Editorial: A waste of paper, time and practice

Why the staff failed AP Biology students


Illustration courtsey of Kira Garlick and Elinda Xiao

It might seem difficult or even impossible to get a perfect score on a final exam in a class as challenging as AP Biology. But somehow, an unusually high number of this year’s students did just that.

They were able to do so by memorizing test questions from a practice test they took online. Yes, the AP Biology curriculum builders chose to make the final exam an exact replica of an online test — this was a failure on the staff’s part.    

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To accurately assess students’ knowledge, teachers must administer an exam that cannot be found, memorized and reviewed online prior to the exam.

AP classes are intended to prepare enrolled students for the nationwide AP test taken in May, and due to the schedule of the test, teachers must administer a second semester final similar to the actual AP exam, but prior to the scheduled date of the AP test. Teachers usually use a test from an archive of previous years’ tests. 

In order for students to be well-prepared, teachers often recommend taking multiple practice AP tests either by purchasing AP practice books or taking tests online.

The students of this year’s AP Biology class listened to the advice. Third period, the first class to take the final, realized the final exam was an exact copy of the most recently released online practice test they had studied with.

The word spread. By the next day the final exam was administered, many students knew exactly which test would would appear before them.

The administration eventually found out and decided not to include the scores from the portion of the test identical to the online version in the grade book.

Denae Nurnberg, the assistant principal in charge of student activities and AP testing, spoke with each AP Biology class period informing them of the administration’s disappointment in regard to students’ actions.

On May 2, both Nurnberg and interim AP biology teacher Lawrence Laskowski lectured each period about academic dishonesty. In these lectures, the staff criticized students for failing to prepare themselves by memorizing answers to the final.

The administration should focus less on critiquing students and instead focus more on how students’ knowledge was being assessed, a responsibility both teachers and staff hold.

If students are recommended to take practice tests online, there can be no complaints that the students typed “AP Bio practice test” into Google and took the first test they found, nor that students scored high on the final exam.

The only people complaining should be the students.

Teachers should be giving students an opportunity to succeed through assessments that test knowledge. As an easily accessible online practice test, the final exam did not give students an indication of their preparedness.

Yes, students who memorized answers for the sole purpose of boosting their grade cheated themselves of an opportunity to test their knowledge, but they cannot be the only ones blamed. Questions available for student use online should not have been used in the first place.

According to College Board, the website provides “complete AP exams available to teachers, but inaccessible to students.”

Had the teacher chosen one of these tests, all of this trouble would have been prevented.

It is one course of action to criticize this year’s students for borderline academic dishonesty, but it is a much wiser solution for the administration to admit their mistakes and to reform the final exam for next year.  

This year’s AP Biology final exam was a waste of time, paper and opportunity for preparing students for the AP test the following week. Let’s just hope next year’s students — and staff — are better prepared.