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Updates to the 2020 AP Exams: Online Testing and Free Response Questions Only

Schools across the country have been shut down for the next couple of months, and scheduled standardized tests have also changed their formats significantly to adapt to the current situation. Among these are the AP exams. If you are reading this, most likely you are a student or the parent of a student who plans to take the AP exam(s) this May. If so, here are all the changes to the 2020 AP exams you need to know.

AP Exam Format Changes

The most important change is that this year’s AP exams will all be taken online, remotely. They will be administered online so students can take them from the safety of their own homes.

Another big change this year is the length of the exams. All exams, no matter the subject (unless it’s for a subject that requires a portfolio/project in lieu of an exam), will only be 45 minutes long. This is much shorter than the normal exams, which range from 2 to 3 hours. The shorter time means far fewer questions.

The types of questions asked will also be different this year. There will only be free response, short-essay types of questions. That’s right -- there are no multiple-choice questions at all for any of the subjects. This is at least partly because it is more difficult to cheat on free response questions and easier to detect academic dishonesty and plagiarism. In addition to the question format, the administrators will also implement other methods and tools to prevent cheating and catch it if it happens.

In addition to changes in the question format, this year’s AP exams will all be open book/open notes. This means that students can refer to their notes, past practice exams, textbook, and other study materials for help while taking the exam. However, students should not count on relying heavily on their materials to succeed on the test. It takes a lot of time to sift through papers and find answers -- it can get a bit like finding a needle in a haystack and students only have 45 minutes to complete the exam. Here are some more tips on how to do well on an open book exam.

Topics Covered

The topics included on the exam have also been reduced. The exam will not include Unit 7 (Natural Selection) and Unit 8 (Ecology). It will include Units 1 through 6, which include the following topics: chemistry, cell structure, function, and energetics, cell communication, the cell cycle, genetics, and gene expression and regulation. For more details, see the official exam description from College Board.

New AP Exam Dates

The dates of the AP exams have also shifted back by a week or so. AP Chemistry will be on Thursday, May 14 at 11AM PST. AP Biology will be on Monday, May 18 at 11AM PST. Please note that the exams will not be held in local time -- exams are held at the same time for everyone regardless of their location. You can find more details on the College Board’s updated exam schedule. (College Board organizes and administers all AP exams.)

Overall, College Board made some fair compromises to quickly and smoothly adjust to the coronavirus situation. It is great that the exams will still be administered this year. Students across the country have studied hard throughout the year to prepare for these exams, and it’s great that they still have the opportunity to demonstrate their efforts and the knowledge they have gained. On the other hand, students and parents alike are probably anxious right now about many things due to the coronavirus outbreak. The test administrators have clearly considered this and tried to make the exams less stressful and intense.



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