The College Board Releases Changes to the 2021 AP Exams


A person bubbling in answers on an answer sheet.

By Razina Ahmed, Academics Editor

With May just around the corner, students in AP classes at Niles West have started preparing for the 2021 AP Exams. Given the unusual circumstances the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on our youth, the organization administering the exams (known as The College Board) has released changes to the test format in order to have students test safely. Prior to the pandemic, exams were administered in-person and using a paper-pencil format. This year, however, there will be a combination of both digital and in-person tests given.

“Niles West has been working with students and families to accommodate testing windows, space, and wifi access. Most of our students will be taking the online exam in windows 2 and 3. We intend to send out a Google form to our students to determine whether they will want to take the exams at school if in-home internet is not reliable,” Mr. Steve Parnther, Assistant Principal of Operations, said. “If there is a student who does not have a functioning device, they can reach us and we’ll provide support immediately. The student should reach out to their counselor if they don’t have a functioning device.”

As per the College Board website, the administration of the exams has been broken down into three groups: Administration 1, Administration 2, and Administration 3.

Administration 1: Held from May 3–7, 10–12, 14, 17. The exams will be paper and pencil and administered in school.

Administration 2: Held from May 18–21, 24–28. Half of the exams will be digital, and the other half will be taken at home.

Administration 3: Held from June 1–4, 7–11. A majority of the exams will be digital and administered both at home and in school.

The French, German, Italian, Spanish Language and Culture, Chinese and Japanese Language and Culture computer-based exams, Latin, Music Theory, and Spanish Literature and Culture exams can only be administered with a proctor in a school setting.

Digital exams will look a little different compared to the exams administered in 2020. They will be full length and test the same content and skills as the in-person exams. In a comment made to Teen Vogue, Jerome White, The College Board’s Director of Media Relations, stated that exams will be similar to those in previous years “because colleges have told us that they need students to be tested on the full course content year so they can ensure students are ready to succeed when placed in higher-level courses on campus.”

The digital exams will not allow students to go back on questions when testing. Students will not be able to review questions at the end of the exam, and if a student skip’s ahead, they cannot go back. The exams can only be taken on school-managed Chromebooks, Mac, or Windows computers. They cannot be taken on smartphones. There is an available app to help students practice for the digital format, and three days before the exams, students will need to complete the exam set up in this app. Students can find a list of the different types of accommodations for digital testing by clicking here.

As of now, there are four steps students can take to ensure they encounter minimal technology issues during their exams. The process includes downloading the Digital Testing App, completing the digital practice and exam setup, and checking in 30 minutes before your exam on exam day. If a student does not complete the exam setup for each exam, they will not be able to test. Students can find more information about these steps by clicking here.

Maryan Rassam, a senior at Niles West, describes the pros and cons she sees with the new format.

“The new way that AP exams are being administered in 2021 is very different from last year. I can’t imagine a full AP exam taken digitally will go smoothly without any issues. I just hope that College Board will be understanding if any of these issues were to arise,” Rassam said. “As to the format of the exam, I think not being able to go back to questions and review is a little stressful since some students do like to skip hard questions and come back to them later. However, I do also like to take it one question at a time and just don’t stress over it too much. With that said, I just wish everyone good luck and hope everything runs smoothly.”