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New AP Format Falls Short

Graphic by Eleanor ’21

This year’s AP exams will be 45 minutes long and consist of one or two free-response questions. They will be open book, open note, and open Google. However, the College Board discourages using help from the Internet, claiming that “students taking open book/open note exams who try to find the answer on the Internet often earn fewer points than students who use their time to apply their own learning to develop a logical response.”

As a senior, maybe it’s not my place to say this, but these abridged exams seem inadequate. There are already past debates over whether AP exams reflect true knowledge of the subject they’re assessing, or if they’re just a measure of test-taking skills and how well a teacher can “teach to the test.” Continuing that line of thinking, two free-response questions aren’t going to come anywhere near close enough to covering all the material—or even 75% of it—that students have learned over the course of a year.

“This new AP exam format does feel hollow and self-congratulatory—the College Board wants to appear that they’re doing something when really, what they’re doing falls quite short of a test that’s necessary to produce a numerical score that has any sort of validity”

I understand where the College Board is coming from—after all, isn’t it better to be able to showcase some of what you learned, rather than none? For many students, there’s also so much riding on an AP exam—particularly strong college applications and (for some courses) college credit—and it would be rather destructive to cancel the exams entirely.

This new AP exam format does feel hollow and self-congratulatory—the College Board wants to appear that they’re doing something when really, what they’re doing falls quite short of a test that’s necessary to produce a numerical score that has any sort of validity. At the same time, I understand why, functionally, exams have to be taken in this abridged format. So although I’m not happy with it, I can live with it—which, really, is a theme of this entire coronavirus crisis. 

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