By Alex Berkman
About this time last year, Byram Hills students and parents were informed that for the year of 2020, standardized testing would look significantly different. Namely, all AP exams would take place on a virtual platform and would be modified to accommodate some of the challenges students faced during the spring by shortening the test itself and the materials covered by it. I must admit, this was a tremendous relief for me, as I imagine it was for my peers, who were naturally unable to learn as effectively during “E-Learning.” Likewise, learning this year has been nothing close to ordinary. Byram Hills has employed a hybrid model, in which students go into school for half the week and learn from home for the other half. Notably, though, we have seen many students choose to remain virtual full time. The school has also switched to a block schedule, meaning that students only have a particular class three times a week instead of four to five. Therefore, while students are certainly receiving a more hands-on experience than last spring, the question remains whether this style of learning will have us fully prepared for standardized testing in 2021.
Recognizing that the pandemic has changed the way many teachers deliver instruction and students learn, the College Board has developed a unique plan to administer exams. Specifically, there will be three testing dates for each subject between early May and mid-June. ‘Administration 1’ will take place in early May and include traditional, full-length paper and pencil exams, administered in school, for all subjects. ‘Administration 2’ will take place in mid-late May and include half of the subjects on paper and pencil, administered in school, and the other on half on computers, taking full-length digital exams. And lastly, for ‘Administration 3’, which takes place in early June, most subjects are full-length digital exams only, administered in school or taken at home.
Recently, Byram Hills made a decision regarding which of the three exam slots students will take part in. After surveying students and teachers about their personal preferences, the BHHS administration opted for the second date (between May 18 and May 28). Some exams will be taken on a virtual platform at home, while others will be taken in school with a pencil and paper. Notably, unlike last year, these exams will all be full-length. As you may expect, the idea of taking the exam on a computer has received mixed reactions. While some anticipate that at-home tests will promote a more relaxed test-taking experience, others fear that they may actually be too laid back. Junior Owen Kirkwood is specifically concerned that “at home, [he] can get distracted easier” and that “[he] will not be able to get the real in-person testing experience that drives [him] to focus.”
Furthermore, the College Board has implemented certain safeguards to ensure the integrity of the test-taking process. Interestingly, for virtual exams, students will not be able to go back to previous multiple choice questions. Once they answer a question, they will have no opportunity to revise their answer. For many, including Junior Eliza Goldman, this is somewhat frustrating. Specifically, Eliza fears that “not being able to go back and change or check your answers is going to be very difficult” as “it is completely different from the way students have been taught to take tests in the past.” Moreover, Seniors face a unique situation due to the pushed-back test dates. Now, they will be obliged to attend classes up until May 17 instead of starting their internship early. I asked Senior Ben Weinhoff about his thoughts on this change, and he had this to say: “With everything that has happened to this senior class and all of the things we have missed out on, to have these tests moved back will just create more stress and lead to a less enjoyable end of the year and beginning of the summer.”
As for the AP exams, clearly, there are numerous unanswered questions, and it is understandable for students to have their own concerns. But luckily, or perhaps unluckily, every AP student in America (and internationally) is in the same boat as us. Each must deal with the same issues we are facing. Each is currently asking the same questions we are. So, therefore, while we may be afraid or even a little bit disgruntled, we are certainly not alone.