So you’ve taken the AP Chem ‘Exam’ in ’20. What will your score be?

Written by Adrian
On May 14, 2020

Of course, the question above assumes that you managed to upload files today, and/or that your re-take will go smoothly … but … ignoring that minor detail …

… on the face of it, and on the basis of what we know right now, whatever your score is it will bear virtually zero relation to any AP chemistry score generated previously.

DISCLAIMER: Alright, so I’ll be the first to admit that statistics is not my strong point, and I KNOW that there are a MILLION ways to massage the raw data to allow it to tell you whatever you want it to. I also know that the CB have a small army of people dedicated to such. I am willing to learn, but here’s some simple math that makes me wonder about grade boundaries in 2020. Maybe everything below is flawed, but if it is, I’d love someone to explain it to a statistics simpleton like me.

So, normally on FRQs, 105 mins for 46 points. That means that in 40 mins of testing in 2020, the equivalent number of points is 17.5.

Now, Packer has said that the 2020 questions will be deliberately too long, so let’s be INCREDIBLY generous, and say that the questions will be TWICE as long as they should be. That would mean that 35 points would be available for someone that DID manage to finish all of the questions in the given time. (BREAKING EDIT: Twitter reports that one version of the ‘exam’ had a Q1 with a-l (12 parts), and Q2 with a-h (8 parts) – this is UNCONFIRMED, and I have NOT seen the questions. If this is correct, and IF they are scored in a traditional sense, some of those parts will be worth one point, some worth two points, and perhaps a few worth 3 points. If that’s true, the raw score is likely to be out of approx. 30 points, maybe a few more, I guess).

The approx. usual range per grade boundary is somewhere between 12 and 15% of the points. In 2019, AP teachers determined that the cut off scores were in the region of 50, 65 and 78 for a 3, 4, and 5 respectively, i.e., 50%, 65% and 78%. If we apply those %’s to the potential points of 17.5 (lowest possible end), and 35 (highest possible end), we get the following.

What that means is that in raw score terms, if similar criteria are applied (and I suppose THAT’S the weak spot here), there could be as few as 4.55 points between a 5 and a 4, or even as little as 2.27 points, with similar ranges across other grade boundaries.

Then there’s a whole OTHER, potential problem. For those of you that don’t know, the multiple-choice section of the exam contains 60 questions, but 10 of those questions do not count toward your final score. They exist purely for statistical purposes, that in part, allow grade boundaries to be set each year in order to account for the relative difficulty (or relative ease) of any given exam. Having heard for years and years about the importance of the ten, repeated MCQs in determining grade boundaries, any word on how this will all go down in 2020? No. The data is missing, and we’ve been told since the beginning of time that this data is crucial and central to the process of awarding grades. What gives? There are also at least six or seven versions of the exam out there, with more to come on June 2nd, for a total that will certainly be in the teens, maybe even more. How do we standardize the scoring on that lot? ‘Impossible’.

Now, as I say VERY plainly above, I fully understand that my understanding of this is rudimentary at best, AND I know all kinds of multipliers and jiggery-pokery can be applied to numbers before assessing grade boundaries, but this statistical neophyte is wanting to be schooled – so someone, please go ahead, I’m listening.

In one experienced teacher’s estimation, getting a ‘3’ on the AP chemistry ‘exam’ in 2020 will require a student getting around 35%, of approx. 76% of the content, (units 8 & 9 missing) correct, as opposed to approx. 50% of 100% of the content correct in a ‘normal’ year. This is in addition to the open book nature of the 2020 ‘exam’, AND the fact that students can interact, undetected with whomever they like during this ‘exam’ this year. And some people still think this is a ‘legitimate’ way to assess students, and will comparable to years past? They are delusional.

In 2020 I will NOT report ANY AP scores for my own students, not with asterisks or with disclaimers. I will simply NOT report these (relatively) meaningless scores.


  1. Avatar

    I love reading your analysis and comments. I almost begged my principal not to participate this year. Our students have such precarious home lives. But being a former AP Physics teacher he assured me it would be “easier” this year. He has lost touch. I am so mad at myself for listening to him – but as an employee … one has no choice.
    My best students were not able to submit … since school is out May 26 – who is going to help them June 2nd? Me of course because that is what I do …
    Now I am faced with constructively trying to convince my students that they did learn some chemistry – even though I can’t prove it to them with my final exam.

    • Adrian

      Hi Terri – Thanks for your comment. TBH, uploading problems are the least disastrous thing about this ‘exam’. Its integrity was 100% shot before any ‘SUBMIT’ button was ever clicked in vain. Even if the CB correct all these issues, and all the kids that want to end up successfully submitting in June, that will not change.

  2. Avatar

    Is the 2020 exam posted yet? I’d love to see it.

    • Adrian

      By the time the late exam is done on June 2nd, there could be as many as 20 versions of the 2020 ‘exam’ that will have been administered. On May 26th, the CB are going to publish something (as yet undefined) behind the audit wall for teachers. They have said they will not place it in the public domain. I have seen at least three versions of the ‘exam’ from yesterday on Reddit, and heard about several others from my various students.

  3. Avatar

    You won’t report scores of your students – where? Also assuming your entire analysis is correct, you don’t provide alternative solution what CB should have done? If you know IB cancelled all final exams this year but still kept all fees and still giving IB diplomas to seniors with largely internal assessment (done within school) scores. Do you think CB should have honored high school grades and attached AP scores to it? Would that be more fair than how they did it? Just like you mention openness of exam, high school grades are cheated too. To me CB gave so many questions that there is little room kept for students to interact with someone else if they really attempt reasonable number of questions. As far as its only so much percentage of chemistry they learned compared to previous years, how come educators sending kids to next grade without teaching them last three months. How come you go to calculus without learning pre-calculus of last 3 months?

    • Adrian

      >You won’t report scores of your students – where?

      Here for example.

      >you don’t provide alternative solution what CB should have done?

      Yes I did, the exams should have been canceled.

      >Do you think CB should have honored high school grades and attached AP scores to it?

      Nope, as you say, transcript grades are corrupt, too, but pointing to one broken corrupt system doesn’t ‘uncorrupt’ the other!

      • Avatar

        Cancelling exam is not alternative solution as IB also did and awarded diploma and essentially gave scores. If cancelling exams in true sense (not giving any score by any means) is your solution then its same as my idea of NOT sending kids to next grade. Complete grade when ever schools open then only start next grade. Will you agree to such step? (you may have taught online but truth is vast majority of students nationwide did nothing since March)

        • Adrian

          I’m not trying to solve a problem here, I’m simply saying that the illegitimate AP ‘exams’ in 2020 should have been canceled. Period.

          The other considerations are not connected to that IMO, and require an entirely different conversation, that frankly, I’m not especially interested in. All I’m saying is that with absolutely ZERO control over students consulting with ANYONE that they wanted to during the ‘exams’, that the ‘exams’ (and their scores) are 100% bogus in 2020. That’s where all of this begins and ends for me. You seem to be concerned about a wider consideration – I’m not.

          • Avatar

            Got it and that’s fine. My problem is very respected educators like yours just say this is all bogus (which almost anyone can say – student, parent or even person not even involved in education) when something is taken at home without any supervision but do not offer any other viable solution. Problem is what if we never go back to school for 1 more year. Just like last 3 months never happened in history, anything is possible, right? Then what we do. Just say everything is bogus and go on with life? By the way I don’t think there are enough experts available to help all AP students same time at same place and still get results. There is always cheating even in school AP exams. Yes it may be little more at home but still it will be much minor percentage of overall AP student population. Again just like you can not prove how many cheated, I can not prove how many not cheated so both arguments are not useful and does not add value.

          • Adrian

            >My problem is very respected educators like yours just say this is all bogus (which almost anyone can say – student, parent or even person not even involved in education) when something is taken at home without any supervision but do not offer any other viable solution

            You’re not making any sense. I see no problem that requires a “solution”. ALL I am saying is that the ‘exams’ are illegitimate. I believe that is the undeniable truth, and has NOTHING to do with any ‘problem’ you or anyone else perceives there to be!

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