Exploring the Pros and Cons of Digital AP Testing

Digital AP exams began as early as the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic with students nationwide participating in the first-ever online AP exam administered at home in May 2020. However, the subsequent return to traditional paper-and-pencil exams followed shortly thereafter.

In May 2023 , the College Board provided digital options for 7 of the 38 AP exams subjects, which means that schools could choose to opt for paper or digital testing for the following subjects. More than 3,600 schools administered 320,000 digital AP Exams.

2023 Digital AP Exam Subjects:

  1. AP English Language and Composition

  2. AP English Literature and Composition

  3. AP European History

  4. AP Seminar

  5. AP U.S. History

  6. AP World History: Modern

  7. AP Computer Science Principles

For the May 2024 AP exams, these 7 subjects continue to offer a digital option, and a new addition to the lineup is the AP African American Studies, exclusively available in a digital format for pilot schools.

Next year, however, all 9 AP subjects will be going fully digital for the May 2025 AP exams. Paper exams will only be allowed for special circumstances, with approval required. Furthermore, six additional subjects are anticipated to adopt the digital format in 2026, supplementing the nine from 2025, although this list is subject to change. Official list for May 2026 exams will be released in early 2025.

            2025 Digital AP Exam Subjects

            2026 Additional Digital AP Exam Subjects

            1. AP African American Studies 
            (first year this exam is available to all U.S. schools) 

            1. AP Art History 
            2. AP Computer Science Principles 
            2. AP Comparative Government and Politics 
            3. AP English Language and Composition 
            3. AP Computer Science A
            4. AP English Literature and Composition 
            4. AP Human Geography 
            5. AP European History
            5. AP Latin 
            6. AP Psychology 
            (first year this exam is offered in digital format)

            6. AP United States Government and Politics 
            7. AP Seminar 

            8. AP United States History 

            9. AP World History: Modern 

            Traditional Paper vs Digital AP Format 

            The administration of the AP computer-based exam mirrors its paper counterpart, overseen by the school's proctor. Proctoring and seating arrangements remain unchanged. Unlike the computer-based SAT test, there are no alterations to the content of the AP computer-based exam, aligning closely with its traditional paper format. The computer-based test maintains continuity within the same test session, allowing students to review, correct, and complete previous questions. However, just like the paper version, revisiting a completed test session is not permitted.

            The Advantages and Drawbacks of Digital AP Exams: 

            Pros and Cons, Student Feedback

            The Advantages and Drawbacks of Digital AP Exams:  Pros and Cons, Student Feedback

            Benefits and Challenges of the Digital AP Exams

            The digital AP exams have significantly increased efficiency in test administration. Eliminating the need for paper materials and shipping reduces the burden on proctors and coordinators. Additionally, the use of Chromebooks and familiar laptops for recording speaking portions reduces technological obstacles, providing a smoother testing experience for students. Transition to digital exams has also positively impacted the readability of student responses. Graders, including AP readers, find typed characters easier to understand than handwritten essays. This not only enhances the grading process but also improves overall comprehension, benefiting both students and evaluators.

            Amid the benefits, concerns loom over the security and proper administration of digital exams. Potential issues such as WiFi outages raise questions about the reliability of the digital testing infrastructure, demanding vigilant measures to ensure a secure testing environment. Additionally, the shift to digital exams necessitates a reevaluation of teaching strategies, especially for aspects like essay annotation, posing challenges for educators accustomed to traditional pencil-and-paper exam preparation.

            Positive Feedback for the Digital AP Testing

            Students express a positive favorability towards the digital testing format due to its efficiency in speeding up the writing process compared to the traditional paper exams. 

            "Digital testing really speeds up the writing, and we're so used to typing on the computer for our regular studies. However, during the exam, we had to switch to handwriting within a limited time, and it felt slow and rigid."

             The ability to easily edit and revise using copy-paste and delete commands also enhances the drafting process, providing students with more time to refine their essays.

            Many also highlight the advantage of digital exams in terms of time management. The digital option provides students with more time to revise and submit well-drafted essays. Students appreciate the digital format for its ability to aid in pacing during exams. The inclusion of a timer on the screen helps students manage their time effectively.

            Moreover, the application directing students to specific parts of the passage during the multiple-choice section is seen as advantageous. 

            Negative Feedback for the Digital AP Testing

            While others favor the digital format and its perceived advantages, some students have also expressed a preference for traditional paper-based writing, some highlighted the challenge of gauging the amount written in the digital text box impact their sense of organization and control during the essay portion, making it difficult to maintain clarity in their responses. The limitations of the digital format, particularly the text box constraints, pose difficulties in tracking response length and visualizing argument structures, potentially impeding the quality of essay writing compared to the conventional paper-and-pencil format.

            The Future of AP Testing

            The shift to digital testing reflects the College Board's adaptation to the evolving technological landscape. Offering digital exams aligns with the modernization of education and allows students to utilize familiar tools like keyboards. The increased interest and participation in digital formats, as demonstrated by the significant number of schools and students opting for digital AP Exams, indicate a positive response to the integration of technology in the testing environment.

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            Exploring the Pros and Cons of Digital AP Testing
            7EDU Impact Academy 26 January, 2024
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