Pro/Con: Online AP testing


In May, the College Board is presenting digital options for seven Advanced Placement exam subjects.

For students, the shift away from traditional paper AP exams means adapting to new test-taking styles and adjusting to new proctoring methods. Despite the present concerns, online AP exams offer numerous advantages, including increased accessibility and personalization, efficient and objective testing and scoring, cost effectiveness and environmental friendliness. 

Technology is playing an increasingly vital role in education, and a primary factor of its growth is its ability to provide more personalizable and accessible learning. Online AP tests can be implemented with technology in ways that the paper test cannot. For example, for students who experience vision impairment, adaptive technologies that can be developed for online tests include screen readers, optical character recognition, text-to-speech and braille displays. The ability to implement personalization technology allows test-takers to perform their best without being hindered by out-of-control factors like text size.

Furthermore, the format of the online AP exams is more efficient for students and exam scorers. On the digital exam, students can type and select answers much faster than they can handwrite and bubble answer choices.  Systems that quickly grade test batches without error from smearing, stray marks or the wrong type of pencil lead reduce the time it takes for students to receive scores. 

Then there is the matter of handwriting: according to standardized test tutor Bradford Holmes and AP course advisor Tiffany Sorensen in a U.S. News article, “no matter how brilliant your thoughts or how cogent your analysis, the College Board cannot give you credit for an answer that they cannot read.” On the digital test, students with poor handwriting will not be penalized unfairly, as all answers will be submitted online.

Finally, the digital AP exam will allow for a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly test. The high cost of taking AP tests is due to factors such as examiner compensation, printing and shipping test kits globally, according to the online education platform EnthuZiastic. According to the College Board, in 2021 and 2022, more than four million AP exams were taken nationally. The high number of test takers and the length of the test booklets indicates the significant resource consumption associated with printing and shipping paper tests. In contrast, digital AP tests eliminate the need for physical printing and shipping, reducing costs and environmental damages. 

Concerns about digital AP tests exacerbating technology inequity are valid, but many initiatives are working to provide technology to students who cannot access it. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 94% of K-12 public schools provided digital devices to students who needed them at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year.

Adapting to change is often accompanied by challenges, and the unfamiliar transition to digital AP exams is no exception. However, people must recognize the benefits that the digital exam will bring, in order to embrace the rising role of technology in education.


The College Board has announced the adoption of digital AP exams for the 2024 AP season, with nine exams going fully digital by 2025. As students gear up to experience a new testing format, the shift to online examination begs the question: are digital exams even advisable? Based on the unpredictable nature of this testing format, it is clear that digital exams are decidedly not.  

The most concerning aspect of the shift to digital testing is the possibility of technical difficulties. A move online invites a host of potential issues that could interfere with the integrity of the testing process, the most glaring of which being Wi-Fi connection issues. The College Board even warns that “assigning too many students to a room can delay testing and prevent answer submission.” Do all schools have the resources to accommodate this potential issue? 

Even beyond Wi-Fi connectivity, the College Board lists a myriad of other issues that could delay testing in their Technical Troubleshooting Guide. Especially compounded by the sheer number of students in a testing space, delays and distractions are inevitable with online testing. 

We have already seen the issues with online testing affect students: In 2020, a class action lawsuit was filed against the College Board on behalf of high-schoolers who took online exams and had trouble submitting their answers. In May 2023, roughly 60,000 exam-takers were affected by technical issues with the AP English Literature and Composition digital exam, according to a statement from the College Board. From this, it is  clear that the technology is simply not developed enough to justify abandoning paper testing. 

Not only do online exams come with technical issues, but they can also perpetuate the digital inequality of public education. A 2021 report by Common Sense Media and the Boston Consulting Group found that 15 to 16 million K-12 public school students across the country are caught in the digital divide, the gap between those who have access to digital technology and those who do not. The report also found that of disconnected students, 60% of these students — primarily Black and urban students — cannot afford digital access, and that up to 40% face significant roadblocks like insufficient digital literacy or language barriers. The issue with digital testing is not just about whether students have access to a school-issued device on exam day — it is about whether they are competent and comfortable with the technology they are utilizing. But on the matter of testing devices, the quality of devices that students use for testing is not standard in all schools — unlike the test booklets that are universally used for all exams. 

Proponents of the shift might champion the streamlined grading process that can be achieved through online testing, and it is certainly true that digital exams would cut the time spent grading. But should easing the graders’ process come at the expense of students’ performance? Shifting to digital exams is not a reasonable risk to take when these scores impact college admissions and credits. 

Until digital inequalities and technical issues are addressed in order to standardize digital testing, it’s clear that AP exams should stay offline.

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