Updates to the AP exam affect how students will test in 2020.

AP Exam Updates for COVID-19: What’s New

COVID-19 is affecting every part of our lives, in anticipated and unanticipated ways, particularly for students in the middle of their school year. Many high school students complete AP courses and exams each year with the hopes of earning college credit. With schools across the country currently closed, you might be worried about whether or not you can take the exam. Fortunately, The College Board has announced sweeping AP exam updates, designed to make sure you can still test your knowledge and earn your credit from home. Below, we discuss what these changes look like, how they impact your testing experience, and how to prepare yourself.

Remember, these changes apply to 2020 only. If shelter-in-place orders are lifted in 2021, the AP exams will (probably) return to their normal format and rules.


First on the list is the biggest of the AP exam updates: location! With schools closed to in-person instruction, your home is currently your school. This year it will also be your testing place. That’s right: you will complete your AP exams at home online. According to The College Board, students will be able to complete the exams on any device that connects to the internet, including computers, tablets, and smartphones. Responses can be typed in directly, or written by hand and uploaded as photos. 

At the moment, it’s not totally clear “where” this process will happen (such as a special online portal). More information about the technical aspects of taking the exams will be released in late April, so keep your eyes on this spot for updates.

Open-Note, Open-Book

In addition to being take-at-home, the AP exams will be open-note and open-book this year. This means that during the exam, you can freely reference your course materials. For many, this is a relief; being able to reference your notes takes some of the pressure off the exam. However, don’t let this news turn you lax on your studies. Open-book exams are more in the style of college exams. Yes, you can use your notes, but it’s not enough to simply copy the information over. That wouldn’t be a test. You need to know how to apply the information abstractly and expertly. You need to master the subject.

The College Board offers several useful tips on how to make the most of this situation, and we have a few of our own. One of the best: use quick reference materials (names, dates, formulas) and don’t overwhelm yourself with every piece of information. Study like you would normally study, and let your notes be a little boost to your preparation. Go in ready to nail it and the notes will just make it easier.

Format Changes

Directly connected to the open-book rule is a change in the test format. This year The College Board is eliminating multiple-choice questions from the AP exams. They are now open-response only, except for the exams that normally have other components. The new format consists of one or two open-response questions designed to thoroughly test your mastery of a subject. As above, it’s not enough to repeat facts and figures; you need to know a subject inside and out. Get ready to discuss topics like calculus, physics, and U.S. history at length.

There are a few exceptions to this among the AP exam updates. Students taking world languages and culture exams will not complete written questions. Instead, they will complete two spoken components. Students in courses that typically require portfolio submissions will not have separate online exams; they need only submit portfolios by May 26 at 11:59 P.M. EST. Portfolio courses include:

  • 2-D Art and Design
  • 3-D Art and Design
  • Drawing
  • Computer Science Principles
  • Research
  • Seminar


The AP exam updates include changes to what content is covered. As a general estimate, most schools only made it through three-quarters of their normal academic calendar this year. Accordingly, each AP exam will only cover what could have been taught in the first three-quarters of the curriculum. They will not test you on what you didn’t learn.

Shorter AP Exams

In keeping with the format and content changes, the length of the exams will also change. Normally, the exams last 3 hours; this year they will be 45 minutes. So that means one or two open-response questions, with 45 minutes to complete them. For some, this abbreviated format is a relief. For others, it’s a point of stress. Just focus on the task at hand: no multiple-choice, just one or two open-response questions.

New Exam Schedule

Normally, the AP exams would start in the first week of May. This year, they will be starting in the second week of May, on May 11, running to May 22. Like any other year, the exams are scheduled to take place at specific times on specific days. Each subject’s exam will be taken at the same time worldwide. 

It’s very important that you know the day and time your exams are scheduled for. See our graphic to find when your exams are scheduled. Remember: The College Board says you need to log in for your exam at least 30 minutes early.

For course-specific exam information, find your courses here.

What If You Don’t Have Computer or Internet Access?

Taking the AP exams online at home is convenient for most students, but not for all. The College Board is aware that not every student has access to the internet or the technology needed to complete the exams. This should not prevent you from taking the exam and doing your best. If you don’t have access to the technology you need, contact The College Board here for accommodations.

 What Resources are Available?

With all of the changes going on, you might feel at a loss for how to get ready, especially if your school is closed. Fortunately, The College Board is offering free online virtual review sessions on their AP YouTube channel. Review classes are streamed live, with recordings saved in playlists, organized by subject. Whether you feel you know your subjects inside and out or are scrambling to review, it’s a great idea to take advantage of these free resources.

It is important to remember that test prep and review are not the same. You need to do both. The aforementioned videos will help with subject review, by going over the content that will be present on the exams. It is very important to know the content. Also, it is important to prep. This means learning and practicing effective test-taking skills. Learn to budget your time, break down questions into manageable parts, and apply strategies for fully developing your responses.

Livius offers a free online AP prep class, geared toward helping students achieve high scores through learning and applying effective test-taking strategies. The courses occur weekly, on a drop-in basis. If you feel you would benefit from test prep help, we’re here to help. We also offer a special 5-hour private tutoring package designed specifically to address the changes to this year’s AP exams.

May is Coming

Before long, the AP exam dates will be here. The medium, the format, the setting, and so much else has changed about the exams, but the essentials of the AP exams remains the same. Wherever and however, you’re being tested on your knowledge of the subjects, and your ability to display that knowledge. You can do this, just stay on the path and practice good study habits.

Sign up for our free AP prep sessions here. Ready to get started with private tutoring right away before May exams? Give us a call.




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