AP Exams in the Era of COVID-19

In the wake of the coronavirus, the way we go about our personal and academic lives has dramatically changed. With something as unpredictable and rapidly-evolving as this pandemic, somewhat unprecedented measures have had to be put in place to make sure that as many people stay safe and healthy as possible.

SAS has shifted to distance learning for at least the next month, and the SAT scheduled for May has been cancelled. Another other big development? Collegeboard has recently announced that AP exams are going to look completely different than they did last year or the year before.

First, a little on how AP exams normally work. With the exception of project-based AP’s, like AP art, a typical exam generally consists of a multiple-choice section and a free response section. Together, the test takes 3 hours, and your overall score is a combination of the two sections.

The free-response (FRQ) section on a normal AP exam differs between each of the 38 courses. In AP lang, for example, students write 3 essays and are given 40 minutes for each one: a synthesis, a rhetorical analysis, and an argument. In APUSH, students write 3 short answer responses, 1 document-based question, and 1 long essay. But now, this will look different too.

I’m just wondering what the point is. I spent the whole year preparing for every aspect of these tests, and now the entire grade rides on one free response.


There are a few key differences to take note of about the Collegeboard changes, the first being that exams will be taken online and at home. It’s fair to say that this opens up many possibilities for cheating that the normal exams don’t allow for – and whether you’re concerned or happy about this is a whole other topic – but regardless, the change in environment is definitely a big shift. For most students, that means no more black-or-blue pen smudges and frantic whiting-out – but if you prefer pen and paper, that remains an option for you. You’ll just need to submit photos of your paper from your phone.

A twitter user’s response to Collegeboard announcing that they surveyed 18,000 people before making these decisions

In addition to this, the entire multiple choice (MCQ) section has been eliminated from each test. Each exam will consist of exactly ONE free-response question, and the total exam time will be 45 minutes. Despite the fact that this shortens the test significantly – the new exam will take a quarter of the time that the typical AP exam does – many students are frustrated about this aspect, explaining how they’ve spent a considerable amount of time and energy in class and at home doing practice MCQ’s and studying for them, and that work will have gone to waste. Also, students who were counting on having the added ‘boost’ to their score from the MCQ will no longer get that.

Mixed reactions among SAS AP students about the new exam formats.

As mentioned above, the nature of online exams opens up a lot of possibilities for cheating. Because there is a worry about how prompts may get leaked online if testing periods are staggered based on timezones, there will be exactly one AP testing period for each of the 38 exams. Which is great for ensuring confidentiality and fairness… but, that means SAS students will be taking their exams at either midnight, 2 AM, or 4 AM our time.

This has been ringing alarm bells for many international students and AP teachers. SAS’s Advanced Studies department has said they’re “deeply concerned by this schedule as it is evident that students across Asia are at a disadvantage” and has shared their concerns with Collegeboard, but at the moment, they haven’t heard back. For now, it’s looking like we’ll all be taking the exams at their scheduled time, but anything can change between now and May.

As an alternative suggestion to different testing periods, many are wondering if there’s a possibility that Collegeboard will have a different curve for international students taking the exam at a awkward time zone, to make sure there’s equal opportunity across the board for doing well.

Just some tips from one AP student to another!

Ultimately, the COVID-19 pandemic is changing every day, and there have been many unprecedented changes to the way we’re learning, AP exams being just one of them. But even though we can’t really do anything to change the situation, we can make the most of it.

Author: Alysha Summerville

Editor-in-Chief and member of the Class of 2022, Alysha joined The Eye in 2019. Alysha was born in the UK, lives in Singapore, and calls Toronto home, but you can usually find her sitting in the middle chair in the Delfi Starbucks outdoor seating. That's home too. She's passionate about politics, filmmaking, Taylor Swift, Gujarati food, and Schitt's Creek (in no particular order), and you can reach her at summervill41051@sas.edu.sg.

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