By: Katie Borders
As many high school students are aware, May is the most stressful month of the school year as high schoolers from all over the world get ready to take AP tests.There are many stress factors leading up to AP Exams, the most important being having an understanding of the content and applying the content to free response questions, like Long Essay Questions, Short Answer Questions, and Document Based Questions. However, one factor causes unnecessary added stress to students’ workload as they get ready for their AP Exams: handwriting their free response answers.
Starting in May of 2023, College Board slowly began to move away from handwritten responses and gradually towards digital testing. The free response portion of the AP Exams is weighted to more than 50% of a student’s total score, so receiving low scores on the free response makes the difference between getting a 2 or a 5 on the exam. Digital test taking takes away students’ worry of not being able to produce their responses fast enough. According to Capitalize My Title, people “type at about 40 words per minute,” while they can only “handwrite at 20 words per minute.” With digital testing, students are able to compose their responses based on their actual knowledge of the subject, instead of trying to scribble all of the information down, constantly worrying about time and making responses legible. Given the handwritten requirement for past AP Exams, when an AP grader could not read a student’s handwriting, the student received a lower score based on legibility rather than lack of knowledge of the material. The goal of AP Exams, stated by College Board, is “to measure how well [a student] mastered the content and skills of a specific AP course.” With a full transition from handwritten AP Exams to digital test taking, AP Exams would be more focused on testing students content-wise, rather than just deducting points because of bad handwriting.
Although College Board has started to relax their policy on handwritten responses for AP Exams by adding a digital option, problems still arise because school administrations can decide if its students will take the handwritten or digital version. Thus, some students still have to take the handwritten version, while others take the digital test-taking version. Allowing each school to decide for its own students is extremely unfair, unstandardized, and must be changed. Students who type their responses can fully focus on answering the questions and displaying their understanding of the content; however they are graded the same as students without those advantages. In contrast, those who have to hand write their free responses must struggle with making their handwriting readable, writing as fast as possible, and displaying their sophisticated understanding of the material.
The answer is simple: AP Exams must become standardized with digital tests and the decision should not be left to each individual school district. In 2021 alone, College Board made a revenue of $1,669,268,522, and it holds billions of dollars to finance College Board activities. With its abundance of money, College Board should lend out computers to schools that don’t have access to digital devices in order to ensure fair testing.
(Sources: College Board, Capitalize My Title, Total Registration)