91% of AP students reported a desire to take the AP Exam at the end of the course. Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

As the country shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic in early March, the College Board, a mission-driven not-for-profit, faced a difficult decision: either cancel the 2020 Advanced Placement Exams or deliver a reliable, secure, digital assessment that would give students the opportunity to earn the credit they had worked hard for all year.

AP students guided the decision with a clear and compelling voice. In a nationwide survey, students overwhelmingly said they wanted the chance to test—91% of AP students reported a desire to take the AP Exam at the end of the course. More than 4,000 first-generation  students—with even more to gain from college credit—were asked about their desire to take the AP Exam online.  Nearly 90% of first-gen students indicated they wanted  to take advantage of this opportunity and would plan to take the test at home. Driven by students’ desire to claim college credit, the not-for-profit set to work with just eight weeks to deliver the 2020 AP Exam administration online May 11–22, with a makeup window scheduled for June.

Higher Completion Rate Than in Previous Years

Every year, a segment of students start but do not complete free-response questions like those that constitute this year’s exams. There are many reasons why students might not complete an exam, including illness, the difficulty of a question, interruptions, or simply running out of time. Those reasons each hold true this year as well. 

Recognizing that online testing might come with some technical challenges, the College Board developed resources to help students identify potential tech issues and ensured a makeup testing window would be available. However, an analysis of College Board data shows an unexpected result of the first-ever online AP Exam administration. This year, of the more than 4.2 million AP Exams started during the first 9 days of online testing, an even larger majority of AP students (93%) completed their AP Exams than in typical years (91%).

Overall, less than one percent of students had a problem submitting their responses due to issues like outdated browsers, viruses, corrupted files, or unreadable file formats. Students who were unable to successfully submit their exam responses still have the opportunity to earn college credit by taking a makeup test in early June. For the week of May 18 and through the makeup window, students unable to successfully submit their AP Exam responses through the standard process have an additional safeguard: a personalized email address where they can send their responses immediately following their exam.

AP Online Classes and Review Sessions

In  late March, the College Board launched teacher-led  AP Online Classes and Review Sessions  to help students continue learning and practicing for their exams.  Since they were introduced, the classes were viewed  33 million times, by 5.2 million unique viewers.  Celebrity guest s and luminaries—including  Lin-Manuel Miranda, Janet Yellen, Valerie Jarrett, Nate Silver, Tony Hale, Jeb Bush, Kristin Chenoweth, Cory Booker, Melinda Gates  and more—signed on to take part in the history-making endeavor to provide unique, real-world learning experiences for students.

Students embraced the new format, and many have asked the College Board to continue the AP Online Classes and Review Sessions. Katherine, a class of 2020 senior said, “those AP YouTube review videos are AMAZING!! They have been such a great resource. I also like the optional student practice stuff on AP Classroom! I wish we had these resources in the years prior; they are a game-changer!”

Preparing Students for Exam Day

In addition to helping students continue their learning, the College Board developed virtual resources—including a new website—to help prepare students for their AP Exams. Weekly updates went out to students, parents and guardians, and educators. Among the resources, which became available the week of April 21:

  • An AP Exam Demo that students can use to practice submitting their responses .
  • A detailed video to walk students through the  exam  experience .
  • 2020  Exam Day Guide  with information for educators to share with  their students .
  • 2020  Exam Day Checklist  to remind students of the steps to take before their exam .

These resources, and others,  include  information  about: 

  • Key steps to take before exam day 
  • The exam schedule and time zones 
  • Acceptable browsers and how to update them 
  • Acceptable file formats for photo submissions 
  • Troubleshooting tips
  • How to request a makeup exam in the event of a technical error or disruption  
  • Device and Connectivity Access

The digital divide in the United States has been well documented, and any online exam administration of this size and scope would need to address students’ access to technology. In response to this critical need, a dedicated  100-person customer service team was mobilized within the organization.

To date, more than  28,000 students,  parents,  and educators  have been supported with one-on-one customer care. Those in need were directed to local efforts already in place through their school district, loaned a device or hotspot, provided with a Chromebook donated by Amazon, or helped to contact local internet service providers offering Wi-Fi to students in need of connectivity.  A partnership with Donors Choose provided devices to educators who needed them for multiple students.  The College Board directly distributed approximately 7,500 devices.

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