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Different Versions of AP Exams

Each year, the AP Program develops and administers multiple versions of the AP Exam for each AP subject. Each version of the exam is developed to the same specifications, with the same format, number, and type of questions.

Having multiple versions of the exam provides several key benefits for the AP community:

  • The risk of students sharing exam questions across time zones is significantly reduced
  • Schools have the option to offer late-testing to students impacted by exceptional circumstances
  • A complete AP Exam in 16 large-volume AP subjects can be released to teachers of authorized courses each year, for use as an in-class practice exam

To achieve these benefits, we must implement a more complex pattern of reusing particular questions in subsequent years and across exam versions, as well as administer the various exam versions to statistically representative groups. These processes allow the College Board to ensure that the different versions of each AP Exam generate comparable scores that are valid and reliable indicators of a student’s performance, regardless of the version of the exam taken.

This means that on regularly-scheduled testing dates, some schools in the United States will receive a version of the exam in selected subjects that is different from the most commonly administered version. In these cases, half of a given school's students in the selected subject will take the most commonly administered version of the exam, and the other half will take the different version of the exam. Overall, only a small subset of students will take a different version of the exam on the regularly scheduled testing date — typically, these exams represent approximately 3 percent of the total number of exams administered in the U.S. on the regularly scheduled testing dates.

The most commonly-administered set of free-response questions is posted on the College Board website two days after the exam. However, questions from the other exam versions are not released publicly and are considered secure. Students and teachers shouldn’t assume that the free-response questions on any given version of the exam will be released online, and must check the questions posted on the College Board website before discussing any free-response questions.

In addition, because a subset of students takes exams whose free-response questions are not released publicly after the exam:

  • All exam materials containing exam content (e.g., exam booklets, exams on CD, and master CDs) must be returned to the AP Program, including the separate orange booklets included with some exams.
  • Free-response booklets are not available for exams whose free-response questions are not released on the College Board website two days after the exam administration.
  • Schools may not borrow or lend exams among one another. In the event that AP Services cannot fulfill a time-sensitive order, the school may offer a late-testing administration.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which subjects will have additional exam versions in 2016?

There are two scenarios in which students in one class will take two different versions of an exam:

  1. New or redesigned exams: In order for multiple versions of a new or redesigned exam to be available for late testing and for international administrations, valid scores from statistically equivalent groups of examinees must first be obtained. This affects only European History for 2016.
  2. High volume subjects:  There are 16 high volume subjects for which the College Board administers a different version of the AP Exam in different time zones internationally.  These are Biology, Calculus AB, Calculus BC, Chemistry, English Language and Composition, English Literature and Composition, Macroeconomics, Microeconomics, Physics 1, Physics 2, Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism, Physics C: Mechanics, Psychology, Statistics, U.S. History, and World History.

In each of these scenarios, multiple versions of the exam will be administered nationwide, but no classroom will ever receive more than two versions. The reason for administering exams in this way is to ensure that the scores that result from all versions are comparable. That is, no matter which version of an exam a student sees, the resulting score will be the same.

How does the College Board decide which version of the AP Exam my students will receive?

Different versions of an AP Exam are distributed to a randomly selected sample of schools of varying sizes across all major U.S. geographic regions. Selected schools are representative of the total population in terms of school characteristics and test performance. When a school receives two versions of an exam for a subject, approximately half of the students will take the version given to most U.S. students, and approximately half will take the additional version. For most subjects, a school will not receive an additional version of the exam in consecutive years.

Are there any special administration requirements for the additional versions of AP Exams given in some U.S. schools?

No. While the exam booklets will have different codes on their covers that distinguish the versions from each other, the school does not need to (and should not) take any action to determine whether it has received two versions of an AP Exam — instead, the AP Coordinator should simply distribute the exams as usual to students on exam day.

If my AP class is one of the classes for which two versions of the exam are administered this year, how can the College Board guarantee that one version will not be easier or more difficult than the other version?

Whether across years or across versions of an exam within the same year, the AP Program ensures the comparability of AP Exam scores. That is, a 3 in a given AP subject always has the same meaning, as does a 2, 1, 4, or 5. Another related assurance we make is that regardless of which version of an exam a student takes, his or her score would be the same. Both of these exam characteristics are supported by the process of equating.

Because no two versions of a test can be developed to statistically equivalent levels of difficulty, equating is an essential process in scoring of standardized tests for which score comparability is an important concern. Through similar procedures as are employed to ensure that an AP score of 3 in one year is comparable to a 3 in both the previous and following years, the AP Program ensures the comparability of scores that result from different versions of an exam administered in the same year, despite what may legitimately be seen as perceivable differences in exam difficulty.

For exams in which two or more versions are administered, an equivalent groups equating design is applied through random assignment of the various forms to statistically equivalent groups of examinees. With successful equating, the statistical procedure adjusts for differences in difficulty among forms that are built to be similar in difficulty and content, so that the scores on the forms can be used interchangeably. The AP Program ensures that students' scores are unaffected by which version of an exam the students took.

What will happen to my AP Instructional Planning Report if my students receive an additional version of an AP Exam?

Your Instructional Planning Reports for the selected subject(s) will be divided into two separate segments: one for the students who received the most commonly administered version of the exam, and one for the students who took the additional version of the exam.