Paper vs. Pixels: Digital testing for AP Language and Composition Exam


Britannica Image Quest

Since the pandemic, AP testing formats have changed to offer digital exams as well as paper exams.

On the College Board’s AP Language and Composition exam on May 9, students at Homestead High School faced whether to take the test in paper or digital format. Both formats have advantages and disadvantages.

Ultimately it was decided that this year’s AP Lang and Composition exam would occur in digital format.

Sheba Bentum-Mensah, junior, prefers paper exams. “I just feel more comfortable with pen and paper,” Mensah said. “I like writing notes in the margins and highlighting important passages.”

Many students at Homestead share Mensah’s preference for paper exams as it allows them to write and retain information better physically.

On the other hand, Amaya Tucker, senior, prefers digital exams. “I don’t have to worry about smudging my handwriting or crossing anything out,” Tucker said. “I’m more comfortable typing than writing by hand.” Additionally, Tucker likes that digital exams allow her to change her answers easily and easily flag questions to return to later.

However, Livia Lathen, senior at Homestead who took her AP exams digitally last year, had a less-than-ideal experience. “The Wi-Fi went out during one of my exams, and I lost all my work,” she recalled. “I had to redo the entire exam, which was stressful,” Lathen said. Technical difficulties like these can be a significant disadvantage of digital exams. If the Wi-Fi or computer malfunctions, students at Homestead may need help to complete the exam or lose all their work.

It’s important to note that the College Board allows schools to choose between digital and paper exams. Schools make local decisions and offer a digital, paper or a combination of paper and digital.

Ashley Pozel, who teaches AP Language and Composition, said, “Digital exams were chosen this year due to their efficiency. The exam is extremely long, and it’s important to us that our students have the best testing experience possible.”

According to a report from EdSurge, there has been a significant increase in the number of students taking digital AP exams. In 2019, just over 103,000 students took digital exams; in 2020, that number jumped to over 1.1 million. Despite this increase, there have been some issues with digital exams. In 2020, there were several instances where students experienced technical difficulties that prevented them from submitting their exams, leading to frustration and anxiety.

One advantage of digital exams is that they are more eco-friendly. A digital exam reduces paper use, saves energy, and reduces carbon emissions. This advantage may sway Homestead students concerned about their environmental impact.

While some students at Homestead may prefer the convenience of digital exams, others may prefer the comfort of paper exams. It’s important to remember that technical difficulties can happen during digital exams, and students should be prepared for these situations.