Teachers Respond to New AP Test Format

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The College Board announced on March 20 that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Advanced Placement (AP) tests will be taken online and in students’ homes. Instead of the traditional exam format—typically over three hours long with both multiple-choice and free-response questions (FRQs)—the tests have been reduced to a 45 minutes with only a free response portion. The College Board has not yet released details on what format these FRQs will take.

Due to the shortened exam duration and uncertainty surrounding distance learning, the College Board will reduce the amount of material tested. For instance, AP Computer Science teacher Cynthia Donaldson said, “I was happy to see that the College Board dropped three topics from the test that most AP Computer Science teachers don’t cover before April.” 

Meanwhile, AP Spanish teacher Salvadora Calonje said,“There are several sections of the exam I will not have my students practice and I am okay with that because we are going through a stressful and difficult time, so there is no need to create more stress.” 

Two of the AP tests—AP Computer Science Principles and AP Seminar—will have digital portfolios in lieu of multiple choice exams. AP Computer Science Principle teachers Jonathan Simon and Peter Caryotakis will plan two projects for their students in place of the AP test. Caryotakis commented that he has “no worries since the AP for Computer Science Principles has been eliminated.” However, both Caryotakis and Simons expressed fears over the ease of cheating in the new format. 

The College Board responded to concerns around cheating: “The exam questions are designed and administered in ways that prevent cheating; we use a range of digital security tools and techniques, including plagiarism detection software, to protect the integrity of the exams.”  

Although there is no foolproof plan that can prevent all students from cheating, college counselor Mai Lien Nguyen said, “I hope people remember one of the lessons learned from the Varsity Blues scandal last year—there are consequences to cheating. Another more important lesson is that the obsession with certain colleges is misguided. AP exams should be about taking stock in your learning and growth in a subject.” 

Due to this prominent concern in cheating, some students are curious as to how AP tests may affect college applications for the following school year. Nguyen commented, “Colleges have always had varying policies on which test scores would be accepted as credit, placement, or neither. Students don’t know which college they will attend until senior year, so students should just put forth their best efforts. Colleges are also watching how home-testing of APs will unfold on this more massive scale.” 


However, Calonje is not concerned with cheating in her class. “Because of the nature of the Spanish AP Language exam, I am not worried about cheating. I teach my class in a way that my students are not just learning material to pass an exam, but they are learning material to enjoy the language and the culture.”

Nguyen stated, “Everyone is being impacted by the global pandemic in one way or another, so we are all in the same boat, and they [colleges] will try to do what is right and fair for students. I think the most important thing that students can do right now is to take care of themselves and their family members. Sheltering-in-place may feel frustrating, but we are saving lives and buying our scientists and doctors time.”

To learn more specifics about how the changes affect individual exams, see the College Board’s announcement


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