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2020 AP Exams: COVID-19 Impact and What You Need to Know

College • May 1, 2020 • M. Virginia H.


What you’ll learn

  • Changes to the AP Exams in light of COVID-19
  • How to prepare for the new AP Exams


It’s clear COVID-19 has shaken up most of our day-to-day routines and even some of our big picture plans. As a Junior enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) courses, I have definitely needed to adapt in regard to this year’s round of AP Exams.

AP classes are more than just difficult assignments attached to a GPA boost. For many students, taking an AP course is an opportunity to create a strong academic foundation in high school to then further explore that subject in college. Ideally, completing an AP course opens a plethora of opportunities, including earning college credits. Of course, this all depends on whether or not you actually pass your AP exam.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, everything we’ve been preparing for has essentially been thrown out the window.

Here’s what we know about the changes to AP exams

  • As College Board announced, all AP exams are now available online.
  • The AP exams have been reduced to 45-minute tests.
  • Addressing the fact that there are fewer controls in place, (College Board isn’t naïve) AP exams are now “open note.”

The exams will likely be cumulative and focus on applying recurring themes as opposed to being strictly content based. I think it’s safe to assume that many AP exams will have fewer objective questions, replaced by more subjective options. Because of this, AP students are studying in dramatically different ways, and in light of these changes, College Board has limited the amount of material that may appear on the exam.

For example, the AP U.S. History (APUSH) exam has been cut of all multiple choice and short answer sections and is now a 45-minute Database Essay Question, or DBQ. DBQ’s usually presents the student with an essay question and seven sources. Of these seven sources, students must use six in addition to their outside knowledge of the topic in an essay response. Even further changes have been made in the case of the APUSH exam, which has been shortened from seven articles to five.

How to prepare for the new AP exams

This is a great opportunity to show off what you know and how much you’ve comprehended throughout the year, as opposed to how much you crammed before the test. These changes can be overwhelming, so start preparing now for your new AP exams.

Here are some tips to help you study for this new AP exam format:

  • For a mostly subjective test, I would recommend focusing on technique (for writing based courses): stick to recurring patterns or themes and of course, know the facts related to your issue or story.
  • Also, while it may be contrary to your instinct, I suggest selecting the earlier date if your course offers multiple exam dates. This way, if you encounter any technical errors, you still have another date available to retake your exam.

Most of all though, trust in your teacher’s ability to prepare you and in colleges’ understanding of how recent events affect your academic year. Take a deep breath and relax, you’ve got this!


M. Virginia H. is a junior in high school in Delaware who enjoys challenging academics and visual arts.


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