Opt-in or opt-out? How students and teachers feel about the 2021 AP Exam policies

Advanced Placement Exams (AP Exams) are exams taken every May that allow high school students the opportunity to earn college credit. Due to the benefits of these exams, many students voluntarily take the exams, sign-up for AP classes, and fully commit to the rigor of an AP course load. However, due to the unusual circumstances of learning in the pandemic, this year’s Advanced Placement Exams will be made optional for all AP students at the school.

Some students, like junior Samantha Finnegan, have decided to opt-out of taking the exams for fear of failure. She feels as though the preparation and progress she has made was not enough to perform well on one of the exams.

“I truly didn’t think I was going to do well on the exam,” Finnegan said. “So I just scrapped it and opted-out.”

However, had circumstances been different, Finnegan believed that she would have gone ahead and taken the AP Exams. She suggests that students with enough time, discipline, and resources should commit to taking the exams.

“I think if you like the subjects, you think you can do well, and you’re willing to put in the time to study, then you should definitely take it,” Finnegan said. “As long as you have the resources and you’re not too busy, then you should go ahead and take them.”

Junior Teresa Pham shares the same fundamental fears as Finnegan when it comes to taking these exams. She fears that, if she were to perform poorly, there is no feasible way to remediate the score and take the entire exam again.

“I think what makes these exams so hard is because they are the AP Exams—there’s only one of them,” Pham said. “Whether or not you get college credit depends all on this one test that you have to sit down and take for roughly three hours.”

Despite this fear, Pham has still decided to take these exams because they are a part of the ‘normal’ high school experience. Pham wants to prove to herself and others that she is ready to take-on the rigor of higher education at the collegiate level.

“These exams are something that comes with the rigor of high school,” Pham said. “The AP Exams are just staples of solidifying your mark as an ambitious high school student.”

Before choosing to opt-in or opt-out, Latin and AP Government teacher Mark Mulholland recommends that students consider the value of these exams in their future collegiate or professional career. Mulholland reminds students that while these exams may complete the credits required to pass introductory courses in college, they are not enough to fulfill more advanced and rigorous courses later on in their college careers.

“I suggest that if they’re taking the AP Exam in their primary field, it probably will pass them out of a few courses,” Mulholland said. “If you’re going to be a political science major, you’re going to have to end up taking classes in political science anyway… So your government class might get you out of the first course, but it’s not like it’s going to get you away from the whole requirement.”

Additionally, Mulholland strongly suggests that students examine their own understanding of class material and make an educated decision on whether they should or should not take the exams. He believes that each student, as a growing adult, has the power and responsibility to make their own decisions.

“I’d say that if they have prepared themselves for the exam, they should take the exam,” Mulholland said. “If something happened between last March and December, and you weren’t able to do very much of your work in the first semester, then maybe they should reconsider and make a different decision. This a choice you’re going to have to make, and a consequence you have to deal with.”

The AP Exams will be held in-person and online. For students taking the exams in-person, they will be held from Monday, May 3 through Monday, May 17. For students who opt to take their exam online, they will be held from anywhere from Tuesday, May 18 through Friday, June 11. The format of both exam options will be similar according to the College Board. For more information about the AP Exam dates, formatting, and other information, please contact your counselor or consult the College Board’s website.