As AP exams approach, students and staff navigate a tangled web of logistics


Jackson Spenner

New schedules and changing formats cause students to adjust their plans for upcoming exams.

Jackson Spenner, Editor-In-chief

On Feb. 19, Burlingame’s students and teachers received what would be the first of many emails titled ‘AP Exam Updates.’ They were told that Advanced Placement (AP) exams would be pushed back to early June — up to two weeks after school’s end — and administered digitally, at home. 

However, just over a month later — after two surveys, countless emails and constant changes to the schedule — testing plans have changed further. Student polls conducted by the San Mateo Union High School District revealed mixed reactions to online formats, so 14 classes now have the option to take the exams in-person on dates ranging from May 3 to May 21. The remaining AP exams are still to be taken at-home and digitally, but test dates have been moved up to mid-May, with make-up tests available in June.

For Burlingame students, the shuffling of testing dates has been both a blessing and a curse. While less time to prepare typically makes for a more stressful testing experience, the thought of having to take an exam weeks into the summer was disconcerting. 

“If I take the test in May, most of the information will be newer and fresher than if I take it in June,” sophomore Ana Lunaparra, who plans to take exams for both AP European History and AP Italian in May, said. “But if I take it in June, I will have more time to study, just farther from the school year.”

Junior Katherine Gordon voiced a similar predicament. She, too, chose the May test date, hoping to wrap up the school year all in one go. 

“It just didn’t sound like fun to spend my first week of summer studying and cramming for AP exams,” Gordon said. “Plus, I’m supposed to be taking an ACT that weekend, and I would rather study instead. At least [with the May date] I can study hard during the school year and be done with the AP courses.”

One of the tests Gordon plans to take is the AP Physics 1 exam, which is math-based and utilizes many formulas. For that reason, many opted to take the test in-person rather than at-home. 

“In the spring of last year, formulaic exams were the most challenging for students to take digitally, so we’re seeing a desire to take them in-person,” vice principal Michele Fichera, Burlingame’s AP Administrator said. “Now, of course, [The College Board] has changed everything online, so we will have to see. The portal is different, the login will be different… there will be an entirely new system.” 

On top of the confusion regarding test scheduling, distance learning has already had a major impact on AP courses. Teachers have had to cut lessons, change their study plans and adjust for the various formats. 

“For teachers, the May exam has always meant this pressure to make sure that kids are learning and doing and improving up until that date,” Fichera said. “I think now, teachers are just going to have to prepare their students for those paper-pencil tests that are in the beginning of May.”

Students who will be taking AP exams for the first time anticipate the online setting to be a challenge.

“I’m still pretty nervous,” Lunaparra said. “This year has been a lot harder than in-person learning for me. I feel like it’s a lot more difficult to focus, online, on my computer, so I think I still need a lot of time to prepare for the test.” 

For the AP world language exams, it is mandatory for students to return to school in-person, where it will be administered in a traditional paper-and-pencil format, unlike last year’s virtual offering. That means that Lunaparra, who plans to continue distance learning through the remainder of the school year, will have to venture back on campus on May 21. 

“Right now, I don’t feel like I’m ready to take the paper Italian test,” Lunaparra said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve taken a test in person, so it’s gonna be really different. But, I think, since we’ve started to prepare already in class, that’ll help me a little bit. I’m just not completely sure what the experience will be like.”

With the College Board releasing more information every week, it is likely that testing logistics will undergo further changes. Still, Fichera has confidence that the school — and its students — will be well prepared come May. 

“What’s most important is everyone keeps working and communicating with their teachers,” Fichera said. “Everyone is doing the best that they can.”