Should College Board Have Continued With AP Exams?

On April 3rd, College Board released official details regarding Advanced Placement (AP) exams. Typically, each exam is around 2.5-3 hours long and tests a student’s knowledge on a certain college-level subject. If one scores high enough, he/she can receive college credit and save money on tuition. Responding to the Coronavirus pandemic, College Board developed 45 minute free-response exams for each course. When my friends and I read these upcoming changes, we spent at least an hour pointing out the flaws in College Board’s continuation and execution of AP exams this year…

One reason traditional exams usually measured a student’s mastery in a subject was because of the type of questions asked. Each exam was composed of 40-50 multiple choice questions and a few free responses. Because of the longer length, students were given more room for error. Even if they didn’t know one particular area as well as others, they could still earn a 4 or 5. Last year, I took the AP European History exam. I put in hundreds of hours studying for that test, yet still managed to overlook an area which made up one of my short answers. Despite struggling with this particular question, I scored a 5 because I knew the rest of the material well. One question does not encapsulate your mastery of a subject. This idea can explain the biggest issue with the modified AP exams. Due to the new time limit, all exams are composed of only one or two questions that test you in a select number of areas. You aren’t even tested on all the content! This fact is problematic because some kids who deserve a 4 or 5 may score a 2 because they were only tested on the topic they struggled with. The opposite is also troubling. For instance, there is a self-proclaimed railroads buff, currently enrolled in AP United States History. However, he is doing poorly in the class because he can’t discuss anything else. With a stroke of luck, the APUSH exam is a question about the Transcontinental Railroad. Unsurprisingly, he scores a 5. His classmate, on the other hand, scores a 2 because she doesn’t know much about the history of American transportation, despite having a firm grasp on United States history overall.  In reality, she would’ve scored higher, but the shortened exam prevented her from doing so. With that said, College Board shouldn’t have continued with AP testing this year because it [testing] will inaccurately and unfairly reflect students’ mastery of a subject.

Not to mention, we are living in turbulent times, and the idea of studying feels impossible for many students. Some of them are taking care of ailing loved ones and/or worrying about getting sick themselves. Others, particularly those who come from large families and low-income households, are juggling more responsibilities because of school closures; on top of taking care of younger siblings and working 50-60 hours a week, these students will have to worry about AP exams as well, inducing a substantial amount of anxiety. 

Although most colleges will award credit to students who perform well on the exams, they are also setting them up for failure. Because of the ongoing pandemic, AP teachers were unable to complete their classes’ syllabi. College Board did note this and decided to test topics most instructors had already covered by early March. Although this was considerate of the organization, there are long-term drawbacks to this decision. Students will be earning credit for a course without learning 25% of the content. They will be placed out of introductory courses despite not knowing fundamental material. For example, one of the later chapters in AP Biology is Evolution, which is the foundation of all life sciences. However, most educators were unable to teach it because of the outbreak. So, thousands of prospective biology majors will enter college not having a thorough understanding of evolution—the most important unit! Since many students who pass the exam are exempted from introductory classes, they will end up taking more challenging courses which they will struggle in because they do not have a complete understanding of their subject. Consequently, struggle leads to stress…and stress leads to poor performance. 

Considering the aforementioned factors, College Board clearly shouldn’t have continued with AP exams (or at least changed the organization), for their shortened format does not capture a student’s mastery of a topic and studying for them will be extremely difficult for a sizable portion of American highschoolers. Even if high performance on these exams is rewarded with college credit, students will still have an inadequate understanding of the subject, producing struggle, stress, and substandard performance. 

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