Testing Amid Trouble

School closures across the U.S. impact national AP testing, students and teachers adjust to new online format


Courtesy of College Board

With schools in the U.S. now entering the second month of campus closures and remote learning due to the Covid-19 pandemic, teachers and students across the nation have adapted to new styles of learning and testing. One of the greatest concerns from their perspective was the altered grading system and standardized tests that serve as a marker of students’ academic achievement throughout the year. 

While the College Board has made the decision to cancel all SAT exams throughout the summer, they have rescheduled and remodeled AP exams to be taken online in May. While AP exam’s usual format consists of a three-hour multiple choice test with multiple choice and free response questions, this year, the AP exam will only consist of a 45-minute, open note test, involving only one or two free response questions.

As the content has been reduced and the format has shortened with the change of AP exams this year, teachers have adjusted their lesson plans to prepare their students for the new version of the test. Gregory Sherwin, an AP Human Geography teacher, said the decisions that the College Board has made are reflective of the current situation.

“The College Board did a good job of realizing the struggle that students and teachers were going to have by stopping the units of learning earlier on,” Sherwin said. “That made it a lot easier for students and teachers because in my class, we didn’t have to learn any new material [after school closed] and all we had to do was review. I think that helped lower the anxiety of students.”

A similar sentiment is reiterated by Phil Edat ’22, a student at Stevenson taking the Physics 1 and Human Geography AP exams this year. He agrees that the College Board did well balancing the tests given the pressing circumstances.

“At first, I was nervous and thought [the online format] might negatively affect me,” Edat said. “But now that I am thinking about it, even though they’re restricting time more and making the test longer and more condensed, that compensates for you being able to use notes.”

Still, there have been uncertainties as to whether the new format of AP exams would be an effective measure of the skills and knowledge that the students have accumulated throughout the year. Jennifer Arias, an AP English Language and AP English Literature teacher at SHS, has expressed that “there’s a big loss for what students can show.”

According to Arias, the fact that the students will not have the chance to examine all aspects of their knowledge in a typical testing format is unfortunate. 

“Many kids in AP have a wealth of skills, and all the different essays are opportunities for you to show what you know,” Arias said. 

Despite this, the condensed online format is a reality that students are faced with. As a result, teachers such as Sherwin are doing their best to ensure their students are well prepared. For example, Sherwin has provided an opportunity for his students to simulate this year’s exam by taking three practice exams online and has also hosted webinars for AP Human Geography students around the nation with other teachers.

Other school faculty have also been involved in trying to ensure that online AP testing goes smoothly for students. According to Gwen Zimmermann, the AP Coordinator at Stevenson, although Stevenson has no control over the exams themselves, her team has still been doing as much as they can to help out.

“I think the big piece we are doing is about the communication,” Zimmermann said. “We will have some of our staff that are online looking for emails on the days of testing and while they can’t do anything, they’ve got all the instructions from College Board so they’re prepared to say, ‘look, if this is happening, call College Board right now or do this, whatever it is.’”  

However, despite the plethora of challenges students may face come test day due to the new format, there are still things that remain in their control. Sherwin emphasizes that whatever challenges may arise, students should trust their own abilities from within in order to maximize their chances of success in this year’s AP exams. 

“You can have the notes next to you, but the best thing you can do is to really spend the time typing,” Sherwin said. “The more you’re typing, the better your response is going to be. I think the students are going to have to trust themselves and trust what they know.