AP test-takers report problems submitting online exams, fear they'll have to retake

"It’s unfair that I have to retake the test again that I have been studying so hard for, because of an issue on their part," one student said

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By Caitlin Fichtel and Suzanne Ciechalski

High school students around the world began taking online Advanced Placement exams this week, but some say they've encountered problems submitting their responses and may have to retake the exams at a later date.

The AP exams measure how well a high school student comprehends college material and can help them earn college credit. They typically are taken in person.

The College Board announced earlier this year that because of the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 exams would be offered in an online, free-response format and only include topics covered by March. Students are able to take exams on any device and can either type their responses or write them by hand and upload photos.

Caleb Trunkle, a senior, in Charleston, South Carolina, had been studying all year for the AP Calculus AB exam but said trying to prepare at home without a teacher was “pretty difficult.”

However, Trunkle felt confident when he went to submit in his answers Tuesday afternoon. He said he followed the AP College Board requirements, and the answers “seemed to go through” but then was notified that his test hadn’t been received.

Trunkle told NBC News that because his test didn't go through, his only option is to apply to retake the exam in June.

“I was incredibly upset. I’ve put so much into this course. I’ve put so much into my high school career, I’m trying to finish it out, this was my last week of testing. I have one more tomorrow. I did everything right,” he said.

Students, parents and teachers have reported issues with exam submissions this week on social media.

The College Board did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday night.

But on Monday said that the vast majority of test-takers had successfully submitted their exams.

“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,” the College Board wrote on Facebook Monday, the first day of testing. “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.”

Cole Wagner, 17, said he was unable to submit his AP Physics Mechanics exam Monday after he tried twice to copy and paste his answers from a Google Doc to the exam. He said the responses reformatted when he pasted them into the exam, meaning they did not correspond with the questions. He’s hoping to retake the test at a later date.

On Tuesday, Wagner, who is from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, said his computer froze while he took the AP Calculus AB exam. He was unable to submit his response for the first and second questions and later logged into the exam from his phone to upload a photo of his work for both questions into the second question’s submission box, he said.

"For both tests, I had two separate issues but both were equally frustrating," he told NBC News.

"I saw a side of Cole I've never seen before," his father, Bret Wagner, said. "He almost lost his mind today, and he put a ton of effort in and this meant a lot to him," he said.

Late Tuesday, the College Board acknowledged that some students had reported troubles cutting and pasting responses for exams.

"While more than 99% of students successfully submitted their AP Exam responses today, some who didn't told us they had trouble cutting and pasting their responses," the organization wrote in a tweet. "We took a closer look and found that outdated browsers were a primary cause of these challenges."

Darren Kagey, a junior at Pickerington High School North in Pickerington, Ohio, took the same AP Calculus AB exam and said he had a similar issue. He said he was informed he would have to apply for a makeup test.

After the exam, Kagey said, he went online to see if others were reporting issues and saw a tweet from the College Board informing students they had to update their camera settings in order to upload photos of their work.

But, the tweet was posted just a few hours before the exam began, Kagey said.

“I just think it’d be so much simpler if they allowed students that had issues to resubmit the work they completed,” he said.

Students complained of issues with other tests besides the Calculus AB and Physics exams.

Freshman Aryan Jadhav in Denmark, Georgia, was ready to submit his answers for the AP Human Geography exam but says the College Board software crashed just before his time was about to expire.

He said he had about 20 seconds left to paste in an answer but after he clicked submit, he was told his answer wasn’t recorded.

“I feel that it’s unfair that I have to retake the test again that I have been studying so hard for, because of an issue on their part," he said.