AP Exams begin to move fully online for 2023


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This spring, SLHS will administer five AP exams in the fully online format, a change from the former all pencil and paper test.

In an age of increasing reliance on technology, Southern Lehigh High School is transitioning to computerized AP tests for the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. While students nationwide took abridged electronic AP exams from home in the spring of 2020, most schools nationwide soon returned to traditional paper and pencil test taking.

However, in May 2023, College Board began offering digital exams for seven AP classes using Bluebook, a new standardized testing app. Each high school in the 48 contiguous states, including Washington D.C., can request digital or paper copies of the exams. This spring, Southern Lehigh will administer electronic AP exams for AP World History, AP U.S. History, AP English Language, AP English Literature, and AP Computer Science Principles.

“We chose the online format for the exams that were available because it seems to be the direction that the College Board is headed in,” AP coordinator Mrs. Samantha Trachtman said. “We would like to get a head start on testing in this format so we are prepared if [or] when all AP exams are digital.”

In response to this change, many students have expressed both excitement and concern for the future of AP testing. Junior Elizabeth Vezenov, who took the AP U.S. History exam on paper last year, sees benefits to digital AP testing. 

“Writing essays online is convenient because you can type it, which is definitely faster than writing two essays by hand,” Vezenov said. “That way you can save more time for proofreading your essay, which would definitely be difficult to do if it were written on paper due to the time limit.”

However, like many other students, she would prefer to take the exam on paper rather than on a computer.

“I personally like to underline important parts of the documents on the exam which helps me stay focused. Especially with history, being able to mark up the documents is really important to understanding their meaning, which you need to know in order to answer the questions,” Vezenov said.

While students will not be able to write directly on their exams with a physical pen or pencil, there will still be tools on Bluebook that will allow students to cross out answer choices, highlight text, and create notes on their digital exams. In addition, each student will be given a piece of scratch paper before their exam to write rough drafts or notes. This paper will be purely for the convenience of the students and will not be scored.

Another concern arises among students that computerized tests may warrant a risk of headaches from staring at a screen for two to three hours while under considerable pressure. It can also be more distracting than a classic paper test. 

Despite the switch from paper to electronic tests, each exam’s format will remain the same. According to College Board, “digital exams include the same number of sections, number and type of questions, question choice (if applicable), and timing as the paper exams.” Furthermore, students can toggle between questions within their current section just as they would in traditional paper exams. Conveniently with digital exams, there will also be an option to bookmark specific questions that a student wishes to review, similar to folding the top corner of a page like on a paper exam.

However, one slight difference between electronic and paper exams is the addition of a small countdown clock at the top of each student’s screen, which shows the amount of time left for their current section. If students feel anxious about this, there is an option to hide the clock until it automatically returns for the last five minutes of each section.

Overall, taking AP exams on the computer prepares students for future online tests such as the PSAT, which will be taken digitally in October 2023, and the SAT which will be taken online from March 2023 onward.