New AP registration system does not benefit students, even as College Board profits

September 11, 2019 — by Rohan Kumar

Making decisions with limited information is not a good idea. It’s not a good idea when buying a computer or when deciding which summer program to attend. It’s also bad when deciding whether to take a $110 test whose results will be sent to all the colleges you’re applying to.

This year, the College Board decided to move the AP registration deadline for schools from March to November, implementing a $40 late registration or cancellation fee. In order to meet these new regulations, Saratoga High will open AP registration from Sept. 16-27 and charge $110 per test. After Nov. 12, to compensate for College Board late fees, the administration is charging $150 for registration and is providing a $70 partial refund for cancellations. There will be no registration changes allowed after March 6.

The main problem with the new system is that students will be incentivized to not cancel a test, even if they do not feel prepared. In essence, College Board is setting thousands of students up for failure.

College Board provided a rationale for their decision: they claimed that in schools with fall registration, “students are more engaged and less likely to give up — meaning they are more likely to earn a score that will translate to college credit.” 

The considerate College Board also kindly provided some statistics to prove their point. Or did they?

Comparing the test results of students that piloted the new system during 2017-2018 to those of students using the normal registration system,  College Board wrote, “We saw an increase in scores of 3 or higher across multiple groups. Moving the time of registration made a difference across the board, but it had the strongest effect for students who are traditionally underrepresented in AP.”

But that’s only half of the story. While the number of passing scores among low-income students increased by 20 percent, the number of failing scores among the same demographic increased by 44 percent. Therefore, in reality, the overall pass rate decreased from 39.7 to 35.7 percent between 2017 and 2018 according to Total Registration. So, essentially, more students are taking the test, only to fail in the end.

For low-income students, backing out of a $110 investment with only a 64 percent refund is extremely difficult. So, the total number of students that end up taking the exam increases, including students that are simply not ready. In fact, Total Registration found that the failure rate of additional low-income exams under the new registration system was 76.4 percent.

Additionally, most classes get harder as the year goes on. A student can perform excellently during first semester, but might not understand the concepts presented during second semester or be able to keep up with the increasing workload. If forced to sign up before even half the content on the AP test is covered, students may be forced to take a test that they simply aren’t ready for.

Take AP Chemistry, for example. The exam covers topics ranging from stoichiometry to thermodynamics. With such diversity within a course, a student may be able to understand intermolecular forces extremely well and feel ready to take the exam, only to struggle with equilibrium later on during the year.

The change by itself provides little value, since students generally go into an AP class with an initial idea of whether they want to take the AP test or not. If they do, then they will be equally engaged regardless of whether they are officially registered with College Board. However, the key word to underline here is “idea,” since students can easily change their mind as they get further into the class.

Also, giving up is not a bad thing and should not be discouraged by late fees: If a student is struggling, not taking the test is a better idea than taking the test and failing. Oftentimes, students won’t know whether or not they are struggling until much later on in the curriculum. With the new system, students have to make a decision after covering only a tiny portion of the total material.

One last thing to consider are the seniors who are applying to colleges. Under the previous deadline, students who apply early to colleges will know which APs their college accepts by March and only need to sign up for tests that will earn them college credit. With the new system, seniors have to sign up for APs that the college they are going to might not even accept, earning College Board more revenue without a valid reason.

The additional revenue that College board is earning is significant. Considering that 3,924 more students took AP exams in 2018, the pilot year, than in 2017 and assuming that each test costs $100, that is an additional $400,000. And that’s without even considering late fees, cancellations, and course materials that the College Board sells to schools.

Ultimately, the new system simply drags more students into taking tests that they are not ready for or perhaps don’t even want, while providing no inherent benefits in terms of college readiness. The only true beneficiary of the new policy is the College Board, which is sure to add millions more in profits.