How Will AP Exams Work This Year?

The AP College Board has announced their plans for this years AP Exams and more news is to come sometime in March.

The AP College Board has announced their plans for this years AP Exams and more news is to come sometime in March.

Cynthia Schneider, Research Editor

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, AP College Board has decided to have revamped full-length digital AP Exams along with regular full-length in-school AP Exams this year. 


The tests will be administered during three time periods called Administrations. Administration 1 consists of in-school exams only and is on the dates of May 3–7, 10–12, 14, and 17. Administration 2 consists of half in-school exams and half digital exams from May 18–21 and May 24–28. Administration 3 consists of mostly full-length digital exams (these dates may be used as make-up dates for Admin. 1 & 2 and there are some exceptions to digital exams). Certain exams are exceptions to the digital format or are not even offered digitally; these tests are AP Calculus, AP Statistics, AP Chemistry, AP Physics, French, German, Italian, and Spanish Language and Culture; Latin; Music Theory, Spanish Literature and Culture, Chinese Language, and Japanese Language. The College Board has decided to make some changes to the digital exams to lower the chances of cheating. They are not allowing phones or other devices, students cannot go back and forth between questions, exams will be administered all at the same time, they are not including questions that can be easily found online, in notes, textbooks, etc. They are also using plagiarism software and other measures to prevent collaborating and unauthorized aids. The exams will be full-length exams so they will range from 2 to 3 hours, therefore, students will need a stable internet connection throughout the entire test. 

I asked some questions to Ms. Napuli, our administrator overseeing AP Exams this year, AP teachers, and AP students about how they feel about this year’s Exam format.


Ms. Napuli – WBHS Administrator

1.Assuming that the earliest dates given for the AP Exams will be the same, will most students have to take paper-only Administration 1 AP Exams? 

At this time, I don’t have an answer to that question.  College Board has made online exams also available to students but we are awaiting district guidance on these decisions before we make them.  It is essential that all the high schools in PBC afford all students the same opportunities.

2.What is the situation for students who need a makeup date? Would they take it in Administration 2, 3, or at a completely different date? 

We have asked the College Board the same question and we do not have a response yet.

3.What is the situation for students whose parents request them to take the online exam? 

We don’t know for sure but I would imagine it is the same as last year.  The student will need to go through some online checks prior to their exam date to make sure their system is compatible with the exam and they will receive a ticket before their test to access the exam.  Students would take the exams at home.

4.How will COVID-19 protocols be met with so many students taking AP Exams this year?

Fortunately, we have had some practice with this having given the PSAT tests on campus.  All students are temperature checked upon arrival to campus.  Face masks are required throughout the duration of the exam.  In addition, we limit the number of students in each testing room to spread students out by 6 feet or more.  The protocols will require us to use more rooms than we would have in the past, but it can be done.  Allowing students to take the tests online would also limit the number of students who choose to take the exams on campus so that will also help reinforce safety on campus.


Mr. Edelman – AP Environmental Science Teacher

1.What are your opinions on the changes to the AP Exams for the online format? Do you think they would still accurately reflect students’ proficiency in these subjects? 

I understand the reason why the college board chose to utilize digital exams but I have reservations about how effective they will be in terms of gauging student proficiency. I know that there will be safeguards in place to minimize cheating on the digital exams but I am not sure how effective they are going to be.  In addition, in order to make the digital exams more secure, will that also make them more difficult than the paper/pencil tests?  

2.In your opinion, how well prepared students are for this year’s exams despite the virtual school learning environment?

To be honest, I do not feel that I have been very effective this year as a teacher.  Not being able to do the labs and hands-on activities that I normally do has really impacted my ability to connect to my students and as a result, I think it affects their learning.  I believe the strong students will get themselves ready for the test and be able to achieve a passing score but it is the middle and lower level students that are going to have the hardest time preparing.


Mrs. Jaques- AP Psychology Teacher

“I think the In-Person is better, but the online version is better than nothing.”

Olivia Daemer – AP Student

1.What are your opinions on the changes to the AP Exams for the online format? Do you think they would still accurately reflect students’ proficiency in these subjects? 

No, even though they have ways of blocking cheating via the internet. However it doesn’t hinder people from using their notes or text book. I just think that it won’t be a good representation of the knowledge they learned over the year.

2.If you had the choice, would you take your exams online or in-person?



Caroline Zavulonav – AP Student


1.What are your opinions on the changes to the AP Exams for the online format? Do you think they would still accurately reflect students’ proficiency in these subjects? 

No, I don’t think that they will be a fair representation of the student’s knowledge in these subjects. Also, I think that these new AP exam changes will hinder performance for other students in other countries since all tests start at the same time. The only thing that I think is fair is that the College Board extended the deadline from April 31st to May 20th to upload material to the digital portfolio for courses like AP Art and AP Research which helped me since I’m taking AP Research and that saved me time. 

2.If you had the choice, would you take your exams online or in-person?

Not sure, probably in person if it wasn’t for Covid. 


Personally,  I think the in-person version of these tests will be better despite the fact that cheating is essentially obsolete with the paper exam. This is really because of how they are changing the questions and mechanics this year with the digital exam. Taking away questions easily found using Google or your notes is like taking away all the easy simple questions that give you a boost in your overall exam score and that is highly important for achieving a passing score. Moreover, the decision to not allow students to move back and forth between questions will make it particularly difficult in my opinion. This is mainly because I like to skip around during tests to easier questions and go back to hard questions, and this new format forces students to stay on a difficult question, eating at their already limited time for the exam, until they get their answer. One of the many test-taking strategies for the AP Exams or SAT/SAT Subject Tests that the College Board has stated in the past is to skip questions that you are spending too much time on (or are difficult) and go back. However, that is not an option this year.

Another fact about this year’s AP Exams that I find to be unsatisfactory for students, especially those who wish to remain at home or have to stay at home for health/safety reasons, is the exceptions to the digital exams mentioned previously. Many students around the country have been quarantined for almost an entire year, but there are popular AP Exams that are only required in-person, so that puts them at a risk that they did not know that they were signing up for. Florida students have their AP Exams paid for, but in many other areas, this is a $93 fee for these tests, but they are risking their lives and the lives of those around them by requiring them in-person. 

The decision to administer up to 3-hour exams online may have some future implications for College Board testing as a whole. This may be a gateway for the College Board to start proposing the idea of online SAT and PSAT exams, which I believe to be a much more difficult form of these important tests despite the fact that scores would be released earlier because of the online format. As far as AP students are concerned, it is important to consider it is important that they make an informed decision when deciding whether or not to do the in-person exam, but it is clear the future of AP and college readiness exams will be transformed.

This is only the beginning for AP Exam updates this year; more updates will be released in early March. Full information about the 2021 AP Exams regarding changes in the digital format, Exam dates & schedules, and more can be found here →