by Lizzy Hermosilla ‘23
The College Board over the years has capitalized on the stress surrounding this season as millions of high school students take AP exams, but the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the game. Last year AP exams were only 60 minutes in length and only writing, but this year exams return to their normal length of three hours and include the traditional multiple choice questions. However, most of the exams have the option of being paper and pencil or digital, and the College Board has three sets of administration dates. In response to the return of full-length exams, MCPS followed up with a uniform county-wide decision for which test formats and dates are available to MCPS students.
The College Board has been planning how AP exams were going to work under the restraints of the Covid-19 pandemic. The first administration of dates will take place in early May, around the time when the normal exams would take place. However, this is not the important distinction of the different administrations. The first administration of exams will be all in person paper and pencil exams. In the second administration, taking place in late May, the majority of these exams will be online with a few paper and pencil exams. The final administration will take place in June and only have online exams. The first administration of exams will be offered only to seniors at Sherwood taking AP Physics, AP Calculus, AP Statistics, and AP Chemistry due to graduation related events, and for a few select students who have two exams on the same day. If students have not notified Assistant Principal Belinda Penn, Sherwood’s AP coordinator, of their preferred AP test administration they will be put in either the second or third administration. The first administration is not open to the majority of students, due to MCPS’s slower return to in person learning in comparison to other counties.
MCPS students, teachers, and parents are just now finding out how and when AP Exams are taking place, “because we [MCPS] never make decisions that are solely just we make a decision and everybody sticks with it; they have to include all stakeholders in the process,” said Penn. She explained that MCPS AP coordinators worked with AP Students, AP teachers, parent groups, and administrators before going to the Superintendent Jack Smith. Once he had signed off on the plan, it had to reach the Montgomery County Board of Education.
As Sherwood’s AP Coordinator, Penn was careful to not tell students and parents information that was not completely finalized. “And I am a firm believer that I will not put anything out unless it has been approved because I don’t want to send people down a path that is misleading,” she said. Other schools in the county that did not take Penn’s approach to informing students, teachers, and parents had to retract statements about various aspects of the exams that were changing, creating a confusing situation.
Probably the most pressing question that any online student has this year is what happens if their internet connection is severely unstable during the exam. Penn explained that to her knowledge “[the College Board] fixed that. The only time a student will need access to the Internet is for the download of the app and the upload of the exam,” and described that this year, “the exam is actually on an app based platform.” In addition to worries about exam roll-out, many students are also fearful of not being prepared due to the full length nature of these exams. The College Boards website “AP Classroom” has stated that, “AP Daily: Live Review sessions, [starting] April 19–29, can help students review course content and skills before exams.” These review sesion emulate ones that took place last year to prepare students for the online AP Exams. The College Board has also come out with a statement on the decision to have full length exams. “This year, since most colleges are covering the full content in their courses, they expect the same of AP courses. The 2021 AP Exams must cover the full course content so that students are accurately placed into higher-level courses where they will succeed when they arrive at college.” This may be frustrating to many students who have struggled with online learning, but the idea of AP exams is to earn college credit, and the expectations have changed from last year to this year, creating a big shift in the assessed content of the exams.