College Board Faces Backlash Following Advanced Placement Exam Difficulties

Rachel Wong, Grade 10, Co-Editor-in-Chief

The College Board is an organization that high school students love to hate. They demand payment for the privilege of taking high-stakes tests. But this spring, the College Board faced more fire than it had in previous years. The backlash surrounded the Advanced Placement (AP) Exams. 


When the College Board decided to modify the tests and administer them on a virtual platform, student responses were mixed. “I don’t think still holding it [AP exams] was a smart idea,” said Christy Lee [‘22]. “While it might’ve been easier to some students, the time limit was hard to deal with and I don’t think we should have had to worry about a test during a pandemic.” 


Others praised the College Board’s decision. “We’ve been studying for it [AP tests] all year and I still want the college credit,” said Carly Brail [‘22].


The exam modifications were substantial. Each exam was adjusted to test students on an abbreviated set of questions to be answered in a shorter period of time. For example, the World History: Modern exams were converted from a three-hour test consisting of multiple parts into a simple document-based essay over a forty-five minute period. The College Board also limited the amount of content that would be covered in each exam. In the same World History exam, the years covered were reduced from 12000 to the modern day to 1200 to 1900. 


Most students liked the new format. “The multiple choices are annoying to answer since they could be pretty specific and the essay had general topics, so it was nice that it was only a short essay,” said Lee. 


For the first time, the College Board also released live review sessions for students to practice questions and review each unit. These received positive reviews and both Brail and Lee agreed that the College Board supplied sufficient resources for students online. However, Brail noted that these resources should have been supplied all along, adding, “If Corona hadn’t happened, they wouldn’t have given us these resources, and that’s not how they should’ve been operating before.”


The College Board went to great lengths to ensure no cheating would take place. Given that no student could be monitored by a proctor, the College Board decided to allow students to use their notes and conduct online research, although these were discouraged. They also made it clear to all students that no collaboration or plagiarism was allowed. Multiple versions of each test were devised to further prevent cheating. 


But their anti-cheating measures also included more suspect actions. Threats were issued to dissuade students from collaborating with others during the test or plagiarizing work. It was rumored that the College Board had released false information online regarding each question so that students would not turn to Google as a resource. Furthermore, weeks before the test took place, the College Board invalidated the exams of students who were devising plans to cheat. Trevor Packer, the Senior Vice President of AP & Instruction at College Board, tweeted out, “We've just canceled the AP exam registrations of a ring of students who were developing plans to cheat, and we're currently investigating others. It's not worth the risk of having your name reported to college admissions offices.” Later, it was rumored that the College Board had hacked into student’s cameras and microphones to ensure they weren’t using phones or other devices to communicate with others––a complete violation of privacy that angered many students. 


Although these actions may have been controversial, what was roundly criticized were the technical difficulties at the start of the AP testing period. A demo was released for each exam beforehand to prevent technical difficulties, but many students still encountered problems submitting their exams during the first testing week. When uploading photos of their completed exam, some students received a message that their response had not been recorded. Throughout the week, the College Board tried to work out the issues, releasing new information every day about what to do and not to do when uploading. By the second week, most of the difficulties had been resolved, but as a backup plan, the College Board allowed students to email their responses immediately if their submission failed. However, the students who took exams during the first week did not have this option and will take a make-up exam in June. 


By the end of testing, the College Board was met with much backlash by angry students, parents, and teachers. Trevor Packer received angry tweets by distraught students, and someone hacked into his twitter and released his social security number. A class-action lawsuit was filed against the College Board on behalf of teens unable to submit their responses, demanding that they accept the original responses without having to do a make-up exam later in the year. Overall, AP testing was one big experiment this year, leaving chaos in its wake.