Recap of AP testing: College Board offers 7 digital exams

AP School Honor Roll is a College Board program which highlights schools in the United States and Canada that have achieved significant success in their AP programs.


AP School Honor Roll is a College Board program which highlights schools in the United States and Canada that have achieved significant success in their AP programs.

By Yaela Teplinsky

In a reversal of its paper-only system, the College Board administered seven digital AP exams to schools in 48 states and the District of Columbia this spring. 

Whitman offered five of the seven AP exams provided by the College Board in the digital format: AP English Language and Composition, AP English Literature and Composition, AP U.S. History, AP World History: Modern and AP Computer Science Principles. The remaining two — AP European History and AP Seminar — are not classes offered by Whitman.

Funding for student devices and internet access at the onset of the pandemic in May 2020 allowed for a partial shift to digital examinations. As districts reopened their schools for in-person learning, the College Board returned to written exams and did the same on a case-by-case basis for students continuing with remote school.

Counselor Will Kapner, who served as the AP coordinator last school year, believes that the exam format changes are an overall improvement for most students.

“The downsides are just connectivity,” Kapner said. “Do we have enough bandwidth for an auditorium full of Chromebooks to work?”

Exam proctors prepared as best they could for loss of connectivity and battery power, starting with having chargers on hand, Kapner said.

“I think the goal is clear that all exams will have a digital format over the next couple of years,” Kapner said.

Digital exam administration in 2023 was optional; schools could choose to administer the paper version of each exam, and all versions held the same timing and expectations.

Test coordinators were responsible for creating a help room run by a “technology monitor” to address technology challenges that arose during digital exam administration. However, students reported technical difficulties while taking the AP English Literature and Composition and AP Chinese Language and Culture exams.

On May 3, senior Elizabeth Yamamoto took the digital AP English Literature and Composition exam, which requires writing several timed essays.

“I’m very appreciative that the county is able to have enough funding for everyone to use these Chromebooks,” Yamamoto said. “However, I don’t fully trust their integrity on test day, and I do imagine that Wi-Fi issues, keyboards not working, and stuff like that will definitely become a problem.”

Whitman students took the digital exams on Chromebooks using the new testing app Bluebook, which MCPS remotely installed on Chromebooks before the exams. Before beginning each digital exam, Bluebook required students to type a security pledge and watch a brief video explaining how to use on-screen testing tools and view section directions. Assistant Principal Gregory Miller, the current AP coordinator, used an app called Test Day Toolkit to set up, start and monitor each student’s test. 

“The digital exams will have tremendous benefits with administering the exam,” Kapner said. “There’s nothing to ship, there’s no paperwork, there’s nothing to count or collate, there’s nothing to worry about.”

With digital exams also comes precise timing. Students in each testing room began and took breaks at the same time. Test-takers approved for breaks could pause their exam, and those with extended time saw it built into the software.

AP English Language and Composition teacher Cody Therrien said that he and other teachers had asked Miller to arrange for the digital AP Lang exam.

“I actually lobbied him personally, because I had so many students complaining the day after the exam that their hands still hurt because nobody writes like that anymore,” Therrien said.

Before her exam, Yamamoto expressed worry about the societal implications stemming from the move from paper to digital exams.

“[I do have] just a general sense of unease that the AP literature exam is being moved online and what that could be saying about humanities and digitization,” Yamamoto said. “Paper doesn’t run out of power.”