AP students at Hills encounter errors submitting virtual exams


Liz Mashini

What junior Liz Mashini’s screen looked like after encountering an error submitting her responses for the AP Physics I exam.

[Update, 5/17/20: The College Board announced that, beginning Monday, those with errors submitting their AP exam responses can email it to the organization right after the test. It does not appear the College Board’s decision allows those who already had errors last week to send their responses, including several Hills students across multiple exams. On this basis, they would still have to make up the exam in June.]

In March, the College Board, which administers AP exams to high school students, announced that students affected by the coronavirus would be provided a new, at-home testing option.

Two months later, exam day came for Hills students –– and so did the tech issues.

According to Brendan Field, who teaches AP Physics I at Hills, roughly “10% of the entire AP Physics I population around the country had trouble submitting” a problem on the course’s Thursday exam. This included students of his own, who described what happened to the Trailblazer.

“I did the [AP Physics I exam] on paper, and the first question worked perfectly,” junior Noah Hirshfield explained. As he had prepared to do through the demo offered by the College Board, Hirshfield used AirDrop to send a picture of his work from his phone to his laptop, changed the file type, and submitted it without errors.

The second question, however, was not as successful. “I did the same thing –– I chose the file for the photo and went to hit ‘submit’, but nothing happened.”

It said I didn’t give a response.

— Noah Hirshfield

According to Hirshfield, he tried a motley of possible fixes as the timer clocked down: inputting the picture again, taking a new photo, using a different file type, taking a screenshot, and putting the photo in a Word document. He said he “could always choose the file, but then the ‘submit’ button wouldn’t work.”

Finally, the timer ran out. “It said I didn’t give a response.”

Several other students, including juniors Liz Mashini and Ava Henrich, described an identical issue, one that could have been a result of the ‘submit’ button being linked to the first question –– which the exam technology had already marked as completed.

The error, which appears to be linked to the College Board and not individual school districts, has for now given the students no choice but to retake the exam in June if they want to receive credit –– leaving them to feel what happened was out of their hands.

“Life is being so incredibly hard for us right now, and the College Board is forcing us to retake their entire exams because their technology didn’t work?” Henrich asked. “It really shows how much they actually care for their students.”

Henrich sent an email to the College Board after the test explaining her situation, which she documented on video.

Ava Henrich

AP Physics I was not the only virtual exam offered by the College Board to trouble students. On Monday, senior Miranda Luo and her class “took the very first [virtual] AP test, and we were kind of guinea pigs.”

We were kind of guinea pigs.

— Miranda Luo

She panicked when she realized she couldn’t submit anything, and she said “everyone else in my class who used a school computer had the same issue… the error seemed to be linked to that.”

While there is no evidence exactly where any of the errors have come from, the district’s Director of Technology Paul Zeller said the school had made changes in its technology, including browser extensions and content filters, “in an attempt to help correct the issue.” He later said students are allowed to use their own machine and encouraged them to run through an entire exam demo.

Nevertheless, students interviewed said they were already concerned with how the College Board was testing them. “I just believe it’s bad enough we had to continue with AP exams at all,” Henrich continued.

“The fact that a 45-minute test was supposed to show hundreds of hours of work and knowledge was already unfortunate,” Mashini expressed. “The test itself passed in a blink, and it ending with the ‘We didn’t receive your exam score’ page was the worst.'”

The discouragement, Mashini said, was compounded by her friends, who were part of the majority of students who did not experience issues. “While all my friends were feeling accomplished and finished, I felt worse than when I started.”

While all my friends were feeling accomplished and finished, I felt worse than when I started.

— Liz Mashini

She was not aware at first that she would have to retake it in June. “I saw on social media all the people who were having to retake it, yet my first reaction was that I’ll get my answers to [the College Board] somehow.”

Her answers, however, remain in her camera roll –– where Field, her teacher, says students who couldn’t submit responses should keep them for the time being, “just in case something happens.”

More than 1.24 million students who graduated from American high schools in 2018 took at least one AP exam according to the Student Research Foundation. Getting a passing score on a test –– considered a 3 out of 5 or above –– can help students get credit for college-level courses.

The College Board has yet to release a statement acknowledging issues on the AP Physics I exam. On Monday, it tweeted that “approximately 50,000 students took today’s AP Physics C: Mechanics exam. 98% submitted their responses, while approximately 2% encountered issues attempting to submit their response.

“Given the wide variety of devices, browsers, and versions students are using, we anticipated that a small percentage of students would encounter technical difficulties, and we have a makeup window in June so students have another opportunity to test.”