A.P. Exams in the Coronavirus Era

Eimaan Khan, Staff Writer

The year was 2020, and the world was upside down. Very upside down, indeed. A pandemic had closed all the schools in the land, and students had to take Advanced Placement exams online. Yes, online, where much could go wrong. The exams were already beyond stressful during normal circumstances and were even more burdensome for students who were juggling the stress of distance learning, caring for elderly relatives and younger siblings, financial and housing insecurity, food shortages, and other issues caused by COVID-19.

College Board failed to seriously consider the inequity of testing conditions as well. Many students across the nation did not have laptops or computers, access to high-speed Internet and quiet places to work when they’re at home. In addition there were no accommodations for those with disabilities, according to blind students who filed complaints against the College Board.

To prevent cheating and ensure test security, the organization arranged for all tests to be taken at the exact same time. For international students, this meant taking exams during their bedtime hours. In response to negative reactions from international students, teachers and parents, the College Board merely acknowledged it was an unfortunate reality and did nothing more.

The College Board produced flawed AP exams. 

Millions of students, both nationwide and abroad, spent an average of seven months preparing to take traditional AP exams. The traditional exams which were on paper, are several hours long, comprising multiple-choice and free-response sections. This year’s AP exams, however, were 45 minutes long with one to two free-response questions constituting 100% of scores.

These exams tested a fraction of the AP curriculum, which was also cut short due to school closures. How, then, can last year’s AP scores possibly be an accurate reflection of students’ mastery of college-level material? The scores were invalid; students’ grades in their AP courses could do a far better job of assessing their knowledge and academic performance.

As an overachieving and diligent high school student, I decided to take 4 AP Exams in my junior year of high school. I understood the reality of how rigorous AP classes are, however I was determined to challenge myself. My preparations for all the exams were progressing well until the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world. No one had any knowledge of how the College Board was going to handle the AP Exams. 

A few months later it is revealed that the AP Exams will be administered online. However, what shocked me and students around the nation the most was the shortened length and altered format. In my opinion, it was unreasonable to test students’ capabilities in just a period of 45 minutes. Moreover, the elimination of multiple choice testing in specific subjects such as AP US History, meant the score depended solely on an essay written in 45 minutes. 


It’s time to put an end to the College Board’s monopolization of American education. 

If the College Board’s corruption and greediness weren’t obvious before the 2020 AP exams, they sure are now. Their lack of empathy for students’ health and well-being amid this pandemic is appalling, but not surprising.

While the organization did allow students to receive full refunds for their exams (which is the bare minimum but the most generous thing College Board has and will ever do), the most responsible solution would’ve been to cancel all AP exams and adopt a more holistic assessment as the International Baccalaureate Programme did.

The fact is that College Board could’ve figured out a better plan than a 45-minute exam. The people who create AP exams aren’t airheads. Students could’ve created portfolios of their work or crafted a cumulative project. There are so many better ways to assess student mastery of college-level material, but the other fact is that College Board isn’t willing to sacrifice its revenue by refunding AP exams and instead took the easy way out.

This time, they’re not getting away with it. Public criticism has increased and people are acting legally. Lawyers filed a class-action lawsuit against the organization on behalf of students who experienced technical difficulties. Another group of blind students filed a complaint against the College Board for getting rid of its accommodations for the visually impaired.

The one good thing that came out of the 2020 AP exams was the massive backlash and pressure College Board is facing. It’s difficult to not support the organization because of the monopoly they have over our education system and college admissions, but this is the beginning of the end for the College Board.