My position on the 2020 AP Chem ‘exam’

Written by Adrian
On April 06, 2020

A lot has happened since the College Board first announced that the 2020 AP Chemistry ’exam’ would be going ahead in a vastly modified format. At the beginning of this process there was an enormous amount of uncertainty. Some (perhaps most) of that uncertainty still remains, but we are now at a point where we have just about all of the information that we are likely to get. As a result, I think it’s an appropriate time to summarize all of my thoughts regarding AP Chemistry in 2020.

When an unprecedented crisis hits the fan, you need strong leadership, that above all else does two things;

  • Communicates unambiguously with authority, and
  • Is able to make the RIGHT call, even if the consequences of those decisions are painful and inconvenient.

IB, A Level, GCSE, SAT, US state testing, MCAT, LSAT, and a host of other exams similar to AP, all cancelled, and yet here we are. There are multiple problems with the College Board’s decision to go ahead with the AP ‘exams’, and it’s difficult to know which of the following has been executed most poorly, but here are a few initial things to consider. Each of the following alone make the idea that AP Chemistry is being examined in a legitimate manner in 2020, frankly a joke.

  • The jettisoning of approx. 20-25% of the material, especially the nature of that material
  • Making a decision regarding which units should be tested, thus penalizing many students and teachers who have considered the content in a different order than the chronological order in the course and exam description
  • Going to an online, open book format

There are even more, profoundly important considerations in terms of many other groups of students, for example;

Students with English as a second language face a very significant issue. In many cases under normal circumstances, these students are relatively penalized in the free response section of the exam via their language challenges. They often make-up that shortfall via their performance in the multiple-choice section. The 2020 format means that these students will be directly penalized by an ‘exam’ that offers only free-response questions.

Secondly, in the Asia/Pacific region the AP chemistry ‘exam’ will be administered at one of two, local times 2020. Either at 2.00 AM on May 15th, or 4.00 AM on June 3rd. Clearly, ‘exams’ at these times are wildly undesirable, and clearly this will put these students at a significant disadvantage. This will be true in all subjects in 2020, where all AP ‘exams’ will be administered at midnight, 2.00 AM or 4.00 AM local time in large parts of Asia.

The issues outlined above are sufficient to make this year’s ‘exam’ farcical, but for me there are two further, standout, compelling, and absolutely irrefutable reasons to reject the AP chemistry ‘exam’ in 2020.

  • We (the children and teachers) have been preparing for seven months for a 3 hr. 15 min exam, over the entire content of the AP course, with 90 mins of multiple-choice that makes up 50% of the course, for it to be reduced to the proposed fiasco. For me, this ‘moving of the goalposts’ in and of itself is absolutely unacceptable. I suggest that it ought be unacceptable to every AP student and AP teacher as well.
  • Precisely what is there to stop any child consulting with any number of other people, to collectively work on the ‘exam’? The answer is NOTHING. Red-herring comments regarding plagiarism checks, identify confirmation, and Trevor Packer’s vague ‘reassurance’ that many (secret) protocols/security features will be place, do nothing to address this fact. Nothing.

Individually, these two facts on their own reduce the integrity of the exam to zero, which goes way beyond “an asterisk” accompanying the 2020 AP ‘exams’. It destroys their integrity completely and utterly.

The combination of all the above have rendered the AP Chemistry ‘exam’ in 2020 illegitimate as far as I am concerned. Its integrity is shot, and I want no part of the charade. It should be noted that my vocal stance on this will cost me significantly financially. I canceled my online AP review class for 2020. I cannot, with a clear conscience, deliver than course when I have no idea what the target is. In addition I have told a number of my AP tutoring clients that if I were them I would not take the ‘exam’ in 2020, and that I no longer know what we are working towards. I am losing literally thousands of dollars as a result of my stance. However, I believe that my integrity will be intact at the end of this process.

BTW, NONE of the above addresses the fact that countless numbers of students may be under enormous personal stress in terms of their own situations and families, related to a pandemic, that is causing wide-spread inconvenience, unemployment, and indeed death in many communities.

Some teachers have expressed sadness that their students will, ‘not be able to show what they know’, and ‘how hard that they have worked’. This is indeed a shame, but if they think that the lesson that is worth teaching them is that integrity does indeed have a price, then I think they are sadly mistaken. Life is sometimes hard to swallow, but now is one of those times that so many teachers seem so staggeringly anxious about; a truly teachable moment outside of AP chemistry. Do the right thing, keep your integrity, and reject this sham.

What about my own AP students and their class between now and the end of year, and the 2020 ‘exam’ as it relates to them? Good question. As an employee, I understand my obligation and responsibility fully. I will continue to ‘teach’ the AP class to the best of my ability, but inevitably, I will need to make one thing clear to my own students. At the beginning of the academic year I knew EXACTLY what the target was; now I have no idea what that target is, and I have a responsibility to tell the them that I don’t know. In that regard, I am no longer “preparing them for the AP exam”  as I had been up until these changes – that’s impossible, because I no longer know what ‘prepping for the AP exam’ means. I have no control over what they decided to do, but I will not report ANY AP scores for my students in 2020. Not ‘asterisked’ scores, none at all.

I called for students not to take the exam right at the beginning of this process, and I said that history would judge the CB poorly. The situation has now descended into farce. If teachers pursue this years ‘exam’ with their students, I believe that they have crossed their own line of integrity. I think that teaching students that integrity has a price is a terrible lesson, and a position that I think is indefensible.

35 Comments

  1. Avatar

    In the past, I have quite often disagreed with your comments on the AP Chemistry Facebook page, but on this topic I feel quite certain that you are exactly right. The CB should be ashamed of their profit before equity performance.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      I am a longtime AP Chemistry teacher and have used Adrian’s materials as a resource for several years. I do have to respectfully disagree with encouraging students to not take this years exam. My students worked very hard for a goal that changed. The fact that circumstances changed were beyond anyone’s control. While I understand concerns about the integrity of the exam (Cheating) I believe that each of my students are responsible for their own integrity and have impressed this upon them. I want them to have the opportunity to honestly show what they know. It is only a “sham” if they compromise their own integrity and cheat. I also am secure in my own integrity as I did the best that I could do under the circumstances. While the exam is something that I prepare my students for, for me the end goal, regardless of the exam, is that I teach my students chemistry.

      Reply
      • Adrian

        Hi Eric – Good to hear from you. I’m afraid that your, and your own student’s integrity are insufficient ALONE to make the whole process valid. With the potential for such wide-spread abuse, the results of these ‘exams’ can never be viewed as legitimate. The CB had 480 million reasons to conduct the ‘exams’ in this way, and they chose those reasons over integrity. People SHOULD be outraged.

        Reply
        • Avatar

          I would also have to disagree with you, I am a student who already took one of two AP’s this year. This is an excellent way to earn a five for students and get the college credit for the work they did this year. Also, from many classmates complaining about failed attempts, I know that college board has created a wide variety of questions, making cheating much much harder.

          Reply
          • Adrian

            >This is an excellent way to earn a five for students and get the college credit for the work they did this year

            In one way, I’d agree, but the problem is that every score will be academically TOTALLY illegitimate. Many colleges are amending their policy to reflect the fact that they know this to be true.

            > I know that college board has created a wide variety of questions, making cheating much much harder.

            I don’t think that you quite understand. If every single student had a unique question, that would not stop them consulting with ANYONE that they wanted to (teacher, tutor, parent, sibling etc.) during the ‘exam’, and as a result their answers will not be theirs. It’s a massive, massive sham.

  2. Avatar

    Adrian… good, solid thoughts regarding the significant issues. While I don’t always agree, I have always respected your insight. In this, I fully agree, but I have, sadly, not been able to step outside of the “following the herd” mentality. Maybe now, I will find the strength to do so. Thank you!

    Reply
  3. Avatar

    Seems to me that you are abandoning your students who still want to take the ap exam. If I were one of your students I would insist that you cover the material as if the exam has not changed one bit.
    Do you tell your students of your concern as to how you have been hurt financially? Maybe they will take up a collection for you.

    Reply
    • Adrian

      >If I were one of your students I would insist that you cover the material as if the exam has not changed one bit.

      I AM doing exactly that; did you not read what I wrote? “I will continue to ‘teach’ the AP class to the best of my ability”.

      I’m also telling them that this is a farce, there will be rampant cheating, and the ‘exam’ that they will see is not what we have been preparing for in the previous seven months. I will tell them the ‘exam’ has no integrity. I’m also telling them I have no idea what the target is, and therefore I cannot, with any confidence, continue to say that, “I am preparing you for the ‘exam”. Frankly, I cannot do my job.

      Reply
  4. Avatar

    Every bit of what you wrote is spot on. And Trevor Packer is NEVER to be believed. But since I can’t give my students a final exam (unless we come back in June – unlikely – this exam will act as a final, graded by ME! I will get to see my students’ work before making up their grades, which will better allow me to differentiate.

    I see problems with this exam beyond even those you mentioned. I will prepare what I think will be very apt “cheat sheets”, – students are allowed to bring notes. If I do a better job than others with less experience, my students win, theirs lose. I foresee some students messing up the process of downloading, taking the exam (writing…), photographing, getting a usable photo of what can be several pages, and sending out the file. They have 5 minutes. And if they mess up, they are ALLOWED a second chance in June. So if things are going really badly, on to June, right? On balance, it is better for me and for my students to take this exam; I am interested in comparing them to each other, not to the national sample.

    Reply
  5. Avatar

    I agree with you whole-heartedly. I retired last year and am so glad I did. What the College Board is doing this year is an insult to the integrity of an experience that so many dedicated educators and students have worked toward.

    Reply
  6. Avatar

    Spot on.

    Reply
  7. Avatar

    For many, a major reason for taking an AP class is to receive college credit, saving money on extra courses in college and freeing up room in a student’s schedule to take other classes. For now, colleges are still accepting this exam as legitimate (regardless of the obvious issues). Why advise a student to avoid this college credit? If they can be in a room with their friends and tutor and (unfairly, but allowed under this exam’s ridiculous setup) get a 5 and therefore college credit, why not?

    Reply
    • Adrian

      Because I don’t want college credit to be earned via an ‘exam’ that has ZERO integrity, and will be rife with cheating. As an adult, neither should you. It’s not that hard to understand really, it’s a question of not condoning lying and cheating. Pretty straightforward if you ask me.

      Reply
      • Avatar

        My son will still be taking this exam. He’ll have his friends on FaceTime, get a 5, and exempt from his intro chemistry course. I condone saving my money.

        Reply
        • Adrian

          I agree that if you are person that values $ over integrity, you will LOVE this situation! Congrats.

          Reply
        • Avatar

          A 5 on the AP Chemistry Exam does not exempt students from General Chemistry at all institutions. Where I am at, students have to still take a placement diagnostic. It is rare a student who places out of our one-semester General Chemistry course. None have been AP students.

          Reply
  8. Avatar

    I am a 30 year veteran of teaching AP Physics, a reader, a consultant, and the parent of a child (whom I am teaching) who will sit for the AP Physics 1 Exam May 11, and Adrian, respectfully, I could not disagree with you more.

    The AP Exam will not be perfect. These times certainly are not, but I believe that people, kids especially, need a reason to wake up in the morning, and seek out some normalcy in this weird life. It won’t be perfect nor would anyone, least of all the College Board or AP teachers choose this situation. It is easy to throw stones and much harder to offer solutions.

    Much of the academic and social structure for our students has crumbled. Students ARE in stressful situations financially and in many other ways hard to quantify. But you know what? My students and parents have articulated to me in no uncertain terms how glad they are that AP Exams will go on. They have lost so much.

    And so we keep learning physics! Recognizing that we weren’t teaching a test, we were teaching physics, and we still are! We will have to adjust. It will be different. I don’t always get to dictate all the terms for my life. My students do not get to either, but I can help them be thankful that the opportunity to have this exam to work toward is still present. It hasn’t been canceled like their proms and graduations. Preparation for this exam is pulling my students together to work for a thing that hasn’t been taken from them.

    Let’s go get this thing and do our best!

    Reply
    • Adrian

      Obviously I completely disagree. Condoning an ‘exam’ that has zero integrity is NOT a solution to the problems that we are faced with.

      Reply
  9. Avatar

    I agree with you. I am so disappointed in CB. They should have allowed students to get a full refund – not just no charge for cancelling. Allowing a refund would have been such a boost for CB. This test will not be a true read of what students know. Sure, if they get a 5 and get out of Chem 1 & 2 in college, that student is going to continue on in courses that they will struggle because they truly did not have the foundation needed since they did not finish the course to begin with. It really should have been cancelled, money refunded, and move on to next year.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Oh and as an adult, I have learned a lot about honesty and integrity and realize that without it you really have nothing. As a teenager, I would have used “every” resource possible on a high stakes test.

      Reply
  10. Avatar

    As a student I feel like College Board is doing what is best, I mean we have been preparing for this exam since September or even August, so at least they are offering a viable option. It’s better than nothing because students who do wish to take the exam still can despite these hard times. But if students feel as if they cannot take the exam due to various reasons, then they will get a full refund. I mean what is wrong with that? I understand that teachers across the nation may be confused as how to teach, but a lot of people are simply doing reviews for Units 1-7 and then teaching 8 and 9 afterward. If the issue is with the arrangement of the content and units, then that is not related to this pandemic’s effect on the exam. That’s an entirely different pursuit.

    I understand that the integrity of the exam is compromised, but it really is the best CollegeBoard can do right now. I mean what else would they have done to satisfy both sides (the people who want an option for College Credit vs. people who do not want to take the exam now due to COVID-19)? Realizing how this situation affects so many people, CollegeBoard cannot simply “take sides” and do one thing, so providing an alternative exam is good enough. In terms of being concerned about money and profits, yes they claim to be “non-profit” which we all know is not true, but at least in these situations they are offering full refunds. I know many people would say “they have to, if they didn’t no one would like them” which is true, but at the end of the day, CollegeBoard decided to spend time and money creating free review classes and invested in online exam taking.

    Not only is this a step into the future (I mean it was about time before online examination took over in this digital age), but it also shows how in times of need, we really cannot judge people and organizations from their past efforts and priorities. So in my opinion, I think CollegeBoard made the right decisions. Are they perfect? No, of course not. But who is? And in terms of the timing of the exam, yes it is unfortunate for those who have to take the exam at such odd time periods, but it is better than putting a whole year’s worth of preparation to waste.

    CollegeBoard needs to be taken down for other reasons, but right now with COVID-19, no one needs to hear the negativity and struggles of teachers, students, and organizations. We all need to learn to accept this as a challenge, maybe this will let teachers explore new means of teaching, therby expanding their skills. Maybe this will make students more independent and ready to face the world on their own. Maybe this is a lesson we all needed about life, and how challenges are only obstacles and struggles, if we chose to see it that way.

    Lol this is kind of long I just realized this. oops.

    Reply
    • Adrian

      >I mean we have been preparing for this exam since September or even August,

      Actually, no, you’ve been preparing for an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT exam.

      > I mean what is wrong with that?

      The ‘exam’ in 2020 has no integrity (see below), that’s ‘what’.

      >I understand that the integrity of the exam is compromised

      So that means that ANY ‘scores’ are meaningless; your ‘college credit’ will be meaningless; you’ve exchanged your soul (integrity) for nothing.

      Reply
      • Avatar

        It’s really not even that different; only 2 units are being cut out,
        so the majority is the same. Yes, the type of questions being asked will change a lot because of this difference and shorter testing period, but you cannot be this biased against the College Board (and this is coming from a student who calls them on a regular basis because of other frustrations). And not everyone will cheat, which is the issue. Because now everyone thinks that all the students will cheat in some way, lowering the integrity of everyone. But that is not a valid statement. We cannot assume that all students will cheat or try to “beat the system” and then think that this exam has no value. If colleges really cared about having students learn all the content in the first place, then the whole monetized system College Board has created would not even exist. AP examination is nothing more than a way for students to pretend they are ready for college, just to realize that there is literally so much they do not know; so cutting down the units for the AP exam does hurt in that sense, so I understand your point. But that does not mean this year’s exam is less valid, there is less content, so Colleges should note that and not consider a “5” this year the same as in the past of course, but they should also improvise and offer other methods. Such as calling on the states to make “ap-learning” for the rest of the units required. At least this finally highlights the issue of how our education system does not value true learning, but rather grades/tests (NUMBERS) and money placement more than actual learning. So if you want to call the integrity of this AP Chemistry exam into question, then you need to realize that in a flawed system, there will always be flawed results. This is not to say that they are not doing their best, they have lost money from SATs anyways. You could say a pandemic really makes everyone sympathetic and caring because it is about life and death; so what if one year is messed up? There are plenty of other years, and for students who are taking the exam this year 2020 (as myself) it hurts us more than you teachers. Teachers will continue to teach, but sadly many of them do not do a good job because of being paid awful wages. So basically, there are just so many problems with the current education system, that this pandemic really makes us question everything. But I do see your point.

        Reply
        • Adrian

          Almost 25% of the material is missing, and within it Acid/Base equilibrium, electrochemistry, entropy, and Gibbs Free Energy. These are traditionally HUGELY important topics.

          The ‘exam’ either has integrity, or it doesn’t; this is not a question of gradations. In 2020, since it will be impossible to prevent ANY student from consulting with a third party during the ‘exam’, the integrity has gone from the whole process. That means it’s gone for ALL students.

          Reply
  11. Avatar

    As a student who uses your notes, I would like to say your resources are very beneficial and helpful to me and they have made me a better chemistry student. Though, I would have to say that I respectfully disagree whole hardheartedly with just about everything you have said.

    I ask you, Adrian, what does that say about you, about your integrity, if you simply throw your hands up and simply give up? The test is flawed, and it seems to be true that it has no integrity, but so what? If colleges offer college credit for this, why would you not prepare your students for this test? Why would you encourage students to not take this test? The main reason students take AP is to get college credit, and you say you “don’t want college credit to be earned via an ‘exam’ that has ZERO integrity and will be rife with cheating.” This is indeed not your call to make. Your claim that people who want to take the test for college credit value money over integrity is ludicrous.

    As for me, on test day, I will take my AP Chemistry exam. An imperfect exam that is not only approved by the College Board, but an exam that many colleges have already said they will award credit for. I will pass this test, and I will receive my college credit. We are in a pandemic, and I applaud the College Board for adapting to these historical times to give students what they deserve and what they have earned. Most of all, I applaud the teachers across the country that have not sat on their hands and have adapted to prepare their students for this new AP exam, something which you have disregarded entirely.

    Reply
    • Adrian

      “John”, you’re UTTERLY wrong about what I’m doing with my own students, it’s as if you can’t read;

      To quote myself, “I will continue to ‘teach’ the AP class to the best of my ability”.

      The full paragraph above, reads;

      “What about my own AP students and their class between now and the end of year, and the 2020 ‘exam’ as it relates to them? Good question. As an employee, I understand my obligation and responsibility fully. I will continue to ‘teach’ the AP class to the best of my ability, but inevitably, I will need to make one thing clear to my own students. At the beginning of the academic year I knew EXACTLY what the target was; now I have no idea what that target is, and I have a responsibility to tell the them that I don’t know. In that regard, I am no longer “preparing them for the AP exam” as I had been up until these changes – that’s impossible, because I no longer know what ‘prepping for the AP exam’ means. I have no control over what they decided to do, but I will not report ANY AP scores for my students in 2020. Not ‘asterisked’ scores, none at all.”

      Reply
  12. Avatar

    So, as we get closer to the exam, Adrian, could you update to let us know how many of your students are actually taking the exam? If YOU believe the integrity is so low here, I can’t see how in good faith you can teach them…… Perhaps if they know their chemistry, the actual format won’t be that important…..

    Reply
    • Adrian

      All of my students are going to take the ‘exam’. I have told them exactly what I think of the ‘exam’, and I have told them that they should not take it because it lacks integrity. ‘In good faith’ I CANNOT teach them, you are right.

      You will note that I canceled both my online my review sessions, and my online review course (which cost me literally thousands of dollars), so my money is where my mouth is.

      Reply
  13. Avatar

    preach

    Reply
  14. Avatar

    Well, it’s clear you’ve got your opinions but to speak about or challenge the integrity of others within your narrow framework of thinking…my, the ego runs deep.

    You say, “I knew exactly what the target was; now I have no idea what that target is…” First, I teach an advanced study of chemistry – not to a “target.” Besides, the big ideas and the topics within those units were clearly described. I do agree that reducing the exam to what it was – and the glitches that were reported in its “delivery” are hard to swallow. My students, after digesting the reality of what was to be, were totally all-in. They wanted to review, and they wanted to take the test. I got my act together and gave it my best.

    In fact, even after it was announced that Acids and Bases and Thermodynamics weren’t on the testing “plate,” I still spent 6 days of class time exploring the concept of free energy and the elegant tie to equilibrium (had already finished Acids and Bases). They wanted to review but I got them to buy into the fact that omitting thermodynamics would be a mistake.

    You talk of “preparing them for the AP Exam.” I teach an advanced course in chemistry – paying respect to the curriculum as described to be sure – but prepare them for even more chemistry in their university experience. This test is just a stepping stone along the way. I’ll defend my teaching role as integrity to the discipline. You say, “I have no control over what they decided to do.” When have you ever had control? This isn’t about you.

    In no situation would I ever tell my students not to take this “sham of a test” – even if it turns out to be of questionable validity. They’ll know it if it somehow reveals a score counter to their expectations. I’ve already praised their successes along the way – they have more confidence in their understanding of chemistry than a test score can ever describe.

    This is an extraordinary time! Your students, like mine, were rightfully disappointed – but then, they needed you to step up – and you didn’t. You missed an opportunity to be a leader who could, in the midst of the great uncertainty of this apparently mysterious test, lead them to the best review of all the topics in units 1-7 and maybe even inspire the deeper love for chemistry. They needed some hope and you weren’t there.

    Reply
    • Adrian

      >First, I teach an advanced study of chemistry – not to a “target.”

      I teach to a target. We are different.

      >I teach an advanced course in chemistry – paying respect to the curriculum as described to be sure – but prepare them for even more chemistry in their university experience.

      I don’t, I prep them for an exam. We are different.

      >In no situation would I ever tell my students not to take this “sham of a test”

      I would, I did, and I will tell them that their scores mean nothing in 2020.

      >They needed some hope and you weren’t there.

      What do you suppose that you know about me?

      I taught my AP class every day that it was scheduled, including the morning of the exam. We reviewed as best we could online, and I answered every single question that they had regarding chemistry.

      Reply
  15. Avatar

    I am so angry with CB. None of my students were able to submit their work yesterday on the exam and will have to retake it in June. They followed the protocol and they all had taken other AP tests earlier in the week and no problems. Did anyone else have this same problem with the Chemistry test?

    Reply
      • Avatar

        I tried to enter my data on chart but I see Trevor’s note about someone tampering it and is read only. Do you think CB will do anything such as allowing these poor kids to resubmit their saved work or will they make them retake it in June? How do we know the problem won’t recur in the June retake? Haven’t these poor seniors been through enough with the virtual schooling and cancellations of proms, graduations, and now this debaucle!

        Reply
        • Adrian

          As it says on that sheet, you need to email the person to get data entered, although I’m not sure if she is continuing the project.

          I think it’s a re-take or nothing, and there could well be issues in June, again.

          TBH, kids should have been advised to boycott this ‘exam’ – the scores will be illegitimate, so they gain nothing by taking it IMO.

          Reply

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