Coronavirus Impact: Online AP Exams Begin, Problems and Lawsuits Follow

AP exam changes books

Update 5/21/2020: A class action lawsuit has now been filed on behalf of the students who had problems with the AP tests. It wants the College Board to pay over $500 million in damages and accept the answers on their problematic exams, rather than asking them to retest in June.

The College Board said in a statement that the lawsuit is a “PR stunt masquerading as a legal complaint being manufactured by an opportunistic organization that prioritizes media coverage for itself.” He is referring to FairTest, a non-profit that opposes “the misuses and flaws” of standardized testing when evaluating students, which was listed as a plaintiff in the suit.

There’s doubtless more to come in this battle, and other issues ahead of the online SAT, expected in the fall.

On Monday, May 11, approximately three million high school students followed in the footsteps of their predecessors. They took their AP tests. But they most certainly weren’t the same tests, and they definitely weren’t in the same locations. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the AP exams were given in a take-home, online version for the first time ever. And immediately, problems and complaints followed.

Significant changes have been made to this year’s AP exams. The subject exams are only 45 minutes long, as opposed to the usual three hours. Also, the online tests are open-book and open-note. All questions are free response; no multiple choice (a popular section). Finally, only material taught through mid-March is included. Most schools systems in the U.S. closed in mid-March.

The 1-5 grading range remains the same, and colleges and universities state they will still award the same credits.


Twitter immediately blew up with students complaining about software problems, frozen screens, and connectivity problems. Pressing “submit” after typing or copy/pasting in an answer resulted in en error.

The College Board reported only 1-2% of students had any kind of problems, a number challenged by students on social media. Students, parents, and counselors are now calling for students who had issues to be allowed to take the make-up tests in June.

Additionally, Forbes reported about students who’d been planning to use the online tests to cheat. It cited a tweet sent by a College Board executive on May 10:

As Forbes points out, these are only the students who were caught. Given the nature of online AP exams, it stands to reason other students also cheated (even with open book and notes).

Timing and Future Tests

Inside Higher Education reports the College Board was petitioned by teachers and guidance counselors to change the test timing. Petitioners asked for testing from a flexible time period, not a fixed time, and to allow asynchronous testing. That request was denied.

How or if the College Board chooses to address the issues remains to be seen. Online AP exams continue through May 22. Next up, the SAT exam. The more popular standardized test is planned to also be available online this fall. The College Board is still working on what the online SAT will look like.

More coverage of the College Board exams and protocols to follow in the coming weeks.


Visit our special coronavirus article page.

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