Opinion: I Hate College Board, and You Should Too


Throughout the past few months, the global pandemic Covid-19 has turned the world upside down. From remote learning to SAT cancellations to college admissions criteria, the life of an average high school student has been fundamentally changed, and throughout this crisis colleges and universities across the country have stepped up to the plate. Many schools have gone test-optional for the class of 2021. Others have begun preparing for the possibility of an offline fall semester in 2020. Our own state’s flagship research university, the University of New Hampshire, created an emergency fund for students who are struggling. But throughout these accommodations, as schools across the country and the world have done their best to keep digital learning as smooth of an experience as possible, College Board has utterly failed.


As any AP student would tell you, College Board itself is already itself an unnecessarily exploitative organization, even without quarantine, social distancing, or digital learning. College Board completely monopolizes the college admissions industry. The vast majority of universities in the United States require the SAT or ACT for admission, and many high schools offer only one option or the other. (Souhegan offers only the SAT. If a student wishes to take the ACT, they must register at another high school in the state that’s offering it, and pay out of pocket rather than have their testing fees covered by Souhegan.) As well, competitive universities often require SAT subject tests for admission. One subject test comes out to $48; taking two on the same day raises that fee to $70. 


There is typically no alternative to these subject test exams. But while the regular SAT may have competition with the ACT in the area of standardized testing, the world of AP courses is one that’s entirely owned and controlled by the College Board. While AP courses may be considered optional by the high school a student goes to, AP courses are as good as a requirement for admission to prestigious universities. To demonstrate the rigor of a student’s course load, admissions counselors will look for honors and Advanced Placement classes to show that the applicant has challenged themself throughout high school. 


The international equivalent of the IB, or International Baccalaureate Program, is not popular or frequently offered in the United States. This leaves many students with no option other than taking AP classes in order to pursue admission to a competitive college. Even if they have taken AP courses, they often will not receive credit for them unless they take the exam and pass with a certain score or higher. One exam in the United States is $93. For a student taking two or more AP exams, the costs pile up quickly. 


In addition, College Board does not offer any free physical resources to study for them. Someone taking an AP exam can expect to pay for not only the cost of the exam but the cost of test prep books or a prep course. With test books often averaging $25+ per book, the combined fees for taking an AP exam can easily reach into the hundreds of dollars. These exams inherently favor students who come from well-off financial backgrounds and can afford specialized preparation courses. For less privileged students, they can expect to pay hundreds for exams or pursue waivers that often do not stretch far enough, and work for hours on their own while others get specialized help for every aspect of the tests.


There is no alternative to AP courses. If a student submits a transcript without those coveted AP credits to a more exclusive school, they can expect to be questioned in the interview about why they did not seek out more difficult classes, or risk admissions officers turning them away because of the lack of ‘academic rigor’. College Board has created an industry where paying hundreds of dollars to take difficult, subject-specific exams is simply a way of earning a fighting chance in the process of competitive college admissions, much less securing admission. 


Thousands of students with multiple AP courses are turned away from their goal schools every year. For some, that means a thousand dollars or more gone down the drain. For others, it means that random factors such as a particularly rough curve, a bad test day, or an unusual number of students taking the test can make the difference between a good score and nearly a hundred dollars gone to waste. The lack of any alternative to these exams means that College Board itself has an outrageous amount of control in the field of college admissions. Their test curves and their scorers can be the difference between an acceptance and a rejection.


This year’s AP exams only serve to paint College Board’s predatory business in an even harsher light. Students who paid almost a hundred dollars for an exam are now expected to take a forty-five minute long exam at home, and that score will be weighted the same way as a score from a typical year’s AP exam. These exams can have as few as two questions and utterly fail to accurately test the student taking it on a wide range of topics. Each of these exams has a set time. These times are often as late as midnight, two, or three in the morning for international students. In addition to the higher exam cost for international students ($123), they must now wake up at absurd hours of night to take tests they paid for in November.


College Board has also done nothing to address the server and submission issues that have plagued thousands of students.  The app used for World Language exams has a terrible user interface, frequent recording issues, and a practice setting that does not accurately replicate the conditions of the exam. When their servers go down or their submission portal fails to work, students are expected to take a different exam in June and work themselves to compensate for the College Board’s mistakes.


College Board seems more focused on hiring guest speakers for their AP Reviews than fixing the server issues that have plagued thousands of students. For a company that took in over a billion dollars in revenue last year, where has that money gone? 


And these technical issues don’t even begin to show the scope of the College Board’s predatory behavior regarding this year’s AP exams. College Board has begun posting fake answers across the internet, encouraging students to cheat, and asking for personal information from test-takers in order to cancel their scores for this ‘cheating’. In addition, they have posted obscene images onto platforms such as Reddit in poor attempts to masquerade as an average AP student. 


By encouraging cheating with these fake accounts, they are attempting to trick students in order to cancel their scores, similar to inducing someone into committing a crime. This would qualify as entrapment. While students may not be committing a crime by using unauthorized resources or seeking outside help, College Board is still using entrapment to disqualify those students’ scores. Child entrapment is only considered a crime when the perpetrator is a member of law enforcement, but students and parents across the country can agree that it’s disingenuous for employees at a trusted educational non-profit to pose as high school students online and attempt to trick stressed out AP students into cheating. While the things they post on social media may be funny to some, for others it’s simply an annoyance and a distraction.


It also serves to highlight how little College Board trusts its so-called ‘successful’ AP students. Each online AP Exam already has a contract that the student must type out, agreeing to not use any outside materials or seek outside help during the examination. In addition, College Board posted countless reminders of what materials are approved on social media in the days prior to the AP exams. Sure, some students will always look to cheat, but going as far as to create fake social media accounts and pose as other students is an absurd overreaction to a problem that will likely never be fully solved. College Board has demonstrated a complete lack of trust in the students it supposedly wants to succeed. All they have shown with these accounts is that they have no idea how to interact with their own AP students and that they lack any sort of faith or trust in those students to obey the rules of the examination. 


These poor excuses for AP exams and College Board’s actions surrounding them have left students across the nation with pressing questions about their exams and their college futures. What happens if one of those questions happens to be in the one specific area that a student struggles in? They receive a poor score for an entire year’s worth of learning, based off of a two-question exam? What happens to the curves for this year, since fewer students are taking them and the exams themselves are significantly easier? 


What happens if the cheating that College Board actively attempted to encourage is rampant? What’s to stop students from using the ‘unauthorized resources’ that College Board’s rules exclude? Why did they expect that a five-minute timeframe for hundreds of thousands of students to simultaneously submit work would somehow work perfectly? 


And perhaps the most pressing question of all: why does the College Board claim to care about the students taking its examinations while actively jeopardizing their futures?