Upperclassmen Advanced Placement students know the drill. Start studying in late March, ramp it up throughout April and begin taking the long-anticipated and highly discussed AP exams in the beginning to the middle of May. Afterwards, students look forward to wrapping up the last few weeks of school in a more relaxed manner: getting to work on some interesting projects, covering material not needed for the exams and generally just hanging out with friends before the summer begins. This year, however, AP exams do not start until late in the year. This two to three week delay in our normal AP schedules only hurts, not helps, students in their quest to excel on exams.
AP students have a very difficult course load, and each class has a high concentration of material to learn and review in a given year. Especially considering the difficulties of this year with the pandemic and split classrooms, students feel tired and face burnout. Pushing AP exams back to the end of May does not help this. An extra few weeks of cramming exhausts students and pushes them past their breaking points. Considering everything students have gone through, spending extra time stressing over exams when it likely will not change the outcome of the exams is harmful. Earlier administrations of the exam would allow for a quicker relief from the difficulties of this year. More and more students begin to decrease their effort towards the end of the year, even in a normal year. In this already difficult year, it seems as though students have become even more disinterested in succeeding in AP exams that come late in the year.
For seniors, late AP exams come as a disappointment, especially considering the lack of events they experienced this year. During the last few weeks of school, seniors typically prepare for college while going to events like Prom, GradBash, senior picnic and graduation. Since most of these events are cancelled this year, it seems like they cannot even enjoy the last few weeks of school and learning and instead have to study for AP exams they may not even want to take.
The administration of the digital exams causes a slew of other issues as well. While more pandemic friendly, digital exams are often difficult for students, and provide them a significant disadvantage this year. Firstly and most importantly, I cannot explain how often students have wifi or power issues, their computer crashes or they simply have technical difficulties that cause them trouble. At least one student per class period has this problem, and I imagine these statistics might remain similar for AP exams. It is much more foolproof to take exams on paper, especially since we know we are guaranteed the ability to complete those. Additionally, digital exams are much more difficult than paper exams this year. While the CollegeBoard has assured that the actual material will be the same difficulty level, digital exam takers cannot toggle between one question to another the same way physical exam takers can. Once a student has accessed a question on the digital exam and moved on, they cannot return to that question, while physical students can. This poses a significant disadvantage, and one that surely impacts scores at least marginally.
If some students feel uncomfortable in a physical environment to take an exam, the students who do feel comfortable should at least have the option to take an earlier, physical version of the exams. Choosing only a digital administration harms students that have technical issues, prevents the advantage of switching between questions and checking work and can create a very dangerous sense of burnout, stress and disinterest for exams among students.