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Last Updated On: July 1st, 2024

In response to the upheaval of the last few years, many standardized tests switched up their formats in an attempt to allow students to take the tests even if they hadn’t returned to in-person learning. Some tests, such as the SAT which dropped their essay section, also used this period as an opportunity to attempt to improve access by making the test taking process easier. For the AP exams, the College Board had shortened online tests in 2020, and a mix of digital and paper tests for 2021. In 2022, as of now it looks as though most tests will return to in-person, but, per the College Board, they will, “continue to monitor global, national, and local health conditions, putting the health and safety of students first, and if there are widespread school closures in spring 2022, we’ll provide options similar to those offered in 2021.

There is, then, some possibility that tests may be administered digitally much the way they were in 2021. It pays to be aware of how your test will be administered and how you should adjust your expectations and preparations accordingly.

How Do I Know if My Test Will be Administered Digitally or on Paper?

Because this question is so dependent on epidemiological, political, and practical realities, there is still unfortunately some uncertainty. The best places to go for more information are your school, which will be administering the exam, and the College Board’s AP portal. Obviously, two years into this pandemic we are all aware that circumstances can change rapidly and unexpectedly, but fortunately schools and test administrators now have a system in place, and with the experience of administering digital exams in 2021, that will allow them to transition relatively easily to digitally formatted exams, if needed. There are also some schools that will offer the AP tests digitally in school. If your school is one of those that have taken this route, you should hopefully have been made aware by this point.

Additionally, you should be aware that if you are taking either Chinese or Japanese AP Exam, your test will be administered in school on computers regardless of the format of the other APs that year. If you are taking one of those two exams you will want to familiarize yourself with their specific format and adjust your practice accordingly.

If I’m Not Sure How My Test Will be Administered, How Should I Prepare?

The nice thing about the digital exams as they are currently formatted, is that the content is essentially identical between the paper and digital editions. Unlike our 2020 students who were forced to adapt to radically different exams under short notice, our students who took digital exams in 2021 generally felt as though their traditional preparation was adequate for preparing for the digital exams. While there are a few minor things you should be aware of if you do end up taking a digital exam (which we’ll go into in more detail below), in general preparing for the exam involves the same steps and studying in either format. You will want to make sure you are doing as well as you can in your AP class, have spent adequate time reviewing the material you covered earlier in the year, and have spent time taking some practice exams or exam sections to familiarize yourself with the exam format.

If you take a practice test and find it difficult, or you realize that there are gaps in your knowledge of the course material (either because you’ve forgotten material from earlier in the year or because something wasn’t covered adequately in your AP class), then you should make sure to budget time to seek outside help. This may mean setting up a study group with friends, meeting with your teacher, getting a tutor, or some combination of those options. It is important to start reviewing and evaluating your preparedness for the exam early enough (ideally at least a month or two ahead of time) that, if needed, you can take one or more of these steps and ensure you are prepared for your exam come May.

What Should I Do Once I Know My Exam Will be Administered Digitally?

If you find out that your exam will be administered digitally the first thing you should do is make sure you are fully prepared for the technical requirements needed. Last year the digital AP required an AP app, and although the 2022 version of the app is not yet available, it appears one will be required this year as well. Your school should hopefully make sure that any students taking the test digitally in school have adequate materials or devices, but you will certainly want to make sure you download and familiarize yourself with the app ahead of the actual exam. The College Board has more information about the app here.

The app will also contain some sample test sections that you could try as practice. Students will be able to see a countdown timer on their test and digitally annotate reading materials. Taking practice sections on the app and trying out those two features so you can find methods of test-taking that work well for you is a great idea. We find that sometimes students tend to read passages less carefully if they are on screens as opposed to on paper, so forcing yourself to annotate digitally is a great way to make sure you are comprehending and retaining what you are reading.

If you end up taking a digital exam at home, you will also want to make sure you have set up a quiet, comfortable test-taking location where you can focus and perform well on test day. That means making sure you are isolated as possible from any noise or distraction, and that your internet connection is adequate on test day. That might mean moving pets to another room, setting up a makeshift ‘cubicle’ out of binders, or asking siblings to refrain from streaming video during your test so that the wifi stays strong. Whatever the specifics are for you, make sure to make any adjustments ahead of time so that come test day you can focus on the exam.

What Can I Expect in Terms of Format Differences?

The format of the digital exam should be remarkably similar to the paper exam. However, depending on which test you are taking, there may be some slight superficial differences. There are a few types of questions that the College Board does not seem to want students to take digitally either because it would be harder to prevent cheating or because they do not present as well digitally. For example, last year the AP biology exam on paper required students to draw a few diagrams or graphs, but the digital exam evaluated those same skills with multiple-choice questions to keep students from having to draw on a computer. The digital AP history exams in 2021 featured two extra short answer questions (SAQs) in lieu of the traditional long essay question (LEQ). We don’t yet know what exactly the differences will be between the digital and paper exams this year, but expect that information to be released soon. Keep checking with your teacher or the College Board website to make sure you know about any format differences and plan accordingly.

Another, potentially more consequential test difference between the digital and paper exams is the calculator rule. In general, last year the more quantitative AP exams such as AB/BC calculus or some of the sciences allowed calculators on all portions of the digital exams. This was not always the case on the paper exams. If you are taking a quantitative AP exam, make sure you are aware of the calculator rules and requirements (and practicing with the correct calculator) ahead of time.

By checking ahead of time, adjusting to any changes, and taking practice sections in the correct format, you can be prepared to excel on your AP exams regardless of the format.

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