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What's Happening With AP Testing in 2021?

What's Happening With AP Testing in 2021?

Written and edited by Aryav Bothra.

After last year’s unprecedented changes to online AP tests, it seems that the College Board has taken to offering multiple exam formats and dates for 2021. But with so many options, how do you work out which one to choose?

What happened with AP tests last year?

With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic forcing virtually all classes to move to an online format, the College Board made the decision to significantly modify their exams last year. Instead of covering a full year’s worth of content, the exams tested students on roughly 75% of the content originally planned for 2020 to account for truncated curriculums. Perhaps the most drastic modification was the exam format itself; for the first time in decades, AP tests were offered as open-note, completely digital, 50-minute free-response questions.

As with using any new platform, the transition inevitably caused various tech issues when students tried to submit their exams, forcing the College Board to offer make-up exam dates later in June. With the various tech, coordination, and curriculum issues from 2020 in mind, this year the College Board has provided AP students with a new variety of testing options.

When will exams be administered this year?

“With the various 2020 exam issues in mind, the College Board has completely revamped the testing experience for students this May.”

2021 AP exams will be administered from May 3 to June 11 this year, a much larger date range than in previous years. The College Board has decided to run three different administrations of the exam to account for various COVID-19 restrictions, internet access discrepancies, and school preferences. A statement from the College Board explains that students will not be able to pick when they sit their test, instead, their schools will decide this on their behalf sometime in March.

You can view the AP exam administration schedule here.

What’s the difference between the three administrations?

“Students will not be able to pick which date they take the exam — that decision is made by their school.”

With so many available testing options, it can certainly be confusing to understand the differences between them. Regardless of the administration, you’re assigned to — or whether it’s a digital or in-person format — all the exams will be full-length (roughly three hours) with both multiple choice and free response sections as normal.

Administration 1 (May 3-17): Normal, In-Person Exams

Administration 1 is exactly like the traditional AP testing schedule, with exams completed on paper and held at the regular 8 AM, 12 PM and 2 PM start times. Many schools that are able to accommodate students, or have been conducting school in-person, will likely choose this option as it is the most similar to previous years’ exams, and the exam cycle ends the earliest (which may be better for certain districts where the summer break starts in May).

Administration 2 (May 18-28): In-Person and Digital Exams

Administration 2 is divided into two sections, dubbed by the College Board ‘Option 1’ and ‘Option 2’; the primary difference here is whether the exams will take place in-person or digitally. Option 1 runs for the duration of the Administration 2 dates and offers digital exams that can be taken either at home or in school. Option 2 runs only on May 21, 24, and 25 and offers regular paper exams for students to take at school (in certain subjects only).

Administration 3 (June 1-11): In-Person and Digital Exams

Administration 3 is structured in a similar way to Administration 2 as it is split into two different options, online or on paper. Option 1 runs for the duration of the Administration 3 dates and offers digital exams that can be taken at home or in school. Option 2 runs only on June 4 and offers regular paper exams for students to take at school, but only for language exams.

So how should I prepare for the exams?


“Being diligent in your exam preparation is the most important thing students can do if they want to be successful this May!”

Having taken AP exams both in the original format in 2019 and in the modified format last year, I understand how testing might be particularly difficult this year. Personally, I have four exams to take this year and would recommend doing the following to maximize your chances of success, whenever (and however) you sit the AP exams:

  • Make sure you know the content!
    Without the luxury of open-note exams this year (the College Board advises that using notes on digital exams will not be useful), it’s imperative that you thoroughly review and understand the material you have learned in class.
  • Take practice exams!
    With exams lasting the full three hours this year, time management skills and the ability to pace yourself should be two of the biggest focus areas, aside from knowing the content. I recommend buying preparatory books from Amazon, such as the Barron’s Books, to get up to speed on the content and take practice exams (with answers and explanations provided).
  • Ask questions!
    Your teachers are a great resource for you to leverage. Make sure to pay close attention and stay engaged during class to better understand and apply your knowledge in the exam.

If you’re interested in learning more about the changes to college admissions and standardized testing due to COVID-19, check out Millie Guide to Acing your SATS or Millie’s article on SAT Cancellations.