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K-12 Education

Advanced Placement Chemistry exam marred by technical problems

Students report glitches that prevented them from uploading their answers to the test

by Bethany Halford
May 15, 2020


Spines of Advanced Placement exam books.
Credit: Shutterstock
Some students reported technical difficulties with this year's online Advanced Placement exams.

High school students around the world took the Advanced Placement (AP) Chemistry exam on May 14, but the relief they should have felt at completing a difficult test quickly turned into anxiety for many that were unable to upload their responses because of glitches. Students reported similar problems with other AP exams, in subjects like physics and calculus, which began on May 11.

Students took to social media to show the technical difficulties with the AP Chemistry exam.
Students took to social media to show the technical difficulties with the AP Chemistry exam.

“I was submitting my second exam question, but when I hit the ‘Submit’ button, I was confronted with an error stating, ‘We did not receive your response,’ ” says Khushi, a sophomore in Georgia, of her experience taking the AP Chemistry exam. (She has asked that we not use her last name because of college admission concerns.) “Needless to say, I’m really stressed about the whole ordeal, especially because I was already done and had completed all of the problems,” she says.

On social media, many students reported difficulty uploading their responses to the AP Chemistry exam.
On social media, many students reported difficulty uploading their responses to the AP Chemistry exam.

Many students, their parents, and their teachers complained of similar difficulties on social media shortly after the exam finished. Sean Fisk, an AP Chemistry teacher in Thailand, has a student that reported the same problem as Khushi. “I’ve been hearing it all day on social media, how there was some gremlin with [the second question] and lots of students weren’t able to submit, or the submission didn’t go through,” Fisk says.

High school students who score well on AP exams can earn college credit or place into higher level courses at their universities. The College Board, which administers the AP exams, decided to move to a shortened, online format for the tests in response to widespread school closures because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The exams are typically given in school. The AP Chemistry exam consisted of two questions requiring long-form answers.

“After the first few days of testing, our data show the vast majority of students successfully completed their exams, with less than 1% unable to submit their responses,” the College Board said in a statement released a few hours after the AP Chemistry exam.

But anecdotal reports suggest the number of students who experienced glitches on the AP Chemistry exam is higher. Juleen Jenkins-Whall, a science educator in Michigan, maintains a crowd-sourced spreadsheet of students who took the AP Chemistry exam and were unable to upload their responses. According to those data, which encompass more than 4,000 students who took the exam, about 10% experienced technical difficulties.

“We share the deep disappointment of students who were unable to complete their exam—whether for technical issues or other reasons,” the College Board said in its statement. “We’re working to understand these students’ unique circumstances in advance of the June makeup Exams. Any student who encountered an issue during their Exam will be able to retest.” That retest is scheduled for June 2, but many students say they shouldn’t have to retake a stressful exam because of technical problems on the College Board’s end.

“I think it’s a miracle there weren’t more problems with this exam,” Fisk says. “Should AP have canceled it in the first place? Yeah, probably. But they stuck with it. Was that the right decision? I guess we will find out in July,” he says. That’s when exam scores should come out.


This story was updated on May 15, 2020, to correct the name of the person who maintains a crowd-sourced spreadsheet of students who experienced technical problems with the AP Chemistry exam. It is Juleen Jenkins-Whall, not Adrian Dingle.

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