP teachers would have taught by early March. Students are expected to take the exam on any device they have access to, whether that be a computer, smartphone, or tablet. Students can also write their responses by hand and upload photos.

Most of the AP exams will now be 45 minutes long, with an additional five minutes to upload answers. Many will consist of one to two free response questions, in which each question is timed separately, while other exams will consist of a single essay question. However, some exams, including AP Drawing, AP 2-D Art and Design, and AP 3-D Art and Design, will instead require an art portfolio.

In order to prevent and detect cheating, the College Board is introducing stricter protocols and claims to have designed the exams with security in mind. Students will need to verify their identities and confirm that their submissions are their own work. Plagiarism detection software and post-administration analytics will also be used, and copies of the student’s submitted work will be sent to their respective AP teacher by May 26 in order to detect plagiarism and maintain integrity.

To support students amid these new changes, the College Board has been offering various free resources, including practice short response questions available on the College Board website and live review sessions led by teachers. These classes and recordings can be accessed on the AP Youtube channel.

Stuyvesant is also providing additional resources to students. “The amazing Stuyvesant librarians secured us access to ‘Alexander Street,’ which is a diverse array of documentary films that support the curriculum and student learning from home,” said social studies teacher Lori-Ann Newman, who teaches AP World History, in an e-mail interview.

Though the exam will only cover topics taught before schools closed, some teachers are continuing to teach their students new material to avoid stunting their students’ knowledge. “I'm looking at the situation as I do during the year—what can I do, and what do I cover, and how deeply do I cover it in order to prepare my kids to thrive in a college math course, be it an applied or theoretical math course, physics, or econ[omics]?” said math teacher Jim Cocoros, who teaches AP Calculus BC, in an e-mail interview. “In this, I really do not concern myself with the AP exam per se, as I will cover topics that were taken off the AP exam over the last 20 to 30 years and topics that were taken off just for the examination this year.”

Teachers will help students prepare for the AP exams, but for many, as during a normal school year, that is not their main priority. “As far as test question preparation, the kids need to practice those, and I will help go over them in due course, but for me to just give AP style question after AP style question devoid of any theoretical basis for what’s going on is anathema to Stuyvesant, to the colleges that Stuyvesant kids attend, and to the spirit of the AP curriculum,” Cocoros said.

Some teachers, however, have chosen to review earlier units before moving on to new content. “Since we’re not covering the end of the year on the test, I've gone back to do review early, and I’ll cover the late 20th century after the exam. I’d already been teaching DBQ skills, and the new rubric is close to the old one, so I've been going over differences, and we’re discussing and practicing the method of the new exam,” said social studies teacher Dr. Zachary Berman, who teaches AP World History, in an e-mail interview.

The same is true for biology teacher Marissa Maggio, who teaches AP Biology. “[The modified AP Biology Exam is] only testing on units [one to six] (no evolution or ecology). We finished units [one to six] before COVID-19 started, so [the] curriculum for the test was done,” she said in an e-mail interview. “We finished Evolution during the first few weeks of COVID-19 distance learning. We are [now] reviewing all of the content units [by] doing practices FRQ’s, which is how I prepared my classes last year for the most part. After the test, we will still cover the ecology unit.”

While online learning and the fear surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic can make it difficult for students to fully focus on their lessons, teachers and students are both working toward preparing for the exams. “I don't think [online learning is] as effective as being in a classroom because there's a certain energy in the classroom that helps keep students (and myself) more engaged. But I do think my students are learning, and I think my teaching is effective, and I think they’ll do fine on the AP exam,” Dr. Berman said. “We’re really battling a two-pronged war here: one is how to teach online, and two is we're in a pandemic, which is scary and distracting.”

The changes to the AP exams have been positively received by some students. “My reaction to the AP changes was mostly relief. At the beginning of the year, I remember worrying about the number of AP tests I was taking, and then after registering for the tests, I saw how close the dates between them were. Now that the tests are much shorter and limited to one to two questions, I think it should probably be easier to handle,” junior Emily Chen said in an e-mail interview. “I like the new format better because the time is so much shorter. [Forty-five] minutes for a test seems more manageable and less daunting than sitting in a room for a few hours. The new format may also be less stressful to prepare for because the content has been decreased, and I personally think that short response questions are easier to prepare for.”

Some students, however, feel the opposite way about the new time restrictions. “I feel okay about these changes, [t]hough I am a little stressed about the shorter time. I'm worried that I might make a mistake just because I'm stressed about running out of time. But I think that given the current situation, the new format is probably the best option,” junior Katie Leton said in an e-mail interview.

Additionally, some are worried that the new exams may not accurately assess a year’s worth of content. “Since the tests are only one to two questions long now, I assume there is a chance that you just happen to not know a part of a question. I think the longer AP tests were definitely better at demonstrating overall knowledge on the subject, and I doubt a test with one to two questions can cover a year’s worth of material,” Chen said.

Leton recognizes this as well and has adapted her studying to the new test. “Now that I know that the tests are open book and mostly short response, I won't be studying specific information as much. There's no point in cramming when I'll be answering more general questions. I'm still going to study and practice test questions, but I won't have to memorize as much as I've done in the past. I also might make study guides for tests with a lot of content; that way, I can consolidate all of my information into one place,” she said. “I don't want to be flipping back and forth between my textbook and notes, searching for a certain date or fact—especially with such a limited amount of time.”

While the changes may not be perfect, students believe they are necessary given the current pandemic. “I'm taking the AP Physics 1 and AP English exams, and I think given the circumstances, the College Board made the right call. I think the adjustment to the exam is much needed and would be the fair thing to do because online learning is limited, and there is no way to administer a traditional three-hour long exam,” junior Jenny Huang said in an e-mail interview.

Teachers agree that the College Board made the best decision with these changes. “I think that the College Board did what they thought was best to make the exam as equitable as possible across the country. I do not think that only two questions will be an accurate measure of the work done or knowledge gained over the course of the year—but there [is] no way to have thousands of students taking a three-hour exam online without Wi-Fi issues and rampant cheating,” Maggio said.

Newman added on, saying, “It shows the College Board adapted to the changing circumstances and made the effort to still administer exams. Goals for College Board classes are for students to learn college level material and skills, demonstrate their learning on this exam, and potentially earn college credit. My hope is that the modified exams run smoothly and all students are provided with equitable access to credit potential.”