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College Board Announces 2020 APs will be 45 Minutes Long, Taken at Home, Online

This news is developing, and this article will be updated regularly. Check back often for the latest information. For discussion of COVID-19 impact on admission and testing broadly, see: Impact of COVID-19 on College Admission and Testing

Key Takeaways:

  • For this year only, students will take a 45 minute online exam at home.
  • Two different dates will be offered for each test, to accommodate students who may wish to test as soon as possible. These dates will be announced by April 3rd.
  • College Board has provided a detailed breakdown of what content will and will NOT be covered in the 45 minute exam. Content range has been adjusted for the new format and to allow for what students likely will have not covered in class due to school closures. College Board is offering additional online resources for self-study (to be available March 25) and additional supports for teachers and schools.
  • The College Board is asserting that colleges will support this solution and that the college admissions world should share a commitment to allow AP students to earn credit for their work this year. College Board notes that for decades, colleges have accepted a shortened AP Exam for college credit when groups of students have experienced emergencies. Compass’ take is that while this is certainly an emergency, a 45 minute exam at home will provoke intense debate over legitimacy and security. We will be sharing and analyzing those reactions here with regular updates.
  • Starting on Wednesday, March 25, the College Board began releasing 45-minute live AP classes on YouTube, taught by current high school AP instructors.  These live AP classes are free and available to the public regardless of teacher support.

Common Questions:

3/25-27 Updates:

What about students with testing accommodations?

As of March 27, there is still no information from the College Board about how students with extended time or other testing accommodations will be able to use their accommodations for the 2020 AP exams’ online, shortened, test-from-home format.  

The lack of any information on accommodations is one of the most pressing issues on families’ minds.  Our best guess on when we might hear an update is April 3, when the College Board releases the two dates on which students can take their exams.  It would be difficult to make informed registration decisions if students with accommodations are not certain about such basic testing logistics, such as the duration of each exam.

We will update this posting as soon as the College Board releases further information.

What are the live AP classes?

Starting on Wednesday, March 25, the College Board began releasing 45-minute live AP classes on YouTube, taught by current high school AP instructors.  We’ve also heard these live AP classes called AP lives, free online AP review classes, and AP virtual lessons, and there is certainly other nomenclature being used for them across the internet and AP landscape.

New live AP classes are released every weekday over five video streams from 9 a.m. – 6:45 p.m. ET.  While the exact dates of the AP exams are still unknown, teachers suggest that daily weekday videos will continue until at least Friday, May 1.  Two test date options will be released on Friday, April 3.

Who can tune in to live AP classes? What do they cost?

The classes are available for free to the public on the College Board’s AP YouTube Channel.

What is the format of the live AP classes?

The lessons are being taught via Zoom.  A thumbnail video of the instructor(s) appears in the upper right corner as they go through a presentation, alternating between document cameras that film the instructor’s work on their desk and online whiteboards or screenshares on which they present course materials and demo problems.

Instructors upload materials to their classes’ DropBox or Google Drive folders that students can access via a hyperlink or a QR Code, and students are invited to work on the materials before or after sessions.

Do students have to watch the videos live?

No.  Each live AP class is stored as a video that students can watch on their own schedule.  There is no obvious advantage to viewing live: chat is disabled and there is no live Q&A.  Students have the ability to pause, even during a live stream, if they need more time to solve a problem or review.  Students can then resume the video, or click a button labeled “Live” to resume the live feed. 

Since teachers cannot see videos of any of the students in their courses or see chat/comments, they cannot enjoy the feedback of a live class or a smaller virtual class, and do their best to pace out the lesson.

Can students ask the teachers questions?

In the courses we audited, there were no options for Q&A, comments, or other interaction between teachers and students.  

Enterprising students, however, have found instructors’ emails online and pinged them with questions.  In her class on “Analyzing How Word Choice Reflects a Writer’s Understanding of Audience,” Mrs. Emily Valaitis, instructor of the AP English Language and Composition live AP sessions, said that students from a previous video found her email and messaged her to ask if the content they covered is an indication of what will be on the exam.  “I don’t have that information either,” Mrs. Valaitis said. “Instead, try to again see these as if we’re addressing key skills. It’s not meant to be exam prep because I don’t know… what the free response will include.”

Do students who watch these videos receive an advantage on the abridged, virtual 2020 AP exams?

Admittedly, the AP Live Classes are born from necessity, and in our audits of several courses, the overall perception was that everyone –– instructors included –– are doing their best to figure out lesson schedules and the online teaching platform.  

In their first Calculus AB live AP lesson on “Modeling Situations with Differential Equations,” Ms. Virge Cornelius and Mr. Mark Kiraly were candid in admitting that they don’t know any more about exam content, scheduling, or other as-yet unanswered questions than what the College Board has released on its website.  “Guess what? We have questions, too!” Ms. Cornelius said. We’re not going to know anything until April 3.” “Just like everyone else,” Mr. Kirlay said.  

Ms. Cornelius did note that “as soon as we know more, we will start weaving that into our daily lessons with you,” suggesting that, post-April 3, some lessons may be tailored to exam content.

Do the videos cover the rest of the AP course curriculum, even if that material won’t be on the shortened tests?

Yes!  Prior to the release of the live AP classes, a leading question on students’ and educators’ minds was whether the virtual AP courses would be continuations of the AP curriculum (which, for many students, was unfortunately cut short or compromised by asynchronous learning before they’d finished the curriculum), or whether they would would review only the subject matter that will be tested on the abridged, 45-minute exams.  

It’s now clear that the answer is both: the instructors of live AP classes aim to finish the AP course curriculum and offer review for the exam.  As a result, some lessons will cover content that will not be tested on the AP exam. In fact, the first series of videos for many live AP classes have begun with later units in the courses, indicating a priority of finishing the curriculum.

Why are live AP classes covering material that won’t be tested on the 2020 AP exams?

We understand this prioritization of finishing the course as a sincere effort by the College Board to deliver to students a completed curriculum.  AP classes and exams are widely understood to be among the most rigorous courses that high schoolers face in the best of times. This is not the best of times.  Due to the public health crisis, the degree of contact students are receiving from their day-to-day AP teachers and classmates virtually guarantees that preparedness will be compromised. 

Although knowledge about later units that will not be on the abridged AP exams, the structure of AP exams means skills often build on one another.  Working through the curriculum of later units will allow students to practice earlier skillsets/concepts that will be on the exam. Students will also gain a deeper understanding of the field as a whole.

In this spirit, instructors seem to be making an effort to make new material useful for the abridged exams.  For instance, the AP Calculus AB exam will not cover Unit 8, Application of Integrals, but the AP Live review sessions will.  In the class on “Modeling Situations with Differential Equations,” Ms. Cornelius touched on how Application of Integrals will tie back to previous skills: “Unit 8 has so many great topics that tie back to things that are going to be tested, and so we definitely want to instruct on those topics.”  

In the past, AP courses have been criticized for “teaching to the test,” and if the live AP classes had focused only on review for the abridged 2020 AP exams, critics may have more fodder to renew this gripe.  For example, from May 25 – April 7, the AP Language and Composition sessions will be a continuation of learning through the course curriculum. From April 8 – May 1, the sessions will begin review of units on the exam.  In her class on “Analyzing How Word Choice Reflects a Writer’s Understanding of Audience,” Mrs. Valitis noted on her course outline, however, that these review sessions will be “Course Review, Not Test Prep.”

Although the College Board has noted that shortened AP exams have been accepted in the past, the format of the 2020 AP exams inevitably invites speculation on their reliability compared to full tests.  Ensuring that courses get finished in this online format strives to maintain as much reliability –– or at least the perception of reliability –– of scores from abridged AP exams.  

3/23 Updates:

What AP exam review is the College Board offering?

The College Board announced that, starting on Wednesday, 3/25, AP instructors will be teaching 45-minute online review sessions.  These sessions will be available both through the student portal on the College Board’s website as well as on YouTube. As of now, most of the most popular courses have three 45-minute review sessions announced.  Others, such as AP Statistics, have only one review session announced. Still others have none, though the College Board notes that “lessons are in development.”  

As of this posting, the frequency of these review sessions, their format, features, and how widely students will use them remain TBD.

What precedents are there to colleges accepting scores from shortened versions of AP exams?

The College Board notes that, “For decades, colleges have accepted a shortened AP Exam for college credit when groups of students have experienced emergencies.”

How have colleges reacted to the announcement?

So far, the reaction of colleges is constrained to the College Board’s claim that colleges are supporting this solution.

We predict this offering will be embraced (albeit perhaps reluctantly) by students and schools. It seems unlikely that colleges will broadly stake a position stating that they will NOT consider these exams at all. As usual, when students have the option of doing something that might possibly help them in the competition for admission to selective colleges, they tend to take advantage of that possibility. An example would be the fact that while only a few dozen colleges nationally even imply a recommendation or “will consider” position regarding SAT Subject Tests, there are still several hundred thousand Subject Tests administered each year.

3/20 Updates:

What will be the mix of question types?

The current language suggests there will be Free Response Questions (“The full exam schedule, specific free-response question types that will be on each AP Exam, and additional testing details will be available by April 3.”)

Will students receive refunds of the fees they already paid for the traditional exams? Will these mini-exams be free?

As best we can tell thus far, students do now have the option to just get a refund of their original fee and walk away, but then they would not be allowed to take the 45 minute exam.

Judgments on the security of this experiment are going to be speculative.

We really won’t know much until *after* the exams are administered and we see distributions of scores, reports of how the security protocols appear to have unfolded, etc. As usual, the test-takers’ reactions on Twitter and Reddit and elsewhere will be an essential window into what really happened. Presumably College Board will have their own post-mortem reporting related to the integrity of the results. This will be a wait and see.

Why strip this down to 45 minutes? If College Board can offer the test online at home, what was the rationale for this particular format over the traditional 2–3 hour endeavor?

It might have to do with the security scheme. If the security is human-powered (e.g. through ProctorU), then cost may have been a factor.

It may also give students less opportunity to cheat. One way to make it harder to cheat is to make the test shorter and faster-paced.

Additional Thoughts:

  • What will be the online format of the test? What will prevent a student from taking this “open-book”?
  • How will it be scored?
  • As for assessment of the legitimacy of the drastically shortened exams relative to their meaningfulness in the traditional format, we probably will see a conventional wisdom emerge shortly. The reactions of the brand-name colleges in the week ahead will drive any consensus.
  • Compass sees many students seeking to take an AP Exam even when they have not taken the corresponding class at their school (it may not have even been offered). The “lightweight” reality of a 45 minute, at-home exam may translate into more students taking a shot at more exams.
Adam Ingersoll

About Adam Ingersoll

Adam began his career in test prep in 1993 while at the University of Southern California, where he was a student-athlete on the basketball team, worked in the admission office, and graduated magna cum laude. Over the last two decades he has guided thousands of families to successful experiences with standardized tests and has mentored hundreds of the industry's most sought-after tutors. Adam is known nationally as a leading expert on college admission testing and is a frequent presenter at higher ed conferences, faculty development workshops, and school seminars.

6 Comments

  • Avatar Raymond says:

    Hi,

    My teachers said something about College Board offering free refunds this year because of the emergency. Is it true that we can get full refunds for our AP exams, and how do we do this?

    Thanks,
    Raymond

  • Avatar Wendy says:

    Hi,

    What about the CLEP tests?

  • Avatar Dave Moniz says:

    Does eliminating multiple-choice and using solely free-response questions make it easier for students to earn points through “partial credit” by providing some evidence of content knowledge?
    Although colleges have accepted these mini-AP exams during past emergencies, do we have any assurances that credit will be granted for AP science exams taken by students who presumably did not complete all of their laboratory exercises because of corona-closures?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Dave,
      At this point we only know what College Board has said in its release. Colleges will be making their own decisions as this unfolds.

      “Colleges support this solution and are committed to ensuring that AP students receive the credit they have worked this year to earn. For decades, colleges have accepted a shortened AP Exam for college credit when groups of students have experienced emergencies.”

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