AP tests takers may find the assessment more challenging this year


By Jonathan Bender

AP tests are a dreaded event for the high schoolers who choose to take them. The stress they bring, their level of difficulty, and the time they demand are to blame. This year, they may be even more challenging.

A set of factors like the difficulties of online learning, content retention, and even college admissions in the virtual/COVID-19 world may make these harder than in any previous year.

Research from both the CITE Journal and Economic Policy Institute indicate that students have suffered from learning impairment from COVID-caused educational changes. 

Without traditional face-to-face teaching, a student who is not well adapted can become disconnected and fail to grasp concepts and information. However, AP students are less likely to suffer because this type of student is likely more driven and independent.

Nevertheless, polled AP students indicated they disliked learning in an online environment, but that disdain did not impede their learning. The data showed that these students had pessimistic views on the effectiveness of online learning, had varied amounts of disconnect with class understanding, and had decreased confidence concerning their AP test outlooks. 

One of the more prevalent issues this year, tied to online learning, is content retention. In a traditional classroom, a student with a less enticing environment is likely to pay less attention when compared to an environment that is more stimulating according to a research article titled “Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom” found on pnas.org. 

Sitting in front of screens all day is another major factor in making tests harder. Students at MHS indicated that they get fatigued from extended periods of virtual learning, leading to burnout, disinterest, and difficulty comprehending content. 

Lastly, college admissions may make the AP tests even more stressful and difficult. This year has opened many opportunities for cheating which may artificially boost grades. Such choices may cause worse, genuine understanding, which can increase difficulty on monitored tests, according to a research article in SAGE Journals titled “The Impact of Performance Goals on Cheating Depends on How Performance Is Evaluated”. 

AP Biology teacher Mr. Walton discussed the ramifications of cheating as seen through the eyes of college admissions personnel. When a student eventually applies to a college, he said, transcripts and tests arrive with his or her applications. If a college were to see a high grade in an AP class but a low AP test score, this may make admissions think something is awry. 

Of course, students excelling in classes only to perform poorly on tests is a possible scenario, but the lack of in-person accountability, such as teacher supervision on tests to reduce cheating or collaboration, raises doubts.

From AP students:

“I feel like online learning has not been a downside, but I think in person would have been better. I don’t feel disconnected because my teacher has made it engaging. I would feel better about the AP test in person.”

“Through online learning, I feel a draining sensation in each of my classes. I cannot focus for long periods of time without tiring, especially in discussion-based classes like APHUG. In APHUG I feel online learning has hurt my education as I cannot keep my attention to my teacher and classmates and as a result of such, must spend large amounts of time preparing on my own for examinations. My confidence for the AP test has definitely decreased due to online learning, but I am still eager to take the test and see the results of my personal growth throughout the year.”

“I don’t feel disconnected from my AP classes in general. I feel that online learning has hurt my AP education due to certain class aspects being harder to understand. I feel that my confidence for the AP test has not changed because I still understand the content just as well and I would study hard anyway.”

“I feel disconnected from my AP classes, but the independent nature is also relevant. I believe that online learning has benefitted my AP classes because the timing of classes and freedom of scheduling with online learning is more convenient. I feel out of 1/10 I’d be a 7 because I’m the kind of guy to not care as much, the only reason it isn’t higher is because of the year, it’s been long.”