2021 AP Exams: College Board Updates Schedule, Format in Hopes That Fewer People Will Sue Them This Year

If you were alive and not in a coma last May, you probably heard something from somebody about the borderline disaster that was the 2020 digital AP exams – perhaps it was even from this very site. Much like pretty much everything about 2020, last year’s AP tests were about as enjoyable as a snowman made of manure. With 2021 AP exams approaching, we wanted to take a look at some of the changes College Board has made to the exam schedule and test format so that you can target your preparation accordingly. Away we go.

Updates to the AP exam schedule

College Board has released a fairly comprehensive summary about the changes they’ve made to the AP exam schedule, so we’re just going to hit the highlights here. The main thing to note is that there are now three testing windows of approximately 2 weeks each, spanning the entirety of May and the first half of June. Each AP test will be offered in each window, meaning that there will be three opportunities to take each test. (And before you ask, no, you can’t take your test more than once.)

Changes to test format options

Last year’s tests were entirely digital, and while there’s a lot of (totally merited) flak flying around about the technical difficulties many people encountered, it’s worth mentioning that College Board had a very small window of time to turn around an at-home testing system that would work for tens of thousands of students worldwide – not exactly an easy task.

With CB having a bit more time to prepare this year, the 2021 AP exam format is going to look noticeably different. Most tests (with the exception of the weirdos, such as the language exams) will be offered both digitally and on paper, and students will be able to take the digital version of their test either in school or at home. In the first administration window (May 3-17), all tests will be on paper and taken in school. The other two windows will still provide paper & pencil tests in schools, but they’ll also allow students to test digitally either in school or at home.

Here’s the kicker, though: students don’t get to choose when and how they take the exams. Each individual school will decide which tests it will offer in which administration windows, and the AP coordinator at each institution will assign students to Administration 2 and Administration 3 (the windows where at-home testing is offered) “if needed.” This suggests that some kind of application process, or at least a conversation with your school’s AP coordinator, will likely be required in order for you to test at home.

According to CB’s website, those decisions will start being made in early March, which is somehow already upon us (time is weird). If you would feel more comfortable testing at home, it’s worth reaching out to the official at your school in charge of APs to begin that conversation.

Adjustments to the structure of digital exams

Unlike last year, when digital exams were dramatically shortened versions of the standard tests, this year’s digital exams will be the same length and format as their traditional counterparts. Testing will be conducted through a new AP testing app in an attempt to avoid the technical issues that plagued many students during last year’s exams. The app saves students’ work as they go and thus requires no manual upload at the end of the test, which promises (in theory) to streamline the process. If testing at home, students will download the app to their computers a few days prior to the test and go through a quick check-in process to ensure that their devices are properly configured to take the exam successfully.

One interesting note is that although the exams will be much longer than last year’s, the app still doesn’t allow students to skip questions and then return to them later. CB explains that this is intended to make the digital tests more secure, which is obviously an important goal; hopefully it works. That does limit flexibility during the test-taking process, however, so students will need to keep a close eye on the clock and make sure they’re pacing themselves carefully.

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That does it for our summary of the changes to the 2021 AP exams. As I mentioned above, one of the best things you can do as a student is be proactive about seeking out additional information and answers to any questions you have. Begin by talking to your AP teacher(s) about testing details, and start a conversation with your school’s AP coordinator now if you think you’ll want take the digital exam at home.

If you’re looking for some help getting ready for your test, head over to Inspirica’s AP headquarters. We offer support on a wide range of AP courses and exams, and our squad of content gurus would love to help you ace your class and lock in that 5 on the exam.

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