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The AP Test Dilemma

Last updated on May 31, 2021

Photo by Julia M Cameron from Pexels

For students, COVID-19 has presented a whole new set of challenges both academically and socially. Nationwide, there are vast disparities regarding who has participated in in-person schooling this year. Many students have been pushed online for the better part of the last 14 months, making it harder and harder to test students fairly and equitably. Nonetheless, College Board has elected to administer full-length AP exams for the 2021 testing window to navigate the logistical obstacles of this decision; they gave multiple different testing windows. For many tests, students had the option of taking it either online or in person. This was a necessary condition, but an intriguing one nonetheless. How should the two tests be judged against each other? Should one test’s score be “worth more” than that of the other? With a multitude of reasons to take either version, students have had to evaluate the multifaceted implications of taking the test in person versus taking the test online.

For those taking an in-person AP exam, the reasons for doing so are numerous. Many students are simply more comfortable with a paper and pencil test. It is what they have been doing since they entered kindergarten, and the years of practice may allow them to feel more confident.. There is also something to be said about reading off a piece of paper rather than  a screen. As growing children and even teenagers, we tend to associate the screen with forms of  entertainment such as Netflix orYoutube. Many students are used to sneaking a peek at their favorite show during class, so screens are not always associated with deep concentration. Thus, working off of a paper booklet can limit those opportunities for distractions and hone a student’s focus on the test at hand.

Taking a test online is more about convenience than anything else. There are many who opted for the online administration out of health concerns or because of the logistics of this day and age, but the fact of the matter is, a good majority of students took online exams because they were considered to be easier. There are vast reasons for this, such as the ability to type instead of write, but the desire to cheat is probably the most prevalent. Many of the online test-takers I have talked to recounted their ability to utilize the internet, as well as many other resources that supplemented their content knowledge (or lack thereof), on the AP tests. They obviously knew they could get away with it because of the relaxed guidelines for the tests, but it forces the question about integrity within the test itself. If the purpose of the test is to display our knowledge and our knowledge only, what use is it to give a test that can so easily be exploited?

The online tests will be curved differently than those taken in person, but this kind of perspective on the test only furthers the scrutiny on both online testing and the test itself. With so many other factors muddying this so-called “even playing field” such as quality of teaching, socioeconomic disparities, and differing access to technology, how should AP scores really be compared to each other? Should scoring a 4 on an in person test count as less than the same score on the online version, or should it be viewed upon with a higher standard? 

This isn’t even taking into account the 2020 AP tests, which were shortened to about a quarter of their normal length for COVID-19 accommodations. Collegeboard has some serious issues to iron out regarding their beloved AP tests, and their implications on college admissions, the most stressful time for a high schooler. Many high school students use AP tests to gain an advantage for college, and their reliance on Collegeboard is a troublesome one at best. The institution has failed to provide consistency in test scores and transparency on numerous occasions, and two mediums of AP tests will certainly not aid in their efforts to give reliable scores. This July, AP test scores shouldn’t just have a number attached to them; there should be an asterisk there as well. 

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