COVID-19, AP Chemistry 2020, and the College Board

March 20, 2020

At approx. 11.15 AM this morning we got word from the College Board on the plans for the AP Chemistry exam in 2020 in the wake of COVID-19. Firstly the facts, in a nutshell, for AP Chemistry.

  • No face-to-face exams in 2020
  • Instead, 45 minute, at home/online tests
  • 2 different dates to be announced April 3rd. (My guess is that one will likely be around May 7th, one later)
  • UNITS 1-7 from the CED will be examined, but NOT UNITS 8-9
  • 100% refunds available
  • No MCQ questions, only FRQ’s (this particular detail was announced a few hours later by Trevor Packer on Twitter)

Packer’s Twitter thread has a bunch of other information, and you can read it below.

Now, all of this raises a ton of questions, here are just a few of the most obvious, but frankly there are a million more.

1. How can cheating ACTUALLY be stopped, and therefore how can the integrity of the ‘exams’ be maintained?

I literally cannot see any way to prevent an expert being in the room, helping a student on the exam, even considering webcams, IDs, lock-down browsers etc. These cryptic words came from Packer; The at-home AP Exams this year will not include any multiple-choice questions, only free-response questions adapted for secure testing at home. They will measure skills that can’t be learned from Google or chats with friends. By April 3, we will post the specifics for each exam.

I suppose I should say that I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, but I am LONGING for ANYONE to explain to me, in simple terms, how cheating can be avoided. I literally don’t think that’s possible. I also have NO idea what, “They will measure skills that can’t be learned from Google or chats with friends” means, and it speaks to my ultimate conclusion below.

2. What about teachers and kids that have NOT taught in the chronological order of the CED. How is this maintaining the integrity of the test and course for them?

The answer is that it isn’t (see below)

3. If the CB has cancelled SAT’s (that they have on May 2nd), why not cancel AP’s?

I suspect it’s nothing more than attempt to avoid hundred of thousands of kids cancelling their exams, and with it the loss of income.

4. Why are colleges prepared to offer credit for an exam/course that will be decimated?

TBH, that’s a problem for the colleges, NOT me or the kids. If they are going to award credit for a decimated exam/course, that’s their problem, not mine, but it’s indicative of the lack of integrity of the whole situation.

Questions 1 and 2 above are enough for me, but ALL questions relating to this situation are really irrelevant to the single, overriding consideration that means that the AP exams should be completely cancelled in 2020. It’s a consideration that American educators seems to have a complete blind-spot about. Time and time again I’ve seen no outrage when this problem has reared it’s ugly head before (albeit in very different circumstances). I don’t understand why American educators are not constantly aggrieved by it. Simply put, it’s this.

Rather than make the right call, the College Board have decided to move the goalposts. The whole academic year has been conducted upon an understanding of an exam being offered (and taken) in accordance with a set of rules and protocols that (admittedly through no fault of the College Board – but that fact is irrelevant), have now radically changed, and have become utterly untenable in their original intention and format. As such, the AP exams should not go ahead. We’ve been working toward a goal that has now completely shifted. The answer is to cancel the AP exams in full, and not to ask students and teachers to compete with one another in a new game, which has little or no relation to the preparation that we have all been working toward for the last seven months. The right thing would be to cancel the AP exams in full for 2020, not make up a new set of rules on the fly. It’s fundamentally unfair, and lacking in integrity.



  1. Richard Woo

    Very well said. I agree with you. My disappointment for the AP Board started when they stop the AB portion of ComSci A…
    Their logic was students couldn’t pass the test so they took he difficult portions out. When even that wasn’t enough, They introduced ComSci Principles…
    Instead of setting the bar high and helping kids reach the bar, they are lowering the bar so they can get more kids to take the test. (The same reason they changed the test ordering date in 2019)

  2. Caitlin Adelson

    Colleges will likely give full credit for college students in general chem courses that will not include complete coverage of the curriculum. So, how is this any different. I am okay with their decision. Teachers who taught their courses in their own order were gambling from the start with the College Board’s promises of Progress checks and the binder. I would be devastated not just as a teacher but as a parent of a junior who is rock solid in her AP course work. I am grateful that she will be provided the opportunity to take these exams after her nearly full year of hard work.

    • Adrian

      “The binder” – what has that got to do with ANYTHING?? As for progress checks, meaningless until review.

    • Adrian

      It’s a joke. A lack of integrity as per usual with the CB. Typical.

    • Rhanne

      No teachers are not gambling by not following the order of the units… My kids miss more school in spring than fall, which means if I had waited till not to teach the two hardest units of study, I would have had the issue of kids constantly being gone for various reasons… I had to make a choice about what was most beneficial to my students and got maximum results for the material. As for progress checks, since so many of the questions are flawed in some way and no numerical values cannot be given to them, it is completely up to students whether they use them or not, therefore making them irrelevant.

  3. Paul

    The CB has said kids can get a refund at no cost.
    What else can they do?
    The kid that has been building their AP art portfolio for maybe 2 years… No assessment? That is your option.
    Come on. I know you don’t like things, but they are allowing kids to take the exams or submit for assessments if they want. They are allowing refunds.

    What do option do you want if those two things are unacceptable?
    Cancel? That is better than a refund?
    Come on Adrian.

    • Adrian

      Yes. These exams will have ZERO credibility. Period. Read my last paragraph too – teachers are being taken. Again.

  4. Gordon Watson

    I notice that the first Review Lessons scheduled are Unit 8, but they’ve said Units 1-7 only in the Exam.

    Which version do I trust?

    • Adrian

      Both. That’s just the CB being their usual, ridiculous selves.

  5. Peter Moskaluk

    It is possible to give secure exams online. Proctor U has a system that is already in use and may is more secure than the present system which relies on the vigilance integrity of thousands of schools and proctors. However, the College Board could not implement the Procor U hardware requirements this year because students would be required to have a laptop with a camera and microphone.
    Since the exam will only cover 2/3 of a typical college 1st year course omitting the most important topics, I’m sure colleges will not allow students to place out of 1st year chem without testing them again.

    • Adrian

      So a third party cannot be hiding in the room, reading from a second monitor, writing answers on a whiteboard and showing the kid???

      • Peter Moskaluk

        I haven’t tried the Proctoru system, but colleges and businesses use it. From the description it looks as if the laptop has to be set up with a clear view of the person taking the test, and a microphone must be active. They use a facial matching system for proof of the person taking the test. AI can track eye movements and eye focus petty well now so the test taker must be looking at the test in front of them. If the AI detects any anomalies such as glancing away from the test, then one of the online staff comes in to check what is wrong. It may be possible to cheat, but it will be very difficult. Students in classroom settings have found less complex ways to cheat right now. I think this will a future method of testing. The company has merged and looks like it will millions of dollars backing it. I doubt though from crude the CB’s online testing of CLEP and their present web sites that they are capable of doing anything close to this level of tech yet. From what I read it looks like the CB will just be looking for plagiarism on FRQ’s using the common “matching” phrases software which won’t work if someone else is taking the test for them or, they have help.

        I may be wishfully thinking since I teach online and believe that ultimately online schooling with teacher interaction, like your tutoring is the future.

        • Adrian

          As you say, NONE of this will be in place for 2020, and as a result the AP ‘EXAM’ will be a SHAM this year.

        • Jen Lee

          I have taken tests under the ProctorU system. First you have to show your picture id, and do several face scans, and a knuckle scan, and show around your environment as best as possible (pick up laptop or camera). They record the entire thing and it sends a flag even if your eyes deviate from the screen or your paper. If someone walks in the room and you talk, or they talk, it is flagged. The flags show up to the instructor as “events” to check on to ensure everything’s kosher.

          • Adrian

            Clearly the system can be brutally abused – and that’s not in place here anyway.

      • Peter Moskaluk

        The AI facial recognition, eye focus-tracking analysis could easily spot a student focusing on something behind the screen and even of a screen within a screen. However. I’m pretty sure that the system would have the subject take the test on paper while in view of the laptop screen and then the subject would hold up the test to the screen to have the answers recorded. So any looking around would immediately be detected. Again though this is way beyond what the CB would be able to do this year or probably in the near future.

  6. richard ungvarsky

    Adrian, President Trump declared standardized tests are not to be enforced due to Covid-19 so why is AP college board setting up online testing for students at home on designated dates?

    • Adrian

      Yes, I saw that. The answer to your question is $.

      • richard ungvarsky

        Isn’t there someway to boycott or demand an answer from the AP College Board as to why they are not following our President’s directives. Aren’t there some consequences for this lack of compliance?

        • richard ungvarsky

          Isn’t there someway to boycott or demand an answer from the AP College Board as to why they are not following our President’s directives. Aren’t there some consequences for this lack of compliance?

  7. Dave Hale

    The “review sessions” that CB published on 3/25/10 are on Unit 8 (acid base) which is supposed to excluded from 2020 AP chem test. Thousands of students were viewing the LiveStream published on YouTube accessed from the CB website.

    Why is CB publishing Livestream content on a unit that is supposed to be cut from the test – and then publishing the link on the “coronavirus-update” page?

    Am I missing something?

    • Adrian

      No, the CB are dumb!

      UNIT 8 is NOT on the test for 2020, but rather than realize that leaving the UNIT 8 review will confuse people, they leave it there. It’s idiotic.


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