Surviving the 2021 AP Tests



Image courtesy of The Gambia

Yaokai Yang, Staff Writer

Armed with the experience gained during last year’s round of AP tests, the College Board has devised a new plan for administering tests to students this year. As the pandemic continues to pose a challenge for instructors and students alike to learn effectively, a new revisited set of testing guidelines from the College Board has solved many of these issues. Nonetheless, this does not mean the status quo has been restored when it comes to test-taking. Students and teachers are now facing tough choices about selecting a testing window and developing unique studying strategies for the upcoming AP tests.

As of March 16th, each AP test will have a total of three time windows for a student to take the test. Test window one will be limited to in-person administrations with traditional pen and paper tests. During the second window, several courses will have the option to take the test digitally either at home or in school. Finally, if a student is unable to attend either test windows, a third option is available after the start of summer break. 

However, these new adaptations also come with unique challenges and tradeoffs for students and teachers alike. AP Coordinator and Assistant Principal for Curriculum and Instruction Mr. Taylor commented, “The digital test isn’t a hundred percent applicable to what would be happening if you took the paper and pencil tests. If you’re an AP Econ, and you’re going to take the test paper and pencil, you have the multiple choice section, but then you’ve got a free response section where they might ask you to draw some graphs. They’ll ask you to describe the elasticity by creating a visual, on the digital test there’s no way to do that.” In addition, whereas students were able to use a variety of strategies on questions such as skipping difficult questions early on, students cannot do that on the digital test. Instead, they are given one question to focus on at a time and once they hit submit they can never go back. 

The plan presented by the College Board is unfortunately not a “one size fits all” solution. For example, the language and cultures courses as well as AP Music Theory are subjects which are especially easy for students to cheat on. As answers are only a dozen clicks away for students with access to translation and composition software. As a result, all three of the allotted test-taking windows must administer an in-person test either on paper or digitally. Furthermore, the timing of the windows will be awkward for some students to navigate through. The second test window is open from May 18th to the 28th, and because graduation takes place on May 27th, a student who can not attend the first test window runs the possibility of creating a time conflict. Nevertheless, the ones lucky enough to avoid such an issue would still be spending their finals week preparing for their upcoming AP tests.

As the first window approaches, District 113 has also faced challenges regarding the safety of students during in-person testing. For Deerfield, rooms E-114 and E-116 are used to administer the tests. According to Mr. Taylor, “Each one of those rooms can take 20 about 25 students, socially distanced spread out, and that could be a safe testing environment. On average, we have about 80 students who are going to take the AP Psych exam.” Additionally, he stated, “we have groups that are here all day. If we have groups that are here all day, then that means that we can’t use the cafeteria for any testing.” One potential solution that has been proposed is to acquire a separate venue to carry out the testing such as Holy Cross. However, no plans have been finalized yet.

As students continue to feel the impact of the pandemic across the nation, courses for the upcoming AP tests have also changed to match the new environment. To make up for the loss of instructional time, AP teachers have been offering supplementary review videos and the College Board has introduced checkpoints in the form of multiple-choice questions. Although AP courses often require a strong amount of student independent, the availability of information of digital tests has presented a challenge to teachers, or as Mrs. Crowley, AP European History and AP U.S. History teacher put it, “We know that you could access your materials, but when you go to take the AP exam, you’re not going to be able to do that. We don’t know what you don’t know. We don’t know what we need to reteach. We don’t know where the weaknesses are.” Currently, the most important thing for an AP course student is to determine a test window with their teacher and become proficient without the help of external information. These new revisions to AP test administrations from the College Board have been aimed at addressing a plethora of issues which came up during last year’s round of testing. Even so, the pandemic continues to negatively impact the flexibility of everyone’s activities. Now it is more imperative than ever for students to keep in mind the changes to this year’s AP tests.