Students reflect on virtual Advanced Placement Exams

As the annual Advanced Placement exams came to a close on Friday, Palo Alto High School students are discussing this year’s modified online format: 45-minute-long free response exams taken at home in place of the standard three hour, multi-part tests.

For many students, shifting to prepare for the College Board’s updated exam format was a significant adjustment after a year of practice for the traditional AP tests. Senior Creighton Morgenfeld said that he had not felt as prepared as usual for the new exams before they began, but felt more confident afterward due to the open-ended nature of the questions.

“The tests definitely focused on explaining your thinking and responses more than simply getting the right answer,” Morgenfeld said. 

With the emphasis on understanding of course material in the open-note, free-response format, senior Taylor Yamashita said she had expected to have to work fast.

“I’m expecting it to be a pretty big time crunch,” Yamashita said before the exams. “The challenging part will be explaining our thinking and proving that we really understand the concepts, instead of just putting down an answer and moving on,” Yamashita said.

According to junior Hannah Zhou, Paly teachers went above and beyond over the past few weeks in ensuring students were ready for the new exams.

“I think I feel more prepared than I would’ve expected because my teachers have been really good about offering practice resources,” Zhou said. “In my AP Statistics class, my teacher, Mr. Nguyen, hosted a mock exam where we could practice with questions similar to those offered on the test and also practice under timed conditions.”

The system required students to log in beforehand and wait for half an hour before the test began, which unnecessarily lengthened the experience and added stress in the minutes leading up to the exam, according to junior Jenni Solgaard.

“Early check-in [30 minutes prior] was a little wasteful, and waiting for your test to start did feel drawn out,” Solgaard said. “It felt like the test was over as soon as you started it.”

Unfortunately, due to issues with the exam technology, many students had trouble submitting their work and will have to make their tests up at a later date in June.

“I was fortunate not to have technical difficulties, but I know that a lot of people had trouble with submitting their work,” Morgenfeld said.

According to the College Board, less than one percent of students were unable to submit — still, this means tens of thousands out of the millions of students pouring their efforts into the exams.

Despite the unfamiliarity of the non-traditional testing format this year, taking the exams at home in a location of choice was more comforting for some students as opposed to the stress of the usual exam room setup entailing hours of focus in a cramped classroom.

“The whole AP system is a little more chill this year,” Solgaard said. “The test is shorter, at home and open note which makes it less glaringly intense.”