Open your computers and begin

Digital AP exams enter the building


Photo courtesy of Abigail Beyene

AP English Literature and Composition students take their first timed writing digitally in preparation for the new exam format. AP Teachers will now have to change the format of some assignments to better prepare students for the AP exams.

The Fairfax County Public Schools High School Principals Association (HSPA) made the decision to implement digital Advanced Placement (AP) exams for May 2023. 

Seven AP courses are switching to the new digital exam format: AP Computer Science Principles, AP English Language and Composition, AP English Literature and Composition, AP European History, AP Seminar, AP U.S. History, and AP World History: Modern. 

The Advanced Academics Programs (AAP) office gathered a committee of key stakeholders to gather information regarding the digital exams. These stakeholders consist of FCPS staff from Advanced Academics, Instructional Technology, Office of Assessing and Reporting, High School Content Specialists, and AP Testing Coordinators and teachers. 

They considered the benefits of digital exams and whether the school district was technologically ready to administer them. Ultimately, the HSPA made the decision to implement these exams.

“The committee provided the information to FCPS high school principals, and ultimately, the principals decided they wanted all available digital exams to be administered digitally due to the benefits,” said High School Educational Specialist Rebecca Small. 

To aid the HSPA in their decision, the AAP office received feedback from many AP teachers via Schoology and email, with opinions both in favor and against proceeding with digital exams. All feedback was shared with the committee and taken into account when making the final decision.

The College Board tested the digital exams with two subjects during the last school year. FCPS opted out of the exams, but the schools that participated reported great success with the new exam format.

“The data from last school year for students who did take digital AP exams shows that students taking digital AP exams performed better than students who tested paper/pencil,” said Small. “A better performance was reported. So we naturally want FCPS students to benefit from taking digital AP exams.” 

The exams will be digital but not necessarily online, meaning the exam does not require an internet connection to run. Students only need to be connected to the internet for the beginning and the end of the exam. Regardless, certain tests need to be done to ensure there are no Wi-Fi crashes during the exam. 

“FCPS is currently reviewing our infrastructure to provide the best possible digital testing environment. This process includes central IT staff working with School-Based Technology specialists to make sure the Wi-Fi can handle the number of AP Testers and that there is a sufficient power supply in the testing rooms,” said Small. 

When it comes time to test, the tech team will be thoroughly briefed on what they need to do to prepare for the exams. 

“We are given the things to look out for on the technical side, like lockdown browsers in the software center, instructions for teachers, and instructions for students on how to run these programs,” said School-Based Technology Specialist Miriam Lynch. 

Students will use an application called Bluebook to take the exams. Sometime during winter or early spring, the tech team will help students prepare their computers for testing and installing Bluebook. Students will take these exams on their school-issued laptops, similar to the SOLs. 

In the meantime, students might want to start actually restarting those computers.