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Last Updated On: September 15th, 2021

What a time it has been! So many things have changed, and changed back, and readjusted, and shifted, in the world of education. While things will certainly continue to change, knowing some of the possibilities can help us prepare for some of the options ahead. One of the changes that occurred was the use of multiple AP Exam formats, including the Digital AP Exam format. As we are starting the 2021-2022 school year, it is not too soon to think about the 2022 AP Exams and how the 2021 AP Exam experience might help students prepare in the best way for next spring’s tests.

What we saw in 2021

Due to the health concerns of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of the 2021 AP Exams were offered in a Digital AP Exam format. The formats available for various tests included standard pencil and paper tests, digital in-school tests, and digital at-home tests. These formats were selected and offered in multiple testing date sets. An entire breakdown of the offerings and the differences between them by subject can be found in this 2021 Format Document.

With all of the testing options, different students had different experiences in their preparation and their taking of the AP Exams. If you took any AP Exams in 2021, you may have found that you preferred or lamented the choice that your school made for your AP format. If you are registered for any AP course in the 2021-2022 school year, you will want to think about how the different formats work and what you might see during your 2022 AP Exam experience.

What might happen in 2022

The current schedule shows that the exams that are usually scheduled as pen and paper tests will be back to solely pen and paper (For more information, see the 2022 Schedule information, in the Important Updates for 2021-2022 of AP Central). Traditionally computer-based APs, Chinese and Japanese, are continuing on the computer.

If schools continue with pencil and paper tests in 2022, students will want to keep accustomed to testing with masks for up to three hours, if, as it seems, protective safety regulations are still in place. Other than that, the test will be administered as it always has been. In this case students will be well supported by school faculty and coordinators who are familiar with the pencil and paper AP Exam format. Tutors and resources are in place for the handwritten format.

However, as the state of the pandemic is still in flux, students will want to consider the advantage to being prepared for both options.

How to Prepare

For any test format, the College Board website has fantastic resources for their tests, including test information, practice free response questions, and webinars. Take advantage of the Resources provided by the College Board for your test. Additionally, you can review these 6 Expert Study Tips for Your AP Exams.

You can also prepare generally for testing by improving your study skills and reducing your test stress. Even if you have not had test anxiety before, you may find that changes in formats could give you some for just this case. If that happens you can read the Test Anxiety 3-blog series to get tips on reducing your AP Exam stress.

To prepare for the possibility of a Digital AP Exam format, students will want to review guides on taking tests in that style, such as Preparing for the 2021 AP Exams, or Preparing for the 2020 AP Exams (Although the 2020 Exams had some differences, the Digital Exam format was still present.), or Tips for Standardized Testing from Home.

A Quick Comparison of the Pros and Cons of the Digital Format to Pencil and Paper Format

The Digital AP Exam format has many pros and cons when compared to traditional pencil and paper tests.


  • Calculators are allowed in more exams, such as the Chemistry, Microeconomics, and Macroeconomics tests. This is helps to balance the benefits of students testing at home, where they could access their calculators. It also addresses the different questions that the College Board has developed to remove the benefit of at-home resource access.
  • Free responses are typed. This allows much easier editing, including copy/pasting, which can be great for organizing responses and adding supporting details to a response. Additionally, many students type more quickly than they write, allowing students to spend more time organizing and developing their thoughts on the questions.
  • At-home tests are taken in a comfortable and familiar environment, where there might not be as many distractions due to other students in the same room. Shoes are not required, and the bathroom is frequently much closer as well.


  • An initial set up is required for each exam to be taken. This set up must be done 1-3 days before the test, and an exam can not be taken if the set up was not done on the computer that the student is using for testing. Additionally, the student must sign in 30 minutes before the test. Although, a pencil and paper test also requires students to spend an initial amount of time before the exam begins.
  • Students must be aware of security measures in place for digital exams, which support consistency with at-home and on-site testing. These measures most notably include an inability to return to questions. This removes the ability to look over your test to find mistakes or to skip around to answer questions in your own order. This restriction will completely change time management during the test, so it needs to be considered carefully.
  • Responses must be typed. If you do not type as quickly as you write, this could be a disadvantage.
  • Home environments might have pet or sibling noise distractions during at-home Digital AP Exams. Fellow classmates with technical issues might cause noise distractions with in-school Digital AP Exams.

College/University responses to the AP Exam Formats

So far there does not seem to be much of a response from Colleges/Universities to distinguish the new format from the traditional one. Schools are standing by their AP policies, regardless of format (A source linking to various schools’ policies). As a result, if Digital AP Exams are offered in 2022, students will want to take the format that supports their strengths best.

As always, students will need to review their preferred college’s AP policies to know what to expect for transferable credit. Credit policies vary from no acceptance of AP scores at all to acceptance of scores of 3 and above. Scores of 5 are accepted at any school that takes AP scores, and 4s are most often accepted as well.

Generally, scores of a 2 are not accepted for credit; although the motivation to take the AP level course and the background gained during the course are still appreciated by most schools. A lower score on an AP exam will not give credits to a student but is still generally seen as a strength in a student’s profile unless the student is applying at the most competitive levels.

The benefits of AP Exams, whatever the format

In whatever format the 2022 AP Exams are taken, the benefits of the program remain. Taking AP courses gets students used to working deeply in academic subjects, surrounded by classmates who are also focusing on educational expansion. Whatever score a student receives on their tests, AP coursework will show students critical thinking and analysis skills.

If a student does not receive college credit because a school does not accept their score or because the test was in their major field, the student still gets a solid background in the material. If the student does get credit, they are freed to pursue other courses to expand their studies or complete their degree more rapidly and economically.

If preparation is a stepstool to success, these topics should give you that step. The rest of the steps are up to you, so get ready for the 2021-2022 AP Exam climb ahead, and remember to reach out to the handrails of support around you!

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