Why AP Essays Should Be Online

Alyssa Tang, Staff Writer 

*The opinions expressed within the content are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the website or its affiliates.*

Returning back to its pre-pandemic format, the College Board is administering most AP exams this year in-person with pencil and paper. In an attempt to limit COVID-19 transmission, the College Board allowed for open note abbreviated tests in 2020 and both in-person and online testing over four testing periods in 2021. This year, they were not as accommodating. While the return to pencil and paper format is warranted for STEM classes, all AP exams requiring essays should be allowed to be taken in digital form.

When the College Board significantly modified the testing procedures with the digital format of the past two years, math and science classes were most affected since the answers had to be typed. Additionally, students had to account for the extra time it takes to enter the work online while avoiding typographic errors. Therefore, departing from the digital format for math and science exams was an appropriate change for students. However, for classes like AP English Language and Composition, students have been typing their practice essays until recently, and having to switch to writing them by hand presents unnecessary challenges to students.

Unlike AP exams that require calculations and more problem solving, mandating essays to be written by hand becomes a test of how fast a student can write on paper. For most of the year, students have been trained to compose essays online, where lines can easily be edited and entire paragraphs can even be rearranged. In fact, current sophomores and juniors have spent most of their high school years learning online. Moreover, essays are seldom written by hand, if ever, in college. If the College Board’s goal is for students “to tackle college-level work while they’re still in high school and earn college credit and placement,”  they should allow students to type essays online to truly demonstrate their college-level analytic and writing skills.

Although some may claim that hosting humanities AP exams in-person is necessary to reduce cheating, the digital format can preserve test integrity if administered and proctored at schools. The College Board has already dedicated significant efforts into developing the CB Digital Exam app, which had been redesigned to prevent academic dishonesty and to be tolerant of internet disruption. For 2022, the new app, which will be used for a limited number of schools to administer the AP English Literature and AP World History exams, allows students to skip and return to test questions within a section or part. Since there are built-in safeguards to this app, all AP exams requiring essays should be administered digitally.

The College Board should be commended for their flexibility in the last two years. However, the new format that the unprecedented times forced them to introduce can actually be something that can help students do better on their exams—if the change is here to stay. The College Board should once again allow students to effectively demonstrate their mastery of content rather than mastery of writing quickly by administering typed essays and free responses for non-STEM exams.