FACEOFF: Paper or Online AP Exams

Alex James and Paulina Handal

Paper: (A.J.)

As the College Board begins to alter Advanced Placement exams from paper to digital, it is evident that AP exams should stick to the paper and pencil method. 

During an online exam, the student is forced to stare at a computer screen for numerous hours, which can be draining and make focusing more difficult. Additionally, teachers prepare for the exam by having students adapt to the virtual lifestyle. Therefore, students must spend hours each day throughout their high school career staring at a screen to build endurance for an online test. Staring at a screen so often has several physical and mental health consequences. The blue light released from a screen can cause retinal damage which can lead to eyesight loss. Increased screen time may also lead to depression and anxiety since those who spend a lot of time looking at screens produce less melatonin. 

Online exams also bring a disadvantage to those who come from low-income families. This is because they might be unfamiliar with the borrowed computer they are using, while more fortunate students have the advantage of using their own computer, which they have used many times before. The lack of digital skills is a main barrier to students’ “digital readiness” in terms of using digital resources for learning. 

It is proven that students perform better on paper exams compared to online exams. According to the British Journal of Educational Technology, students who work on paper perform 24% better than students who participate in the same exam digitally. While taking the test on paper, students have more freedom to annotate as they wish, while online exams limit certain resources. The ability to interact with passages in information-heavy books as one desires is critical to reduce time and help with reading comprehension. Lastly, writing with paper and pencil allows for more creativity and brain flow. This is likely due to the speed at which one is writing. Since it takes multiple strokes while handwriting, opposed to a single keypress, it allows the brain more time to process ideas and for creative ideas to transpire. 

Admittedly, some would argue that stress is reduced during online AP exams because the time factor is less of an issue, since typing requires less time. Though online exams have been proven to be more efficient and less time consuming, the consequences of staring at the screen for long hours outweigh the benefits of digital exams. 

Thus, AP exams should stick to the traditional paper and pen method. This way, students’ mental and physical health will improve both during the exam and in preparation for the exam, as increased screen time results in many negative health defects. Due to the effects of looking at a screen, scores will decrease, proving that exams on paper can only benefit the student.   

Online: (P.H.)

AP Season is stressful as it is. There is so much studying, hard work and time that goes into it. Although the content is what most teachers focus on preparing their students for, the time aspect is what catches most students by surprise.

When taking a written exam, some students have to worry about making sure their handwriting is clear and concise so they will not lose points on their AP exams for something as careless as handwriting. 

Additionally, typing answers on an exam is much faster than physically writing them. According to the Daily Princetonian, the average American can type 40 words per minute, but can only handwrite 13 words per minute. It is easier to organize, edit and synthesize notes when they exist on a hard drive rather than on paper. This saves time and stress when it comes to actually completing an AP exam.

Some might argue that not all students know how to type, and that might set them back, but there are over 100,000 free typing programs that are available to students to help them in preparation for the exam. 

Online exams often result in fairer scores as well. AP readers are people that spend hours upon hours reading different forms of essay responses. When there are students that might not have as neat handwriting as others, they might mark things wrong or deduct points  just for the fact that they may not be able to read a certain point a student is trying to make. With online exams, scorers will not have that issue, and they can score the exams fairly to ensure everyone — messy handwriting or not — test-takers will receive the score they deserve. 

There tends to be an issue when it comes to scoring exams because of handwriting bias. Handwriting bias is not preferable bias, but more subconscious. Studies have proven that if two pieces of writing with the exact same words but extensive difference in handwriting, the one with the better handwriting will get a higher score. In the reader of the paper’s brain, the paper that caused less struggle to read and was undeniably neater, was considered better as it was an easy read that was comprehensible. 

The writing portion of AP exams is a significant part of why the online exam might be more efficient, but the multiple choice section also proves more efficient digitally. It takes less time to click an answer than to bubble one, and having to transfer your answers from a question packet to a bubble sheet can often be confusing. Students may accidentally bubble one answer on their answer booklet and another one on their bubble sheet. Online testing takes this issue away, as it not only saves them the time of transferring answers from one place to another, but prevents possible errors in transfer.

Overall, online testing is more efficient, less time consuming and overall less stressful. AP readers will spend less time reviewing, and if teachers use their resources to verify that students get the proper typing education, along with course education, students will perform better on AP exams all together.