AP Exams 2020: What will popular exams actually look like?

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When the College Board first announced online, at-home AP testing, many students were equal parts relieved and apprehensive. Students have been wondering when the exams will be offered, how they will be administered, and what the test questions will look like. 

Today, the College Board shared more information on the ins and outs of the exams. One highly anticipated question: What will the exams’ format and question structure be?

The big takeaway across exams: multiple-choice questions are out. Free-response questions (FRQs) are the rule. The questions require thematic understanding and skill rather than simple factual recall. 

More good news for students: all exams are “open book/open note.” This means students can use their own notes, class resources provided by their teachers, previous assignments or assessments from class, and calculators (for certain exams). They can access these notes through personal email, digital classroom sites, or personal online storage, in addition to traditional paper materials.

Students should note, however, that copying outside resources or collaborating with others is still forbidden, and the testing format will include steps and techniques to identify “impersonation fraud.” Students detected as cheating will be reported to all past and future colleges to which they attempt to submit standardized test scores.

Below, we summarize the general structure for some of the most popular exams. Find detailed descriptions of each exam’s questions, timing, and structure at the College Board website.


Math exams

Calculus AB, Calculus BC, and Statistics will consist of two FRQs. Students will have 25 minutes to complete the first question and 15 minutes to complete the second question, with 5 minutes to upload their responses after each one.

The best part? Questions will look like the FRQs on past exams. Students who have practiced with past years’ FRQs will be in great shape.


Science exams

Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Science, and Physics will also each consist of just two FRQs. As with Math exams, students will have 25 minutes for the first question, 15 minutes for the second question, and an additional 5 minutes per question to upload their responses.

Whereas AP exams historically had several different kinds of science FRQs, students can now focus on preparing for just two common types. Visit the College Board website to see the two types of FRQs that will appear on each test. Some questions will emphasize scientific explanation over pure calculation. 


English exams 

AP English students are in luck! Each exam will consist of just one free-response question. 

English Language students no longer need to worry about synthesis or argument questions and can spend the coming weeks fine-tuning their rhetorical analysis skills.

English Literature students can say goodbye to poetry. They also no longer need to prepare to choose outside texts to analyze. Instead, students will simply analyze a given piece of prose fiction.


History exams

European History, U.S. History, and World History will each consist of just one simplified document-based question. But that’s not all: instead of 7 documents, there are only 5.


Language exams

With the exception of AP Latin and AP Spanish Literature & Culture, AP language students will each answer 2 speaking questions. The first will be Conversation and the second will be Cultural Comparison, Cultural Presentation, or Cultural Perspectives Presentation. Time is not set for these questions outside the overall 45-minute limit for the entire exam; once students finish the second question, they cannot go back to the first. AP Latin and AP Spanish will each have one 25-minute and one 15-minute written question. Visit the College Board website to see the specifics. 


The bottom line: most of these exams will look like simplified versions of the tests you’ve been preparing for.

If you've been putting in the time and effort all school year, you'll be ready to go now.


Need more individualized advice?

The recommendations above are generalized plans. If you have specific questions or want a personalized plan, reach out to our experts here. We’re happy to help in any way we can.

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.

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