2021 AP Exams: Better or Worse?

Sam Eicholtz, Comic Artist

 For the 2021 AP Exams, schools will have the option to choose whether to distribute them on-campus or as a hybrid of both in-person and digital. There will be three administrations of the AP Exams, all over the course of two-to-three weeks. 

   For Administration number one, the first distribution option, all AP Tests will be paper and pencil, as well as taken on campus. These exams will most closely replicate the AP Exams that came before the pandemic. These exams will take place May 3-7, 10-12, 14, and 17.

    For Administration number two, the second distribution option, all AP Tests will be In School and At Home. College Board has stated that in this option half of the subjects are paper and pencil, distributed at school, and the other half will be digital, administered at school, or taken at home. These exams will take place May 18-21, and 24-18. 

   For Administration number three, the third distribution option, most subjects will be digital, administered in school, or taken home. This means that few subjects will be taken in school and on paper. These will take place June 1-4, and 7-11. 

   It is important to note that students will not be the ones to decide which administration they take, it is up to the schools. Beginning in early March, AP coordinators will be able to assign students to Administration two or three schedules if needed.  

   The flexibility that the College Board has elicited allows AP coordinators for each school to choose Administrations one, two, or three but also a combination of the options. 

    The paper formats of the test will be the same as before: paper, pencil, and multiple sections depending on the type of exam. 

   As for the digital exams, they will be slightly different. For the AP World History, AP European History, and AP United States History exams, there will be no singular Long Essay Question (LEQ); however, there will be two additional Short Answer Questions (SAQ) to compensate for the missing space. This will entail five total SAQs for the AP History exams listed above, on top of the Document-Based Question (DBQ) and Multiple Choice sections. 

   A major drawback of the digital exams is that once you move on to the next question, there is no way to go back. So, once the test taker answers once on the digital exam, that will remain their answer. 

   Another major drawback of the digital exam is that prompts (for written sections of the tests) will not be chosen; meaning, that the prompts that students are given are the ones they must answer. This is a major change from the paper format since students usually receive a list of prompts and have the ability to choose which questions they would like to answer. 

   The final major drawback of the digital exam is that the start time is global, meaning that every section will start at its own time, all at once. So, those students studying abroad or staying in foreign countries may encounter unfavorable hours in which they must take their exams. 

   Additionally, it is crucial to take into account the type of technology that students use in order to take the exam. This year, 2021, students must use at least a laptop or PC. Nobody can take the test on a phone or other mobile device. The device must also have a working camera. 

   The College Board is enforcing that students use the camera to ensure proper student identification, and possibly to monitor progress as the exam is taken. This also entails that proper software is installed onto computers. However, this has not yet been confirmed. 

   The College Board has also designed an exam application, which has been said to be released on Mar. 2, along with more information and details. This will allow students to download the software and become familiar with it with a good amount of time in preparation for their exams. 

   This formatting of the AP Exams is much more ambiguous and undefined. Teachers and students have not had the proper precedence to prepare since the format has not been widely spoken about.

   Additionally, the change to online school has made learning more difficult, as students, educators, and schools have been required to adapt to a changing environment that has continued to demand productivity. Teaching and learning online has not been an easy feat and has many ramifications on students’ understanding of their AP classes and topics. 

   The push to return to a more traditional and normal AP exam format may be too strenuous, as a good portion of the 2020-2021 school year has been overshadowed by uncertainty and low morale. It would not be unreasonable to predict that there will be a sizeable deficit in performance on the upcoming exams. 

   The coronavirus has shifted the priorities and foundations of humanity, one of which being education and how we go about teaching. Many students find themselves dissociated and unmotivated, a problem that can hinder their ability to absorb and acquire rudimentary information. 

   Whether or not these ‘new’ AP Exams are better or worse cannot be truly decided until they have already finished and been put into practice. Additionally, this time period has thrown several different factors into the mix of education; so much so that it seems unreasonable to compare these new exams to past ones. 

   As the AP Exams approach and new information is released, more questions and uncertainties about the exams will be answered. It is important that students pace themselves and find a balance between school, responsibilities, themselves, and family that allows them to be successful.