What Will the 2021 AP Exams Look Like?
If you’re wondering what the AP exams will be like this spring, you’re not alone. Most high school schedules are still affected by the pandemic, and the AP exams are no exception. To address this year’s unusual circumstances, the College Board has decided to offer multiple exam dates and a variety of exam formats to accommodate as many students as possible. Here’s what you need to know about the new options.
How is COVID affecting the AP exams this year?
Last year, the AP exams unfortunately coincided with the peak of the COVID quarantine and the College Board made the decision to offer shortened 45-minute exams online. The execution was mixed and some students had problems uploading their answers.
This year, the College Board has learned from these difficulties and is offering several paper-based and digital exams that reflect the diversity of in-person, hybrid, and virtual schooling options available now.
What are the AP exam dates and test formats this year?
The first round of AP tests will take place between May 3-17 and will be a paper-based, in-school format, just like the exams given in pre-pandemic years. The second round will last from May 18-20 and will include in-school paper tests and digital tests that can be administered either at home or in school. For this second round, all math, chemistry, and physics exams will only be available as in-school paper tests. The third round from June 1-11 will be entirely digital and can likewise be taken at home or in school.
Your school will determine which test date and format you will take. Schools are not locked into all paper or all digital, so they may choose a mix depending on the subject. (For example, writing-focused tests may be digital, but math and science tests may be on paper.) All AP tests are available in both formats, with the exception of foreign language tests and music theory, which must be given in person.
What do you need to do if you’re taking your AP exams on paper?
If your school offers all in-person paper-based exams, then all you need to do is study and show up at the given time. The paper-based exam will be the same as what’s described at AP Central, so make sure you know the format of your exam. On exam day, make sure to read the prompts and questions carefully, and always answer exactly what the question asks.
What do you need to do if you’re taking your AP exams digitally?
If you’re signed up for digital testing, make sure that the format of your exam hasn’t changed. This year, the digital exams will be the same length as the paper exams (unlike last year’s 45-minute mini exams), but some specific exams have changed.
Most notably, the history exams (US, Euro, and World) have substituted two additional short answer responses for the long essay question found on the paper-based version. Because they are unable to police calculator use in home, the College Board will allow calculators on all math and science questions. However, you should expect that math and science exams will include questions where a calculator is not helpful.
Even if the testing format is exactly the same as the paper-based test, all of the digital tests will have one big change: you will not be able to return to a question after you’ve answered it. This is designed to thwart cheating and prevent online collaboration.
While the 2020 tests allowed the test to be taken on a wide-variety of devices, the 2021 tests will limit how students complete the exam. Smartphones and tablets, as well as personally owned Chromebooks, CANNOT be used to take the AP exam. Insead, students must download the AP digital testing application, which will only run on Windows, Mac, or school-managed Chromebooks. If you have a school-managed Chromebook, you will need a school or district IT manager to install the application for you. All answers, including free-response questions, must be typed and submitted within the application.
The start times for digital AP tests are global, in an effort to reduce cheating. Make sure you know when your exam starts in your timezone. The start times are relatively friendly for North American students, but if you’re situated elsewhere, expect to have a less-than-ideal start time.
Three days before your exam, be sure to complete the exam setup. If you’re taking more than one exam, you will need to register for each exam separately. On exam day, be sure to log-in 30 minutes before your exam time to make sure you are ready when the test begins.
For more information on setting up your digital exams, please visit the AP digital test guide.
The most important thing once you’re in the exam is to focus on the content for the specific test you’re taking. We know that’s a tall order this year, with disrupted school schedules and all the changes to the exam format. Now’s the time to get details like timezone and digital logistics ironed out. From there, you can focus on showing what you know, whether you’re taking AP Calc. BC, English Lit., or something else.