“Mrs. Freeman, I am not allowed to tell you what was on the AP exam. But the tweets from the free response questions are hilarious. You gotta see them!”
Each year during the first two weeks in May, Twitter lights up with students posting memes and GIFs about their AP exams. But with humor, students also tweet content clues to a secured exam they agreed to not discuss for two days.
A cursory survey of the 60 students from my AP Environmental Science (APES) and AP Chemistry courses revealed that every single one of them tuned into their Twitter newsfeeds and searched relevant hashtags (#apes or #apchem, for example) to chuckle and commiserate with fellow adolescents from across the country who survived the same three-hour tests.
Educators also hit Twitter right after the exam. Within five minutes of scrolling, I knew the four APES free response questions asked about plastic pollution, beavers as keystone species, African elephants, and hydroelectric dams.
Students can’t resist posting on social media as a post-test release. But is reading and tweeting about AP exams the same as cheating on AP exams?
— ??Yaman (@ezPzyaman) May 2, 2017
This isn’t a new phenomenon.
Since my first group of AP students took their exams in 2009, the practice of venting online immediately after exiting the testing room has skyrocketed from a trend to a tradition. It’s recently attracted humorous attention from BuzzFeed and more thoughtful coverage from NPR.
The latter raised concerns of inequality of internet access in lower-income communities, stating that students with the “greatest privilege to access online content swiftly and regularly” could have an advantage—gaming the system and previewing the questions before they take the exam.
However, this is a specious argument.
Early access to an AP test does not facilitate cheating, no matter how fast a student’s Twitter fingers are. First of all, the College Board’s international tests ensure there isn’t an overlap in answers. Different versions of the tests prevent students who take the AP exam in Asia, for example, from giving my students in Georgia information that could help them get a better score.
That doesn’t mean exam takers don’t try, says Sean Fisk, an AP Chemistry teacher in South Korea. “I’ve had students contacted (via social media) by kids in the States asking for specifics. I know it’s useless, though.”
Even within the United States, measures are taken to ensure students have little if any window to spread information. Tests in Alaska must begin before 8 am local time. Thus, when students on the East coast are finishing (and possibly tweeting), the rest of the schools in the country are already in a secured room where no cell phones are allowed. Any outliers who need to test at a later date—about 4 percent of test takers—are given an alternate exam.
Is it time for the College Board to put their money where their mouth is?
While unfair advantages and sneak-peeks of test content are a moot point, I am still bothered that the College Board has done little to reprimand cavalier students. Their policy directs “do not email, text, post, or in any other way circulate AP Exam information through any kind of social media, or your AP Exam score may be canceled and you could also be banned from taking future AP Exams.” But no consequences have come so far from the rise in AP tweeters.
With $93 per test and college credit hanging in the balance, I would like to see the College Board either scrap their toothless guidelines or enforce their rules. The subject is drawing attention from large media outlets without any discernable actions or public statements in response. It detracts from the College Board’s reputation as a leader in the field of higher education services.
The tweets are good for a laugh, but that’s about it.
As far as my students, none of them posted (or admitted to posting) test information in the restricted time window. They didn’t want to compromise their test scores. And they weren’t the only ones, it would seem:
— Jackson Ingram (@J_Ingram93) May 11, 2017
Whether or not there are consequences for tweets in the future, if a student is depending on SpongeBob memes as a test-prep strategy, they probably weren’t going to score that well anyway.