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College Board continues testing amid the pandemic

By Dhruv Anish and Norah Shen Apr. 28, 2021

Evelyn Liu Art

Over the past year, California’s academics have seen numerous changes, from most schools shutting down in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, to the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) subject tests being removed. However, the College Board has ensured that at least one thing remains constant: students taking their Advanced Placement (AP) exams in May and June.

The College Board has made several changes to the SATs in light of the pandemic. In early January, the organization announced that they would be ending SAT Subject Tests, multiple-choice tests in specific subject areas, and the optional SAT Essay, a 50-minute process where students would analyze a piece of writing.

On the other hand, College Board has decided to continue full AP and SAT testing despite the pandemic. This is partially because of the revenue Collegeboard makes with AP examinations—around half a billion dollars per year—as well as student demand. In May of last year, when the situation regarding distance learning was still undecided, a College Board survey showed that 91 percent of the 18,000 AP students polled wanted to take the examinations whether or not they have been shortened.

The one element of flexibility being offered for AP testing is three different windows for students to take their exams at school in-person or digitally at home.

The one element of flexibility being offered for AP testing is three different windows for students to take their exams at school in-person or digitally at home. Since tests are being conducted digitally, the College Board has also implemented extra security features, including plagiarism detection and post-administration analysis. All tests will start at the same time, students will only be able to view one question at a time, they will be unable to return to previous questions and there will be no questions directly answerable with internet searches, notes or textbooks.

“Some of the challenges of testing online in an awkward environment are especially prevalent when doing computer-adapted AP tests, which become a burden on the students. The biggest hardship with the AP exams right now is taking these tests after a year of online courses behind a computer,” Sophomore Alexander Lee said.

Despite the fact that students may be disadvantaged in distance learning, continuing the AP and SAT exams during COVID-19 was still the appropriate choice. However, the College Board’s approach is far from a perfect solution—students whose schools are not well-adapted to distance learning, especially those in mostly lower socioeconomic status neighborhoods, will likely suffer more in both preparing and taking the tests. Furthermore, the vast majority of the APs will continue to cover the exact same scope of content as in-person curricula, despite reduced resources and increased strain on teachers. Students and educators alike have experienced an extremely tumultuous school year—full of isolation, Zoom fatigue and emotional struggles—and are neither physically nor mentally equipped to handle the entirety of the AP workload.

Evelyn Liu Art

“Continuing AP tests may not be good for the mental health of students in the pandemic, but without AP tests, it is also a lot harder for students to show their skills and competitiveness for the college admissions,” Junior Aroshi Grosh said.

Anti-cheating measures are necessary to maintain the integrity of these tests, but the efficacy of the College Board’s choices are mixed and at times dubious. On the plus side, focusing on more open-ended prompts can promote greater critical thinking in students, which is especially suitable for the advanced subjects the AP tests cover. However, these benefits can be impeded by students’ inability to return to previously answered questions; this requirement places undue stress on students and prevents them from performing at full capacity, along with invalidating the test taking strategies most examinees rely on. The College Board cannot expect students to thoroughly respond to analysis-based questions while simultaneously pressuring them for time.

While entirely cancelling the tests would only leave students at a disadvantage, the College Board’s stipulations are flawed. Students should have the opportunity to accurately represent their understanding of course material and demonstrate their academic competence; yet, even as the College Board facilitates this, its anti-cheating policies and unwillingness to adapt the test’s content hinders test takers.


About the Contributors

Dhruv Anish

Staff Writer

Dhruv Anish is a junior at Leland High School who is a staff writer for the newspaper. He likes to watch movies and listen to music in his spare time. His favorite actor is Robert Deniro and his favorite movie is The Godfather: Part 2.

Norah Shen

Staff Writer

Norah Shen is a freshman at Leland High School and is a new staff writer. She likes to read, listen to music, and relentlessly tease her younger sister.

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