Students Take 2020 Advanced Placement Exams Online


Lauren Celardo, Staff Writer

From May 11 through 22, high school students across the world completed the College Board’s Advanced Placement (AP) exams online, due to coronavirus related closures. AP exams are a way for students to earn college credit and challenge themselves with courses equivalent to an introductory college class, such as Biology or Latin. While the College Board chose to cancel SAT tests this spring, AP students finished their classes and took their exams at home.

Normally, AP exams take place in school and for most subjects, the combination of multiple choice, short answer or free response questions can take up to three hours. This year, exams took place remotely from home. Exams were only free response essays or prompts and were strictly timed to 45 minutes. Students were allowed access to their notes and the Internet during the exam, so they were tested on more conceptual understanding. To prevent plagiarism, students’ work will be sent to their teachers this year for approval before it is graded. 

At Walpole High, AP teachers continued instruction remotely since school closed, although they lost the benefits of extended in-person reinforcement, leaving more responsibility for students to prepare. For example, in AP Psychology, students completed review packets each week up to the exam, while in AP European History, they wrote practice essays under time during the class meetings. The College Board also published YouTube review videos for each unit of every subject. Most AP classes at WHS are offered to juniors and seniors, with 199 students taking 388 online exams between them. WHS taught courses for 15 AP classes, and an additional 3 were offered by The Education Cooperative, with another 4 through alternate online programs. AP exams cost $95 each at WHS, and students are normally removed from the class if they do not sign up; some students paid upwards of $500 for these tests in the fall. 

“I was disappointed, I prepared all year for a completely different exam, but the questions had a wide variety of topics for such a short exam, and I felt good about all of my exams afterward,” senior Francesca Theofilou said after taking four tests. 

However, many students had technological difficulties or distractions out of their control that prevented them from submitting exams in the narrow five minute window before they were kicked off the website. All exams had only one testing window, so students around the world logged on at the same time—2:00 A.M. for some. For popular exams like U.S. History, up to 500,000 students were uploading at once. Numerous issues with submissions failing and complicated process to upload work left many nationwide unhappy with their experience, Widespread complaints led College Board to later establish a backup email option, but the first week’s exam takers who were not able to submit still have to retake their exams in June. 

“The College Board needs to stop manipulating people and be aware that in a global pandemic, refunds should be offered to those who may be struggling or do not find it worth their time to take an online exam. Personally, I feel victimized by their lack of preparedness as my app failed during the exam. If they want to force people to take an online test, at least make sure it is efficient and actually works,“ senior Justine Prophil said. The app for her French exam failed to submit her recording, so she will have to retake her exam in early June with over 10,000 others. 

Exams are graded from 1 to 5 with scores released in July; above a 3 is considered passing but many colleges accept only a 4 or 5 for credit. In 2019, 91.2% of WHS exams scored above a 3 according to the Department of Education. Most colleges, including the University of California system, will continue to accept these 45 minute scores as they have in the past. Notably however, Harvard announced this spring they will no longer accept AP credit going forward.