Students and parents, expect changes to AP exams due to coronavirus

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Among the many changes for students this year, as the coronavirus pandemic has moved all classes online, are major changes to testing for Advanced Placement courses. Typically, AP exams happen in the first two weeks of May and are in very controlled environments. This year, AP exams started Monday and will continue until next Friday.

But Judith Vigue, director of advanced studies and academic excellence with Pinellas County Schools, says it will be much different this year for high school students testing to get college credit.

What are the changes this year to the AP exams? 

“The College Board, in order to accommodate students who have worked for the entire year to master college level content, took the initiative to provide students with an online exam opportunity since they knew that schools across the country were closed.

“So instead of sitting for a traditional exam sometime during the first two weeks of May, where it’s pencil and paper and there are multiple choice questions and some free response, short answer, essay type questions, College Board designed an exam that is online, that is roughly 45 minutes.

“For some subjects it’s one question that’s an essay response and for many other subjects it’s two questions with the first question being about 60% of the exam and the second question being about 40% of the exam.”

So are they open book and open notes or is it the honor system? 

“No, it’s absolutely an open book and open notes. The College Board designed it that way knowing that it was really a lot to expect that students would just work on an honor system in an online environment where they’re sitting at home.

“What they have to attest to is that they haven’t had assistance from another human. So they can use whatever notes they have from the class, they can use their textbooks from the class.

“But really the questions have been designed — they’re not answers that kids are just going to be able to look up online or look up in their textbook or look up in their notes. It really takes  a lot of what they’ve learned and synthesizes it and applies skills they’ve learned to go with the content.”

When someone thinks about an AP class and an AP test, at least this is what I think about it, I think of it as very standardized. If you go from one region of the country to another or if you go from year to year to year they are very standardized. And now you have this one aberration year — hopefully, it’s just one year.

How do you think that universities and students will react to their results on this particular AP exam? 

“Based on what I know from the things that College Board has communicated to us and communicated with universities, that universities have been part of the conversation in developing this. Because if universities don’t have the confidence to use these scores to translate into college credit, then it would really be a pointless experience for students, right?

“So every college I’ve spoken with and every college that I’ve seen information through the college board from have been very positive about this.

“They’ve had to make their own shifts during this very strange time in education and so they recognize that they don’t want to devalue what kids have accomplished in any way and that if they’re able to get their hands on some data that demonstrates kids have mastered the majority of the concepts in an introductory college-level course, then that student should get the credit for it.”

“I think if you go and review some of the stuff that College Board has on their website you’ll find a really wide range of colleges that have endorsed this online exam experience given the circumstances. And that ranges from the Florida State University System being on board with continuing with the same credit articulation that they’ve always had, several other state university systems all the way up the chain to Ivy League schools being very supportive of the whole process.”

What can you say about the timetable for the AP exams? I think they’ve already started and how long will they last through the end of the semester? 

“AP exams are always two weeks. It’s typically the first two weeks of May. The exams actually started yesterday which was one week late. It will still be a two-week exam window so exams will be done next Friday.”

Is there anything else that our listeners might be interested to hear about the changes to the AP exams this year? 

“I think if I were a parent or student the thing I would want to hear is: go into it with an open mind. The students can just do their very best.

“And even if they don’t finish a response, uploading what they have is going to demonstrate some mastery, right? And so just take a risk and put it out there and do your best because there is literally nothing to lose and a lot to gain for students.

“So I just want students to go in with an open mind and feeling really confident about what they’re doing.

“For our teachers — teachers have probably been more nervous about this than anybody else. Because the AP teachers have been working with these kids and they know what they’re capable of. And their hearts are a little broken right now because they’re concerned that it’s not going to come out the way it should.

“But I think we have to have every confidence that College Board wouldn’t have gone into this endeavor if they didn’t feel like they could do right by students. They’re a very student-focused organization. And so just take a leap of faith and a deep breath and dive in and do your best.  That’s all we can ask of our students.”

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