As a sophomore, this year I was able to take my first AP (Advanced Placement) class. I expected the work for A.P. U.S. History (APUSH) to be challenging, the frequent quizzes, and the struggles of figuring out the different political parties. What I did not expect was to be living out a chapter of history myself. The pandemic has affected every single aspect of our lives, especially our education. Classes have been canceled or moved online, tests have been postponed, ceremonies have been compromised.
When I found out that most of the AP exams this year would be 45 minutes long and online, I did not know what to think. The original format of a typical AP exam is at least a few hours long and takes place in a traditional school setting. For a lot of the subjects, the exam was minimized to either one document-based question (DBQ) or two free-response questions (FRQs). Gone were the multiple choice, short-answer, and presentation formats.
All year we had been practicing writing DBQs with a longer time frame in mind. Reducing it to 45 minutes was a big and unexpected change. Sophomore Ariana Peguero spoke for herself and many other APUSH students when she said that they did not study American history in depth just to take one short DBQ. She felt “cheated that [she] had to pay money” to take the exam in a format that the class was not prepared for. Granted, the College Board did alter the rubric this year to try and be more accommodating, but whether that eased the minds of students or not, varies.
Sophomore Sarah Oliveira took the AP Biology exam this year. Their format slightly differed from that of the APUSH exam. Instead of one DBQ question, AP Bio students were given two FRQs. Oliveira pointed out that there is “endless content and [therefore] vast possibilities of potential questions,” so it was stressful not knowing what to expect. With the original format, there was less pressure knowing that multiple choice questions were there to back you up.
Peguero expressed that the time limit was a major challenge for her while taking the APUSH exam. She found herself “more stressed about running out of time than actually writing out the essay.” While she does not feel like she performed badly on the test, she believed that she could have done “much better” if given the time.
For Oliveira, her biggest challenge was uploading her response. She found herself “frantically trying to figure out” how to submit her answer in the correct format without messing up any of what she wrote. Thankfully she was able to figure it out in time, but “no demo prepared [her] for that.”
Each exam topic was scheduled on the same day and time across the globe. This was a precaution taken by the College Board to prevent any form of cheating or communication between students in different timezones. Changing the time limit to 45 minutes is arguably another way that the College Board tried to prevent cheating. While searching up information and looking through notes was not prohibited, there is only so much you can look up in 45 minutes and still be able to complete the exam.
Despite these precautions to prevent cheating, other problems did arise from them. A small percentage of students were not able to submit their responses due to technical issues, and unfortunately, those students will have to make up the exam in June. In addition, a good response takes time, way more than 45 minutes. DBQs and FRQs are formatted differently from your typical essay. Some of them may have specific requirements such as outside evidence, or context, that in my opinion, takes up more time than is given.
It seems that the only “flipside” to taking these modified exams is being the first ones to do so. Never before have AP exams been moved online, to be taken at home; let alone because of a pandemic. We can hope that we are the first and the last, but nothing will ever really be the same after this. The College Board may make some permanent revisions to their tests after seeing how quickly and severely change can happen, and taking into account the concerns some students have voiced.