A Reflection on the 2020 AP Tests: Where the College Board Went Wrong

With the world in such an extreme situation, the College Board’s updated testing format has been accused of failing to recognize the different situations students are in.

Students worldwide have had to deal with an abrupt and unexpected shift to online schooling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To make matters even worse, many who intended to take Advanced Placement (AP) tests through the College Board had no idea what distance testing would look like until late March. AP tests are usually set to happen at the beginning of May, and they offer the chance for students who pass to earn college credit at many American colleges and universities. The College Board also runs the SAT, which is one of the standard American college admissions tests. Many students, parents, and teachers alike have been highly critical of the College Board’s handling of the AP tests. With the world in such an extreme situation, the College Board’s updated testing format has been accused of failing to recognize the different situations students are in. Where exactly did they go wrong?

For starters, the College Board first announced that they would be cutting out units from each course curriculum to compensate for lost instruction time. For some courses, this wasn’t much of an issue, but for others, it ended up having negative effects. Classes like AP Biology had evolution and ecology cut out from the course: two topics that are emphasized heavily in college biology courses. The updated testing format also cut out multiple-choice questions from all the tests, so tests were comprised of only the essay portion. The timing set for this was 45 minutes for history courses and a split time of 15 and 20 minutes for the other courses; however, this timing just wasn’t efficient enough. The College Board released updated rubrics for these essays as well, but they were not easy to access on their website. Many students had to rely on their teachers—who were also trying their best to adjust to these changes—for information the College Board could have made more readily available.

When it came to the actual testing regulations, all the tests were set to happen at the same time. The College Board was adamant about preventing potential cheating, so they put this regulation into place. Why was this choice unfair? AP tests are taken by students worldwide. International students in some countries were expected to take their tests late at night. Some students had to wake up at 2 am to take their tests in hopes of gaining college credit. Moreover, such a decision tied into the home environment of many students. Necessities for at-home learning such as access to a laptop, stable internet connection, and a quiet working place had already posed a challenge for online schooling. However, to take an official standardized test at home proved to be even more difficult. The College Board confirmed they sent out surveys to students prior to releasing the updated testing format, which showed 91% of students were still in favor of taking the tests in the format they prepared all year for. Students took to social media to express their frustrations about the lack of consideration for this new format. Although the College Board had make-up tests set into place for complications such as the loss of internet connection or even loud younger siblings, this was still met with criticisms that the tests would not be demonstrative of the students’ true capabilities. 

Probably the most controversial issue with the 2020 AP tests was how the College Board managed its website. Minutes before the first AP test was set to take place, the main website crashed, and students could not log on. There were also issues with the submission process, where students wrote their responses and could not submit before the timer went off. Following all the protocols stated, some students just could not complete their tests due to the College Board’s lack of preparation for servers overloading. Having to register for one or multiple make-up tests was hard, especially knowing that there was nothing you could do to stop it. As the week went on, the company released information to prevent issues, such as updating all browsers and logging onto the tests through an E-ticket emailed out. This information was posted on Twitter and Instagram during the testing week rather than sent out to teachers or emailed to students. The College Board Actions here once again displayed the difficulties it created in accessing correct information to take the test. After the first week, the College Board released an option to email test responses as a backup if students could not submit for whatever reason, but only within a ten minute time period after the initial test. This option was not available for students who took their tests the first week. 

In spite of such problems, students were still expected to pay for their tests in full. One test totals out at $94 dollars, and for international students, it’s raised to $124. Although some schools might pay for their students or offer fee waivers for those who need it, the cost remaining the same was met with a lot of concern. Especially during a time of financial struggle, the expectation that students still must pay in advance was frustrating. AP tests are usually 2-3 hours long, taken in person, and taken on paper. A digital testing format with a 45-minute time limit should not be the same price, especially when many students suffered from the financial tolls of COVID-19. 

Although everyone was facing the unexpected, with school closing, families out of work, and an unsure outlook on the next few months, the general consensus is that the College Board did not do enough. Earning college credit while in high school is a great opportunity for those who want, and oftentimes need, to save money on higher education. A company that’s so deeply rooted in America’s education system failing to recognize the needs of students during a crucial time affects thousands of students. As summer comes to an end, and with the COVID-19 pandemic still going on, all eyes are on the College Board to see just how they prepare for the new school year.

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