Students at El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera take an AP U.S. Government test.(Los Angeles Times)
Palisades Charter High School

Opinion: Many students faced difficulties taking the 2020 AP exams

As the 2019-2020 College Board testing season officially ends in a couple weeks with the release of the make-up AP exams, this year was without a doubt an unforgettable experience for many.

For starters, almost more than half of the second semester was held online to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This year’s AP Exams were unusual and unorganized. Every student wishing to take the exams had to pay the original fee that was paid in fall 2019. Instead of paying for an exam that has 2 or 4 parts and 3 hours to complete, many, including me, had to pay almost $100 for one or two questions, according to the College Board.

From the College Board standpoint, canceling the AP Exams would be a disadvantage for many who take AP classes to earn college credit. It is, after all, one of the reasons why students take AP classes.

However, charging students full price to take an exam under a full hour is a head-scratcher, especially for an organization that labels themselves as a “nonprofit.”

Another obvious mishap was that students were not able to submit their exams even after pressing the “submit” button within the 5 minute submission period. Many videos have gone viral on platforms such as TikTok and YouTube where students have a mental breakdown because they submit their work at the four-minute mark, but are forced to watch the timer reach 0:00 with their work still on the screen instead of a screen confirming that their exam was received.

In May, a Reddit user, Dinosauce313, created a thread for students taking the AP Exams and “wanting to use online resources while doing so,” according to Vulture. Students were allowed to take the 2020 AP Exams with open-book and open-notes, but taking an exam while communicating with another student would’ve been considered cheating.

Social media users speculated this thread was created by a College Board employee in an attempt to catch students cheating. A College Board spokesperson told Vulture that the College Board “is not setting up accounts and starting discussion or social media threads encouraging students to cheat, such as the ‘Dinosauce313’ account or r/APTests2020.”

Fast forward to the morning of July 15, the first day that scores were coming out for students in selected states who successfully submitted exams in May. Right off the bat, the sudden rush of thousands of students resulted in the College Board website to crash.

College Board had approximately two months after the commencement of the May exams to possibly figure out any possible issue with internet traffic. The fact that a website that displays scores can’t even properly function shows their priorities aren’t straight.

Finally, many students were left unhappy with their scores. Although the score distribution was similar to those of other years, many students were left puzzled with their results.

To be clear, just because a student gets an A in a class does not mean they deserve a 5 and just because a student earned a C in a class also does not mean they should fail the exam. However, many students who started preparing as early as March and ended up failing their exams.

For instance, a student (who wished to keep their identity anonymous) complained to me over Snapchat that “the college board didn’t add the additional email option until petitions were signed” and that “they only do this for money.”

Regarding their score, the student told me they failed the test after purchasing and reading multiple cram books and writing numerous practice documents. The exam the student is referring to is the AP World History: Modern exam, which was in the one prompt DBQ format.

Regarding scores, little can be done apart from asking teachers to reread failed work and requesting for a rescore. However, the overall outcome of this year’s at-home AP testing was difficult for many students and shouldn’t be repeated.


Correction: In May, social media users speculated the College Board was responsible for Reddit threads encouraging students to cheat during the 2020 AP Exams, but the College Board has denied this. When originally published, this story falsely stated that the College Board was responsible for luring students to cheat, and did not include that the College Board denied this. When this story was published, its headline called the 2020 AP exams a “disaster,” which does not accurately reflect all students’ experiences. It has been updated to reflect the difficulties many students faced while taking AP exams. This story was corrected on August 4.