2021 AP exam changes: digital exam overview and tech requirements

The College Board will offer multiple exam dates and formats to AP students in 2021. Schools are responsible for determining which test dates and formats to offer, and the options include full-length, digital exams that can be taken in school or at home.

Students taking digital AP exams this year—especially those who lived through the digital exams of 2020—may be wondering what to expect. Here's what we know so far.


To provide flexibility to schools that need more instructional time before testing, the College Board has expanded the 2021 exam schedule to include three testing dates for each subject. The first administration for each subject will take place between May 3-17 and will be an in-school, paper-and-pencil exam.

The second and third testing windows may include digital exams (which can be administered either in school or at home).

  • Students can take digital exams either between May 18-28 or between June 1-11.
  • Schools are allowed to mix and match testing dates and formats. This means, for example, it could be possible for a student to sit for a paper-and-pencil exam in the first testing window, an at-home digital exam in the second testing window, and an in-school digital exam in the third testing window.

All exams will be full-length tests. Whereas last year's exams were abbreviated tests that excluded multiple-choice questions and eliminated content from the end of the year, students taking digital AP exams this year should expect to be tested on the full course content.

Tech requirements & details

Students who took digital AP exams last year should prepare for some differences this time around. In response to the technical issues and security challenges of last year, the College Board plans to make adjustments for this year's exams.

The College Board has released the 2021 AP Digital Testing Guide, and here are the key details to keep in mind:

  • Exams must be taken on desktop or laptop computers (no smartphones or tablets this year). Students must close all programs and internet browsers before testing, and the digital testing app will lock their devices so that they can't run any other applications while the exam is in progress.
  • Students' work will be saved automatically. This should be a major improvement over last year's digital testing experience. On FRQs, students will type their responses directly into the app, and their work will be saved automatically while the exam is running.
    • When the test is over, students’ responses will be submitted automatically. Students will simply need to wait until they see a confirmation screen. 
    • Note: because no handwritten or photographed work will be accepted this year, the College Board plans to adapt FRQs so that responses can be easily typed with a computer keyboard. More information on specific exam formats can be found here.
  • Students cannot answer questions out of order. This limitation may have a significant impact on students' testing strategies, especially for multiple-choice questions.
    • On multiple-choice questions, students cannot return to answered questions or move back and forth between unanswered questions.
    • On free-response questions with multiple parts, students can go back and forth between the parts of a single question they’re answering. But once they answer the last part of the question and move on to the next, they cannot go back to any part of the last question.
  • The digital testing platform has changed. Students will need to install a new digital exam application on their computers this year. Screenshots of this year's testing interface—which looks much more user-friendly than last year's—are included here.
  • Students should plan to complete exam setup 1-3 days before their testing date. Exam setup will become available three days in advance and must be completed no later than the day before the exam.
  • A reliable internet connection is required, although the College Board claims that momentary disruptions in internet connectivity will not prevent students from completing their exams this year.
  • Students must plan to check in 30 minutes before the exam's scheduled start time.
  • Students will get a 20-minute break between Section 1 and Section 2. Students cannot exit the testing app during this time, and the test will resume automatically once the 20 minutes are up. On some exams, one or both sections may be divided into two parts, and students will have a 1-minute pause between Parts 1A and 1B or 2A and 2B. 

On April 8, students will have access to a digital exam resource so that they can practice with the exam interface and confirm that their technology works properly.

Need more individualized advice?

The recommendations above are general suggestions. If you have specific questions, reach out to our experts here. We’re happy to help in any way we can.


About ArborBridge

ArborBridge is the global leader in innovative, digital, one-on-one tutoring. With nearly a decade of experience teaching students online, ArborBridge supports students of all kinds: home schoolers, AP students, test preppers, and more. Our tutors specialize in creating personalized plans and in providing compassionate support for students and families.

Erin Ohsie-Frauenhofer

About Erin Ohsie-Frauenhofer

As one of the highest-performing tutors in ArborBridge’s history, Erin coaches tutors and develops tools and trainings to disrupt old habits and empower new strengths. With a Master of Arts in Teaching from Brown University, Erin worked as a classroom teacher and student services director prior to joining ArborBridge in 2017. Her decade of success as an educator has prepared her to ensure that programs are tailored to individual students’ needs.

You also might like: