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The College Board Announces New Hybrid Test Schedule for 2021 AP Exams

Earlier this week, immunologist-in-chief Dr. Fauci told CNN that 70% to 85% of Americans need to receive the COVID-19 vaccine before society can “get back to normal.” According to the CDC, the proportion of Americans vaccinated is currently about 2%.

It’s no wonder, then, that the millions of American high schoolers who would usually gather in classrooms across the country to complete their AP tests in May might have a bit of a different experience this year.

Last year, only two months after the first COVID-19 lockdowns and with precious little time to organize alternatives to in-person testing, the College Board (now infamously) released online, abbreviated versions of all AP exams for students to take at home. According to the Board’s most recent announcement, this year’s tests won’t be administered 100% online, nor will they be held 100% in-person - and so the “hybrid” test schedule was born. Let’s take a look at the most important aspects of the new plan for AP testing.

3 Test Dates

In previous years, each AP test had only one test date. That’s right - there was only one date, typically in May, that every student in America who took AP Psychology, for example, took the AP Psychology exam.

This year’s plan presents a huge change - each exam will be administered not once, but three different times, between early May and mid-June of this year. With all that time between tests, how the ever-vigilant College Board will prevent the possibility of cheating is yet to be seen.

Multiple Formats

Up until last year, AP tests were taken only “traditionally,” with pencil and paper. This year, there will be both a paper and digital option for almost every subject, depending on the test date.

The first batch of test dates, which the College Board refers to as “Administration 1,” consists of paper-and-pencil exams administered in school. Administration 1 will take place between May 3 and 17.

Administrations 2 and 3, which will occur from May 18 to 28 and June 1 to 11, respectively, will have both in-school and at-home options. The College Board makes a distinction between the two testing periods:

“In Administration 2, half of the subjects are full-length paper and pencil, administered in school, and half are full-length digital, administered in school or taken at home.
In Administration 3, most subjects are full-length digital, administered in school or taken at home; nine subjects remain full-length paper and pencil, administered in school.”

If this explanation confuses you, you’re not the only one. What you should glean from it is that whether a test is offered in-school or at-home, on-paper or digitally, or all of the above, depends on what subject the test is.

For example, the College Board has decided that some tests, like those on non-English languages or music theory, should not have a digital option, so those tests will not be offered outside of a proctored school environment at all. Other tests - specifically, Calculus, Chemistry, Physics, and Statistics - will only be offered only as paper-and-pencil exams in Administrations 1 and 2 but can be taken digitally in Administration 3 by students who are otherwise unable to take them in a school environment.

Long story short - while Administration 1 will feature only in-school and on-paper tests, Administrations 2 and 3 will have more of a mix of options, depending on the subject.

Full-Length Exams

One important feature of this year’s exams that is unlike 2020’s is that all tests will be full-length. That means that all tests will feature multiple sections, with each exam taking between 3 and 4 hours to complete. This is a big departure from last year’s abbreviated exams, most of which featured only one section that took around 45 minutes to finish.

And Finally...The Fine Print

You may be looking at all these options thinking “This is great! I can just take my tests at home at the latest date possible. Who would ever choose to take it earlier or in-person?!” If so, this section is for you.

One very important aspect of this new plan is that schools will choose which options they will offer. In other words, though the College Board is prepared to execute many different options, it’s up to the schools to select the dates and test formats they prefer. It’s likely that your school has just begun the process of making their decisions, so be patient and expect the verdict to be revealed soon.

Want More Info?

Full dates and details for this year’s AP exams can be found on this page on the College Board’s website. As I explained just now, however, the way your school will choose to administer their tests is up to teachers and administrators. For that reason, your best resource on when/where/how to test will be the faculty and staff at your own school.

If you’re anxious about preparing for the AP exams this year, I encourage you to check out the year's edition of ThinquePrep’s annual AP review classes, taking place this April.

If you’d like a little more in-depth academic support, ask about our academic coaching services, too.


Nina Calabretta is a college English instructor, tutor, and writer native to Orange County, CA. When she’s not writing or helping students improve their skills as readers, writers, and critical thinkers, she can be found hiking the local trails with friends and family or curled up with a good book and her cat, Betsy. She has been part of the ThinquePrep team since 2018.

With offices located in beautiful Orange County, ThinquePrep specializes in the personalized mentorship of students and their families through the entire college preparation process and beyond. With many recent changes to college admissions - standardized tests, financial aid, varied admissions processes - the educational landscape has never been more competitive or confusing. We’re here from the first summer program to the last college acceptance letter. It’s never too early to start thinking about your student’s future, so schedule your complimentary consultation today!

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