AP Exam takers lost network connectivity in some cases !!!

I had three of my tutoring students take the Calculus BC exam yesterday. All of them felt well-prepared, but ONE out of THREE lost their network connection which made it impossible to finish.

(UPDATE: Instead of the reasons given in the Chronicle article below, the problem might be due to system overload near the end of the exam – uploading of results near the end of the test bogged down and the exam timer closed the test before the uploads could complete.  This is an unproven but plausible hypothesis given that the College Board may not have had enough students to load test the system before the real exam was given. More in the Comments section following this article.)

Apparently they were not alone according to the San Francisco Chronicle.  I found this article this afternoon while reading Diane Ravitch’s blog.

The College Board claims that this happened to only 1% of test takers.


From the Chronicle article:

“A Twitter post on Wednesday from the company’s official account said, “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. We took a closer look and found that outdated browsers were a primary cause of these challenges.”

It advised that people who had issues submitting their exams update their browsers to the latest version of either Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Microsoft Edge.

The College Board also posted a link to a new troubleshooting page.

An earlier Tweet from the organization suggested that the problem had to do with the interface not accepting the default format of iPhone photos and that images would have to be converted to the widely-used digital format known as a jpeg.

The messaging did not sit well with the Twitter account’s followers who, in the replies thread, accused the College Board of “blaming the students” and said, “This is disappointing.”

The technical problems affected students across the country.”

My opinion on the AP system is well known…

Author: David Kristofferson

Retired Ph.D. scientist, teacher (after retiring from industry, taught in private and public high schools and then worked a decade in my own private tutoring business), bioinformatician (managed both the NIH-funded GenBank National Nucleic Acid Sequence Databank and the BIONET National Computer Resource for Molecular Biology), IT director at Eos and Raven Biotechnologies, software product manager, AAAS Fellow, avid cyclist, and backpacker!

10 thoughts on “AP Exam takers lost network connectivity in some cases !!!”

  1. My daughter was not able to submit her Calculus AB exam yesterday. She is furious. She felt she did well, but now has to take it again. Upload worked no problem during the test run pre-test. I suspect College Board did not invest infrastructure/do enough load testing, and they simply could not handle everyone turning it in all in the same 5-10 minutes. They are irresponsible in my opinion.


    1. My student who had the problem told me that the uploading of the final problem on the BC test was very slow and then the exam closed before it finished. Sounds like the same problem that your daughter had, and I bet your hypothesis is correct! I am also hearing enough feedback in just the last few minutes from other students that I expect the 1% figure of students who had problems is a lowball number.

      Note that the College Board rakes in something on the order of $3 billion per year in revenue…


      1. They have no accountability at all, so I suspect we will never know for sure whether it was really 1% or not. $3 billion from a captive audience with no competition. Not right.


      2. I have found out that a student who started their upload at the 5 minute warning had it complete, but another one who went past that did not. I heard, similar to your comment, that the trial upload went quickly, which was deceptive. Students knew they had to upload by the deadline but didn’t realize that the system would bog down.

        This news is going national. They will be hard-pressed not to provide answers.


      3. I sent the following email earlier this evening to the reporter who broke this story at the Chronicle:

        Dear Mr. Vaziri,

        I tutor a number of students in AP Physics, Calculus and Chemistry. Reports that I am getting back indicate that the College Board may not have had sufficient bandwidth or server capacity for the last minute upload of answers. One student who uploaded at the 5 minute warning completed the process. Another who went past that had their upload cut off when it bogged down. Two people told me that they did a practice upload earlier in preparation for the exam which went quickly, but then the system bogged down at the end.

        I think that it is likely that the 1% number underestimates the extent of the problem. The national press should hold the College Board’s feet to the fire, and do it quickly. This problem might recur tomorrow if they can not add computing/network capacity quickly!!

        Dr. David Kristofferson


  2. 2/80 AP Calc AB students from a SF High School couldn’t upload it. Definitely higher than 1%. I heard that some student submit when there was still 30 sec and it didn’t go through.


  3. The following was posted on our local Nextdoor newsfeed:

    “I am a college counselor and a school counselor. There is a huge disconnect between what College Board is reporting and what we are hearing from our students. Many students throughout the country and the world were not able to finish/upload their exams or faced other technical issues. The college counseling listserv is on fire today and high school counselors and college admissions deans are pushing back against College Board’s reports and demanding proof of their 1% claim. This is a terribly frustrating and miserable situation for our hardworking students who did everything right. The college counseling community (College admissions officers and high school counselors) know it’s not fair and we are doing everything to advocate for students. Colleges know that this is a crazy time and students have no control over many testing and grading issues relating to their college applications this year. I am so sorry our students have to go through this…ugh”


  4. This just happened an hour ago to my son for the AP Chemistry exam (5/15/2020). Hopefully the volume of uploads for the makeup test will be below the threshold capacity of the CollegeBoard system for the June test.


  5. I just spoke with one of my AP Physics 1 students who completed the test this afternoon.

    The test had two questions, each with multiple parts. There were 30 minutes total allotted for the first question and 20 minutes for the second question. After 25 minutes into the first question a warning popped up telling students to upload now and that they would not be able to go back to the first question after the deadline. My student worked for two additional minutes and was still able to upload before the deadline. The student learned afterwards that friends who waited longer than that had problems.

    Students had 15 minutes to work on the second problem before the 5 minute warning.

    In my understanding of arithmetic, 25 + 15 = 40, and they were told it would be a 45 minute test. As it was they were given 50 minutes total with 10 minutes for uploading unless they wanted to gamble on losing points for an entire question.

    Students had earlier done a practice upload which went more quickly and that appears to have lulled some of them into thinking that they didn’t need to upload at the 5 minute warning.

    Based on the above, the College Board will probably argue that the students “were given fair warning.” High school students get fairly abrupt introductions to the adult world these days…


    1. Good news! Looks like emailing if you get an upload error message is now an option.

      Message from the College Board today:

      Submitting Exam Responses
      Beginning Monday, May 18, and continuing through the makeup window, if your student is unable to upload their response due to a technical disruption, they’ll be able to email it to us immediately following the conclusion of their browser-based exam. If this happens during their exam, they will follow instructions on how to email their response on the page that says, “We Did Not Receive Your Response.” The email address that appears on this page will be unique to each student.


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