With millions of students enrolled in Advance Placement courses, the College Board had to scramble last year to provide a test solution in May with most schools closed and students learning remotely.
Those expectations were never realistic, and the resulting exams, which were provided via a new online platform that relied on heavy-handed security and delivered unreliable performance, left many students frustrated or even unable to complete their exams. Exams were shortened and only covered a limited amount of material, and many wondered if colleges would even accept the scores (they did).
Fast forward to spring 2021 – the College Board has implemented many new changes for this year to improve the experience, but how each of your exams are administered this year will likely depend on the decisions of one person, and you will not have a say.
2021 AP Exam Format
Reacting to criticism for only providing a limited online exam format in 2020, the College Board will offer each AP course exam (with one big exception – see below) in both in-person and digital formats. Most exams will resume the two sections of multiple-choice questions and essay responses. Exams last year had abandoned the multiple-choice section due to the College Board’s concerns about cheating.
Three testing periods will be held, and most exams should have a test available for each period. Those options will be split between in-person and digital depending on the course and the period.
While many students would probably like to pick their format and test date, the reality is that your assignment will be at the discretion of your local AP site coordinator. While College Board is making more options available, they are deferring to the choices of the local coordinator in all instances. This allows your local official to allocate available classroom/in-person space and move other exams to digital. Coordinators are now free to make these decisions, so be alert that you may receive an update in the coming weeks with your test date and exam type.
Digital exams will be available for 25 of the 34 courses this year. Students may be assigned to take them on computers at school, or they may be assigned to take them on a computer at home. The digital exams will work with any PC, Mac, or Chromebook, but not IOs or Android devices (which they did last year).
Each computer will need the AP software loaded on it ahead of time (available April 8), and students will need to set it up for each exam on the machine at least one day ahead of each test. On test day. students need to login 30 minutes ahead of the test to get checked in and ready to start on time. Do not be late – the exam will not wait for you.
The digital exams will not be exactly the same as their paper counterparts. For courses requiring graphs and complex calculations, digital exams may present the graph or formula and ask the student to interpret it instead of performing the work themselves. Additional changes are due to the security restrictions implemented to allow in-home testing.
Note: Foreign language exams will not be available in the digital format. This has led to a strong reaction from some teachers and parents who have raised the valid point that these exams were offered remotely last year without any major problems.
Because of the global scope of the exams, College Board continues to focus on security for its digital options. To combat cheating, the digital exams include some key differences from the paper administration:
Exams will be offered in three periods to accommodate the extra digital exams and to allow schools that were delayed extra time to complete courses.
Important Update for MCPS Students
On March 25, Montgomery County Public Schools announced that its students will be taking digital tests for all AP exams unless an in-person exam is necessary, such as for foreign languages and for students with accommodations. This change will push back exams for many students by one or two weeks (see the updated schedule).
The change makes it critical for students to set up their computers with the new AP exam software program and their individual exams, as mentioned above. The school system plans to begin the software deployment to their student-issued computers on April 8. Student using other devices for school access should contact their AP teacher or school coordinator for guidance on how to install the exam program.
AP Exam Prep
Need help preparing for your AP exam this spring? We have tutors available for most AP courses, both in person and online. We recommend starting prep at least 6 weeks ahead of your test to make sure you are fully prepared.