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Error in AP Chemistry ‘Exam’ 2020 confirmed

July 20, 2020

A couple of weeks ago I wrote to Jamie Benigna (Director AP Chemistry Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment) to ask about an error that I spotted in one of the questions used in the AP Chemistry ‘exam’ in 2020. Here’s an extract from the email that I sent to him.

In VR216985 (and I guess other questions that use the same data), X in parts j and k appears to clearly be Mg (consistent with most of the data shown), which would mean there is a typo in the question for the 4th ionization energy.

Essentially the data presented gave an incorrect 4th ionization energy (The correct value being 10,600 kJ/mol and the value given being much higher).

Today I received confirmation from Benigna that indeed it was an error, and that this error appeared on the actual ‘exam’ of those students that had that question. Here’s part of his reply.

When you access the question in AP Classroom, there should be the following footnote: (He then gave a screenshot of the footnote that describes the College Board’s error, and that can be seen in AP Classroom).

Please let me know if the footnote does not appear when you view the question, and I will alert the AP Classroom team to correct the file.  The Question Leader for this prompt did not report any instances of students attempting to use the split between IE3 and IE4 in their response, but it was a conditionality that Readers were trained to address in their scoring.

Regarding his last sentence in bold above, I’m afraid that he misses the point, and the damage has been done at this point. His implication that no student used the incorrect data, so ‘all is well’, is UTTERLY false and misleading. Here’s my response to his reply which explains why this is nowhere near good enough.

Of course, the fact that no kid referred to the IE3/IE4 split is not the point at all! In the ‘exam’ this year, given the enormous pressure, and all of the other unhelpful factors surrounding it, a mistake like that in the question was bound to be horribly distracting to many students, almost certainly disadvantaged a number of kids, and cost them points. As an ex-teacher, you know how things like this can cause a real problem, especially for high achieving kids that see the error, and find it debilitating as they try to somehow rationalize it, and time ticks by. I believe I have at least one such student who was hurt by this mistake.

The error was of course a function of the haste that the ‘exam’ was cobbled together, but that makes in no less galling for kids who will have certainly suffered, but where that suffering will not have be reflected in what readers saw. In short, a reader not seeing a reference to the IE3/4 split does NOT mean that there’s no problem here.
This will now be the end of the matter I am sure. The College Board is NEVER held accountable, and if you were a student that had a question with this error in it, the fact that you were likely distracted and disadvantaged is not something they care about. The ‘exams’ in 2020 took place because they chose $ over integrity, so this gentle ‘brushing under the carpet’ of this latest unfairness is consistent with their MO. Caveat Emptor.


  1. Jiwoo Rhee

    My daughter got 3 in ap chemistry exam but she disagreed with her score. We want to confirm score system .

    • Adrian

      I’ll happily grade the exam for you if you have the original answers.

  2. Peter Moskaluk

    Just had note from one of my top students who would normally have received a 5 on the exam. Your description “… especially for high achieving kids that see the error, and find it debilitating as they try to somehow rationalize it…” is exactly what he expressed. I had to tell him that this is a case of injustice that shows up in large institutions and that even though the CB ranked him as a 4, that they were most likely wrong and that when he goes on to college as a star chem student, he can brag that he was such a strong chemistry student that he had recognized an error on the AP Chem exam.

    • Adrian

      Honestly Peter, it stinks, and it’s not good enough, and NONE of this would have ever happened if the exams had been cancelled as they should have been.

  3. Khai T.

    The AP chemistry test is not serving for any good purposes, because:
    1/ Tests are not well structured to check the fundamental knowledge required for the class; instead they
    contains in their FRQ sections the wordy combining problems which prevent students from separating topics they learned.
    2/ Not all students would use the score they obtain for college credit.
    3/ Not all colleges would accept the score for their class credits.
    4/ The high school AP chemistry classes already have chapter tests and final test to grade their students. There is
    no need for another one.

    • Adrian

      Well, if you know anything about me, you’ll know that I’m certainly not going to rush to the defense of the College Board, but I will say the following.

      1. The increasing wordiness of the AP chemistry FRQs (AND MCQs) is without question a huge . It’s turned parts of the exam into a reading comprehension which is ‘not chemistry’. That’s a big issue on its own, but it’s especially hard on students without English as their first language, who are otherwise great chemistry students.

      As for ‘separating topics’, sorry, but ‘chemistry is chemistry’ so I see no value in that criticism.

      2. I don’t care about this at all. The whole system of college credit in high school, dual credit, and all the scams that go with it are total nonsense IMO, so that’s part of a bigger problem that has nothing to do with AP chemistry per se.

      3. See 2.

      4. I TOTALLY disagree here. The AP exam offers a standardized test, that is administered nationally, and offers a good, worthwhile, ‘like-for-like’ comparison between students. I’ve witnessed far too many “AP” classes that are absolute garbage, where kids are not assessed corrected, or deeply enough, to know that anything other than such a standardized national exam is just not an accurate assessment of kid’s knowledge. In that regard, despite it’s flaws, the AP exam still has a lot of value in its own, limited way.


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