Teachers and students adapt for 2021 AP tests


Rebecca Von Tersch

Distance learning leaves many teachers and students scrambling to prepare for the tests, which are set to take place in May.

With the pandemic in full swing, many students are worried about the upcoming 2021 Advanced Placement (AP) tests and whether they are truly prepared for testing due to the hurdles of online learning.

Many AP teachers are facing difficulty preparing due to the barriers of distance learning. They are trying to adapt to prepare their classes with the same high-level teaching as in previous years.  

The AP tests were remote and slightly shortened in 2020 due to the unprecedented conditions of COVID-19. Teachers like Andrew Ramroth, Carlmont’s BC Calculus teacher, described the AP tests at the start of COVID-19 as different from past years.

“Last spring, we had tests where it was very quick, without a lot of questions, and it was in a very different format than previous years,” Ramroth said.

Most students believe that they are getting all of the information they need for the tests. But their teachers are giving them less time during class to work. Mabel Sum, a junior in three AP classes, said that she regularly has more work assigned than normal.

Some of my AP classes have assigned more work than they usually would have in normal years,”

— Mabel Sum, Carlmont junior

“For all of my classes, we’re practicing material we expect to see on the tests… Some of my AP classes have assigned more work than they usually would have in normal years, or allocated less class time to work, which means [classwork] becomes homework,” Sum said.

In a typical year, teachers will give their students the information they need for the tests, along with any other material they might need. This year, however, some teachers have had to modify their curriculum. 

“I’m teaching less than usual… I always teach what I’m expected to teach, but I usually like to go beyond that and throw in more content, work on other general skills, and explore different areas of calculus,” Ramroth said. “I’m not able to do that part as much. I’m making sure they’re all ready for the test and doing as much of that extra stuff as I can, but it’s less than a regular course.”

Until 2020, the AP tests had been relatively similar for years. However, with the pandemic conditions, the tests had to change to fit remote learning. 

“This is my 12th year teaching AP Calculus… Sometimes a few things [would change]. There was one year where they changed the allotment of questions where you could use a calculator or could not use a calculator. Some years the difficulty level of [the test] changes because they are trying to predict a normal distribution of scores,” Ramroth said.

Some students have found this year’s classes to be overwhelming. The pandemic has created a situation where students find themselves with more homework and less time to learn everything in class.

“[My teachers] assign a large amount of work that I often can’t finish, or feel very stressed trying to complete… Although I expected an increase in homework because it is an AP class, it is especially difficult to keep up in Zoom classes,” Sum said.

Since Carlmont uses the distance learning format this year, most teachers have to film or create digital versions of their lessons. This is both helpful and harmful to students.

“This year is a lot different; kids have a lot of time, in theory, to take their time with my videos and to take their time solving the problems,” Ramroth said. “I need to also be mindful of the fact that in a regular year, even though I’m up there teaching, there are kids sitting in front of me not paying attention because they’re thinking about 10 other things. Another downside is the ability to ask and answer questions in the classroom.”

Another challenge is the uncertainty of the test format itself.  Many teachers, Ramroth included, are unsure of what the AP tests will look like for sure this year. College Board, the organization in charge of AP testing, has released a few statements about the tests to teachers, but he feels they will be similar to 2020’s tests.

“[College Board said] that it won’t be different than a regular year. That’s the last I heard. I personally do not think that’s going to happen. The data is such that that’s unlikely, so I’m still waiting to hear exactly what it’s going to look like. My guess would be that it would be some sort of short, kind of fast-paced online test,” Ramroth said.

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