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West Jordan Journal

AP exams to look different this year with students taking tests at home, online

May 04, 2020 12:13PM ● By Julie Slama

Alta High students Madi Ison, Carson Elison, Caitlyn Larsen and Natalie Hood practice writing essays before schools were put on soft closure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Alta High yearbook staff)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Corner Canyon High School freshman Cambria Davies feels like she will be prepared for her Advanced Placement human geography exam this May, even though the setting may be out of the ordinary.

On March 30, the College Board announced, “because students overwhelmingly told us they want to take their AP exams, we’re providing online learning and AP exams available at home for all students this spring.”

The College Board, who administers Advanced Placement exams as well as college entrance examinations, also is taking steps to provide the SAT and ACT college exams online in the fall.

Cambria, who will take her first AP test on May 12, said her teacher has been preparing them for the online test, which is now shortened to 45 minutes at home, open book.

“It’s all free response, which I don’t like as much, but I understand they’re doing what they can to make it as fair in this very different setting,” she said.

Brighton Principal Tom Sherwood, who also has a freshman son who will take the same test, said that AP modified tests, eliminating the multiple choice sections, which easily could be looked up.

“They looked into academic integrity with the exam and know it could be hard for students not to look up answers or to have parents help craft essays when college credit is on the line,” he said. “They have posed the essays, so students have to critically think.”

Brighton AP English Literature and Composition teacher Jennifer Mattson also said there is a check on the essays as they are reviewed by teachers to make sure there is consistency in the students’ writing – and teachers are required to tell the College Board if they suspect plagiarism.

“For the past several years, the College Board has considered online testing so this will be a trial run for them to get an idea what it’s like online,” she said. “A lot of my students are self-sufficient, already in study groups and reviewing.”

Bingham High AP Language and Composition teacher Susan McCandless believes her 60 juniors who are testing will do well on their rhetorical analysis essay they learned in the fall.

“This simplifies the preparation and it’s something we’ve reviewed ever since,” she said. “We have a month to practice that skill and make sure they write the task out so they won’t get off task.”

Hillcrest High sophomore Amanda Desjardins, who took AP human geography and AP Spanish last year, is preparing for her AP psychology exam this year. She plans to take her exam in the basement of her home where it’s quieter.

“I feel as if kids are going to get distracted taking the test at home,” she said.

Amanda, who is using flash cards and a study book to review, said her exam only covers eight of the 14 chapters. The test can be taken online or be handwritten, then scanned and sent in.

“I’m studying every day, but I’m stressed,” she said. “For most kids, the writing is the hardest part since it’s free response and the multiple choice is where they count on doing well.”

Alta AP Language and Composition and Literature and Composition teacher Denise Ferguson agreed: “A lot of kids rely on that multiple choice section to do well and my concern is that the prompt will be difficult for a 17-year-old.”

However, Ferguson said even with the challenge of difficult Zoom meetings – where 40 students make it “chaotic” - she is finding other ways to review with her students. 

“It’s a huge challenge,” she said. “The soft closure caught teachers off guard and it’s making teachers gasp and figure out how they can prepare students online. We’re using online sessions to guide instruction and asking them to practice for every subject they’re testing. We’re all doing the best we can do. They’ve worked too long and hard to just cancel the tests.”

Bingham’s McCandless agrees the test isn’t the same as in previous years. For example, her students’ test will be reduced from several components to one or two essays now, so students will have “all their eggs in one basket. It’s like a pass-fail exam now.”

“I don’t think it’s comparable,” she continued. “Before we had three essays and multiple choice and each tested different things; now it’s a very different skill. The College Board wants to give kids a chance to test, to earn college credit. It’s not ideal nor comprehensive, but it’s the best under the circumstances.”

Brighton senior Jacob Simmons has earned perfect scores on his previous 12 AP exams and was planning to take eight more this spring as well as defend his AP Capstone research paper with oral argument.

“Initially I thought it would be best to cancel the AP tests and have grades determine the test scores and then I looked at pass-fail, but that would be even harder to draw an arbitrary line to determine a student’s proficiency on a subject,” he said. “I feel as if they should give us two essays (with a longer time) because it will be difficult to cram one essay into a 45-minute period to adequately determine the student’s knowledge of the subject.”

While Simmons knows the access to technology and strength of the server may factor into the time-period decision, he is grateful that he can still complete his AP Capstone research paper this year — even though the Capstone program also is modified this year. 

AP Capstone seniors have already taken their seminar course and passed four AP classes. Now, they are in the final stages of their project – one that was to be presented orally as well as written. The oral portion in front of a panel has been canceled and the written portion due date was pushed back to late May — and if the research can’t be completed, students can report why they can’t within the essay.

“I feel the ability to defend a research paper equal to a master’s thesis is a value opportunity to determine what we’ve learned and express our passion on the subject. It’s disappointing, but at least we have the research paper,” Simmons said.

Mattson, his AP research teacher, agrees: “Many of them are fantastically articulate and would have done well to orally present it.”

While it’s Brighton’s first graduating class in the program, Juan Diego Catholic High School has offered AP Capstone for several years and already completed oral presentations when the College Board cut that portion of the program this year, said Vanessa Jacobs who oversees the program at the school.

“The students had nailed it and did an amazing job, but it won’t count as part of their score now,” she said. “The College Board is making it equitable the best they can. It’s a scramble for everyone as it’s a whole new environment.”

The 5,000-word research report is underway for five Juan Diego candidates, with 13 who already completed everything before this year and will earn the Capstone program diploma, Jacobs said. 

Jordan High teacher Heather Gooch said the new AP testing is “a game changer.” 

“The test is truncated so for those teachers who didn’t teach the course in the order of the book, they will have a lot of material to cover,” she said. “For us, we’ve covered the material and it will be business as usual. But it is more stressful and there are additional factors for students, such as watching siblings at home now so parents can work or if the parents aren’t working, students are contributing to supporting the family or other circumstances. Everyone is trying to adjust and if you’re already getting food out of the pantry, this could just heighten the stress level since you want to save money and time in college.” 

For Gooch’s 27 AP biology and 40 AP environmental science students, as well as other students who are taking AP exams, she said reviewing and pacing themselves during the test will be critical.

“These kids are wanting to be in the game so I’m doing everything I can – live chat, recording review sessions, holding practice sessions, videoing, emailing – to connect and support them. I can’t drop the ball.”