CollegeBoard’s 2021 Digital AP Exams


Courtesy of College Board

Students will be allowed to take the digital exams either in-person or from their homes.

Sharon Sun, Photojournalist

“Drastic times call for drastic measures” — this popular saying has resurfaced to relevance during the difficult times of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s AP exams, differing from the traditional schedules, are offered in a staggered format and an alternate method of taking the normally pen-and-paper exams digitally, whether at school in accordance with public health guidelines or in the comfort of a student’s home. However, to reflect the changes in circumstances, ensure that the exams run as smoothly as possible, and prevent academic dishonesty — such as the usage of search engines for answers — CollegeBoard has presented some modifications to the digital format.

More details regarding the procedures to take the exam digitally will be released in March; however, CollegeBoard has still provided information on what to expect. First, students both at home and at school will be required to have a computer to access the exams; students in need of a computer can request a Chromebook from school. Make sure your computers will be fully charged and have enough power to last through the full-length exams!

Further, students will need to install a particular test-taking application on their devices before test day. According to CollegeBoard, students must complete the exam setup ahead of each exam day on the particular computer that will be used for testing. The setup will be made available three days before the exam day and must be finished by the day before the exam. 

The digital exams will begin at the same time worldwide, synchronizing section start times as well. Testing will start at exactly 9 AM PST and 1 PM PST (times given on the CollegeBoard are 12 PM EDT and 4 PM EDT). 30 minutes before the official start time, students taking the exam at school must be seated in their testing rooms and checked in online. Students testing at home must check-in 30 minutes before the official start time. 

The exam structure has received changes as well. Digital exams, either taken at school or at home, will not allow students to flip back to answered questions or move back-and-forth between unanswered questions. This means that the traditional freedom to view subsequent questions, save questions for later, or flip back to earlier questions to change answers that have been a trademark of pen-and-paper testing is lost in taking the digital exams.

Further, to prevent students from using search engines or academic material, CollegeBoard announced that the exams will not include questions that can easily be answered using internet searches, textbooks, notes, or similar items. In addition, security features to prevent disallowed collaboration between students and outsiders and the usage of unauthorized tools will be implemented to ensure that test-taking conditions remain fair. Plagiarism software will also be used to ensure academic honesty from digital test-takers. Exam violations, whether paper or digital, will warrant a score cancellation and additional punishments. 

To prepare students for digital change, educators may be forced to change their methods of teaching. Mr. Walls (Staff), an AP US History teacher, believes that this will be the case for this year: “Most subjects are working off of somewhere between 5-40 years of history, where the exam has been done in a very specific format. […] This has led to a lot of specific strategies for how we prepare our students, not just in terms of content, but the actual format of the exams as well,” he states. 

For Mr. Walls, he considers keeping some aspects of his distance-learning teaching methods because “they will work well, or even better, than how I did things prior to the pandemic. But, ultimately, I can’t wait to return to ‘normal’ and actually get to see my students in my classroom.”

Though heavily modified from the traditional paper exams, the digital exams enable Yorba Linda High School students the option to test on the crucial AP exams from the security of their homes and reduce the risk of transmission of the virus — an incredibly important characteristic given the coronavirus situation in California. Regardless, AP students still have three months remaining until the first paper AP exam administration commences. Good luck, Mustangs!