AP 2021: What’s New?

Adam Pohl and Sydney Leahy

As the school year slowly comes to a close, just like any other year, students are preparing to take their AP exams. However, unlike any other year, students will be seeing some changes to the exams due to the ever-present COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, to avoid the spread of Covid-19, CollegeBoard held all of their exams online. The tests were shortened to compensate for the lack of time that students had to prepare for the new online exam format. But for this spring’s exams, some students will once again sit in person for the entire three-hour-long test, while others will remain virtual. This is due to CollegeBoard’s decision to allow schools to decide how each exam will be held, whether digitally or in person, by holding multiple exam dates. Chamblee students, however, will not have a choice between virtual or in-person testing. Only one date and form of testing for each exam will be offered by the school.

Chamblee students have mixed feelings about this change.

“I think I would rather take them online, generally, because it’s what I’ve been doing,” said Junior Luca Antinozzi. “It’s just what I’ve been used to this whole year. So it’s going to be a whole thing having to deal with going back to campus. But, you know, it’s not that big of a change for any of the exams really, so I’m not that worried about it.”

Claire Turney, a Chamblee senior, agrees with this sentiment.

“Honestly, if it were a normal year I would just want to do it normally in person, but I didn’t hate taking them online last year because everything else we had done was online,” she said. “I’m not planning to go back to school in person, so I won’t have any experience taking tests in person this year. And since we’ve taken all of our tests preparing for it online, I’ve been using AP Classroom all year to take tests online, I’d just prefer to continue to do it that way.”

However, Turney said she would have preferred it if CollegeBoard had simply committed one way or the other.

“Honestly, I know they left it up for schools to decide, which some people think is a good decision, but personally [I wish] they had just chosen that they were going to be online or they were going to be in person and announced it a really long time ago so we could have prepared,” she said.

This is not the only difference that is affecting students, however. The mindset of many students has changed from a year ago.

Last spring, DeKalb announced that students’ grades would not be penalized for work done during virtual learning. Essentially, it meant that students’ grades could only go up, leading to a drop in participation by students who were already content with their averages. Some utilized this extra free time to study for their AP exams.

“[…] One challenge [for this year in contrast with 2020 is], last year we had weeks, because they let us ‘pick’ our grades and I had straight A’s on March 15, so basically I just stopped doing schoolwork,” said Antinozzi. “I had months of only preparing for AP exams and I only had two, so that was nice. Like, I got fives on those and that was awesome, but it’s kind of unrealistic because I had so much time to prep for those.” 

However, many others had trouble remaining focused on schoolwork during this time, which negatively affected how they viewed and prepared for their AP exams.

“[…] It was especially hard, because when we transitioned to virtual learning at the end of last year, no one was prepared for what that would mean for AP exams,” said Turney. “I just kind of gave up after DeKalb announced that you don’t have to turn in any more work if you already have an A, like your grade is settled. And I was like, ‘Sweet, so I’m done with the school year.’ I just kind of stopped learning and doing any bit of work, so I was not at all prepared for the AP exams.”

Now that students have a full year of virtual learning under their belts, many are feeling more confident in their preparation. 

Well, I’ve been trying to really pay attention in class,” said sophomore Sophie Li. “[…] For [AP] World History, I’ve been watching the AP daily videos and Heimler [AP prep videos] while we’re learning in class, and I think closer to the exam day […] I’ll probably do unit reviews to go over the big topics in each unit.”

Li isn’t the only one who has utilized these resources.

“I’m studying pretty much only on CollegeBoard, like the AP daily videos, and those are really helpful,” said senior Sasha Laidler. “I did the same last year and it helped me.”

One of the major differences between the online and in-person exams this year is the ability to change previous answers. On the online version, students won’t be able to return to answered questions or move back and forth between unanswered questions.

“Honestly, it probably will affect how I take the test, because I might study a little bit harder, and since I won’t be able to review my answers, I guess I want to do the best that I can the first time,” said Laidler.

Many students, like junior Bijou Nsele, are concerned that this new adjustment to the testing format will make the online version more challenging. 

“[…] I usually like to go back, check my questions, or sometimes [I’ll] figure something out from the next question that will help me for the next question or something, and I think that’s going to be kind of hard,” said Nsele. “[…] I can see why they want to do it, but it’s gonna be kind of hard for me because I like to check my answers and stuff.

Another concern of many Chamblee students is whether there will be discrepancies between the online and in-person exams. 

“I do have a problem with the fact that there is probably going to be some difference between the average score of the online exams and the in-person exams, because they’re different exams, like the exams themselves,” said Antinozzi. “That’s problematic. I think it would have been better if they had just said everything is going to be online. Like, if you’re going to say that it’s okay to have an exam online by making an online version, then that’s your stance, right. CollegeBoard has made the stance that it’s okay to do online exams, so then why force in-person exams? Just pick one or the other. Either one is fine, but to do both is kind of unfair to whichever exam ends up being harder, because there’s no way they’re going to be exactly the same, like, that’s impossible.”

In general, Chamblee students just want to get the in-person exams over with. Antinozzi said it best:

“I don’t really care what their precautions are, as long as I can pee if I want to pee and I can be prepared and all that,” said Antinozzi. “I don’t really want to chit-chat. I don’t want it to be ridiculous or take an unnecessary amount of time. I don’t know. I haven’t taken a test in person for a long time.”