Changes in AP tests get mixed reviews


Image from Wikimedia Commons

This year’s school closures have led to significant changes for Advanced Placement testing.

By Lindsay Bonetti, Grace Hampton, Victoria Di Cesare, and Pratiksha Timsina

Students and teachers alike are being forced to adjust to the new formats of this year’s Advanced Placement tests.

This year, due to schools being closed nationwide, the exams will occur online. All exams will be 45 minutes and consist only of free-response questions. Students who signed up for an exam have the option to get a refund instead of taking the new test.

The changes have brought mixed reactions, often depending on which AP course is being discussed. 

AP Microeconomics and Macroeconomics are two of the subjects most significantly affected by the new format. The economics exams typically are two-thirds multiple-choice questions, but have been altered to two multi-part, free-response questions, which will require students to describe graphs.

AP Economics teacher Natalie Grattan dislikes the changes, considering how she and other teachers across the country prepared students for the exam before the school closure.

Knowing the test is usually mainly multiple-choice, “we prep for the multiple-choice with the exams I provide in class, using previous AP test questions,” Grattan said. “We do graphing in class, in lecture and in notes to prep for the test too. I feel like had I known this months ago I wouldn’t have done any traditional practice AP exams. We would have done all graphs, all the time.”

You have less room for error and less of a chance to prove yourself as a writer.”

— Ann Watson

Grattan would have preferred a different format for the modified exam.

“I would like to have seen the multiple-choice still be a part of the test, even if it was randomized and students were given a shorter amount of time to do them, because I know my students traditionally score very well,” Grattan said. “The essays can be very in-depth, requiring a lot of economic concepts and theories in one set of questions that, if students do not include all pieces, they may not receive all the points available”

The multiple-choice section of the AP English Language exam, meanwhile, is typically considered the most difficult.

“The multiple-choice section of the exam has traditionally been the most challenging for my students. The average score nationwide is a 50 percent, thus making it imperative for a student to be a strong writer and perform well on the essay portion of the test,” AP English Language teacher Ann Watson said. “Eliminating this section helps students on a surface level, but the evaluators may examine student essay responses through a more stringent lens.”

The AP English Language exam, which typically consists of three different types of essays, will only be a rhetorical analysis essay this year. 

“You have less room for error and less of a chance to prove yourself as a writer,” Watson said. However, “a shorter exam will undoubtedly be less mentally taxing on students.” 

AP English Students said they liked the new format.

 “I am still taking the English exam, and I don’t mind the change,” junior Jeffery Natter said.

Junior Mckenzie Lytle said she felt well prepared for the new format of this test.

“I tend to think I do better on rhetorical analysis, so I might as well take it,” Lytle said. “But I would much rather take the test in real life rather than online.”

All of the AP history courses — World History: Modern, United States History, and European History — were changed to only a document-based question, cutting out the multiple choice, short answer, and long essay sections. Also, instead of having to analyze seven documents and then craft an argument, students will only be given five documents to accommodate the 45-minute time constraint. Typically, students would have been given an hour for a DBQ.

Modern World History teacher Katie Temme encourages students to take advantage of this unique opportunity, as colleges have decided to award the same amount of credit despite the shortened exams.

“Even with the challenges faced in this on-line environment, never again will you have the opportunity to earn college credit by writing one essay on three-quarters of the material in the course syllabus,” Temme said. 

Sophomore Brooke Zanone agreed.

“The format for this year’s AP exams seem like a lot less work,” Zanone said.

Junior Juliana Fedorko, though, decided to drop the AP US History exam. 

“I didn’t want to pay almost $100 for a 45-minute exam,” Fedorko said. “I feel like I would not be able to finish in time, and therefore hurt my score.”

Zanone, however, decided that she wouldn’t drop the AP World History exam.

“I thought about it, but I realized that I had already put a lot of effort into it throughout the school year,” Zanone said. “I didn’t want to waste it by not even trying. Plus, I have more free time in quarantine, so I’m taking this as an opportunity to prepare myself and study for the exam.”

Temme said that because the exam has been condensed to a DBQ, her students would not be able to show their skills in other sections. 

“The major disadvantages include the limited scope of the test that may not allow all students to really showcase their knowledge, and the challenges of doing it on-line for the first time ever,” Temme said. 

One of the most difficult changes, according to Temme, is that students will not be able to write on and annotate the documents, like they were taught in class. Instead, they must take notes on a separate piece of paper.

“I feel like a number of short-answer questions may have been more able to broadly assess students’ knowledge of the course material better, but the DBQ truly does encompass many of the essential skills we try to teach in the AP histories,” Temme said. “So this was probably the best decision.”

Students and teachers of science and math AP classes said they welcomed the new free-response format.

Junior Kristen Yunk, who plans to take both the AP Calculus AB and AP Physics C: Mechanics exams, favors the shift to only open-ended questions.

“Personally, I like the changes because the free-response questions give more opportunity to gain points for partial credit rather than having the correct final answer,” Yunk said.

The AP Calculus exams will only be two questions this year. Students are allowed 25 minutes on the first question and 15 on the second. The AP Calculus exam was previously half multiple choice and half free response.

“I do not think it is any easier or more difficult.  Some students do well on multiple-choice and some do well on free response,” AP Calculus BC teacher Maria Hausman said.

Even though the exam is online, students are still permitted to handwrite their work and then upload a picture.

“Students are able to write on paper and then take a picture of their work to the secure browser.   We have done this in the AP Classroom this year, so I think students will be familiar with the process,” Hausman said.

This story was originally published on Purbalite on May 1, 2020.