College Board announces changes to AP tests in midst of coronavirus

Katie Rebhan, Culture Editor

With the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, many changes to the 2019-20 school year have already occurred. Schools have closed nationwide, and classes are now conducted through online platforms such as Zoom. But what does this mean for this spring’s AP exams?

Although many other standardized tests, including IB exams and multiple SAT and ACT testing dates, have been canceled, the College Board decided to continue offering AP exams this spring after 91% of a surveyed group of students indicated that they want to earn credit for their hard work throughout the year.

In order to remain fair to students affected by the Coronavirus, AP exams will only cover topics that most students have covered by early March. Although the reduced scope of this year’s exams is beneficial to some classes, it creates a challenge for others.

“Some teachers are totally fine with the changes because they have been following the College Board’s AP schedule. However, other teachers don’t adhere exactly to the schedule because it doesn’t make sense for their class and the way they like to teach it. Teachers also have to get to know the new types of questions and therefore need to prepare differently, but a lot of teachers are really embracing the opportunity to focus more on critical thinking and general concepts,” said Tory Virchow, director of curriculum and academics.

Exams will be 45 minutes long and only assess students through free response questions. For most AP courses, the test will consist of one or two questions. These changes will only occur this school year; next spring, AP exams will be given in their usual format.

“I have a mixed opinion about these changes,” said junior Rachael Fields.

“I’m happy that we have a chance to get college credit, but at the same time, I feel like having a one or two question exam on a year’s worth of material is pointless. You have a lot of kids who are better at the multiple choice who can’t show that anymore,” she continued.

Since Potomac will remain closed through the end of the school year, juniors and seniors taking exams this year will have to do so at home. The at-home tests can be taken on any device that students have access to, including computers, phones, and tablets, and responses can either be typed or written by hand and submitted as a photo.

“The format this year definitely plays to the strengths of Potomac students, who are typically comfortable writing essays and very capable of advanced writing,” said AP US history and US government teacher Robert von Glahn.

 “In general, however, I think the test is highly unequal and is going to exacerbate inequalities between students, such as between students with reliable WiFi and those who don’t have access to it,” he continued.

The 2020 tests are open book and open note, meaning that students can use their own class notes, resources provided by their teacher, and previous class assessments while they take the exam. However, students may not use any information that is not their own, including aid from another person, either online or in-person.

“Although these tests are open book and open note, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be easier,” said Mr. von Glahn.

“I would urge students to really know their stuff and spend time organizing their notes by larger themes or topics,” he said.

The College Board also recognized concerns students may have about integrity during testing. According to their website, the College Board has “a comprehensive and strict set of protocols in place to prevent and detect cheating.”

Although some of these protocols will remain confidential to increase effectiveness, the College Board will use plagiarism detection software and post-administration analytics to maintain integrity, and teachers will also receive work from their students to check for prohibited collaboration and other inconsistencies. Any student who does violate testing rules will face severe consequences.

Testing will take place from May 11 to May 22, with make-up dates available on June 1 through June 5. However, Potomac students must receive permission by the school to utilize the make-up dates.

Due to the extraordinary circumstances of this year, Potomac has made the decision not to require students to take an AP exam, even if they are enrolled in the course.

“When deciding to make AP tests optional this year for Potomac students, we really considered equity. Reviewing and preparation will now rely on a stable internet connection, which is not a guarantee for everyone, especially since a lot of students have siblings or parents who are also trying to use the internet at the same time,” said Mrs. Virchow.

“We wanted to make sure we weren’t forcing students’ hands on a situation they might not be fully prepared for and give anyone more anxiety in these challenging times, but we still wanted to give students who felt they were going to be well-prepared the opportunity to do well on the exam,” she said.

AP test changes will affect the way colleges view AP exams, especially for juniors just entering the college search and admissions process.

“Lots of colleges are making lots of exceptions about lots of things,” said director of college counseling Heather Deardorff.

“Many schools have already gone test-optional for next year, so I think AP scores can fill a void for people who have not had the opportunity to take standardized testing,” she said.

Mrs. Deardorff also urges juniors to invest even more into the application process next year.

“Most colleges will be reading applications more holistically than they already are. It will be very important that students represent themselves in their narratives and tell their stories in ways they can control.”

The exam changes may also impact seniors entering college next year. High AP exam scores have typically been used to allow students to satisfy certain subject and graduation requirements or to enroll in upper-level courses.

The College Board is ensuring students that institutions will continue to award placement or credit as they had previously done so, but there is still concern about whether a good exam score may hold less weight than in the past.

“The changed format of the exam does worry me a bit because I don’t know how the scores will be received, but since everyone is in the same boat, it does ease my nerves. However, I’ve been preparing this whole year for a certain format of test, so not knowing how I’m going to be graded as well as I did before does make me nervous that I will do well but only meet the old and not the new standards,” said junior Erika Pietrzak.

More details about the 2020 exams, such as how students will submit answers and testing with approved accommodations, will be released in late April. In the meantime, both Mrs. Virchow and Mrs. Deardorff urge AP students to take advantage of the free online resources available through the College Board and their teachers’ guidance and advice.

“Reach out to your teachers and let them know what’s going on. We all understand that we need to be flexible right now. If a student has specific concerns related to an exam or a class, teachers are probably the best source,” said Mrs. Virchow.