They will be much shorter than usual, just 45 minutes each. They will be available to take online at home, or at school if authorities permit. And they will be monitored through security measures to deter cheating.
The Advanced Placement exams will go on, through extraordinary procedures announced Friday, even though the coronavirus pandemic has produced education disruption and chaos nationwide.
More than 2.8 million students last year took the tests in subjects such as biology and world history. Typically the tests are two to three hours long. Those who earn scores of 3 or better on the 5-point AP scale are often able to secure college credit. But this year, it is anyone's guess how many will participate.
Skeptics wonder how students without access to reliable Internet, computers or quiet workspaces will be able to study for these tests and get a fair shot at the possibility of earning college credit. The College Board, which oversees the program, acknowledged the challenge.
"We recognize that the digital divide could prevent some low-income and rural students from participating," the nonprofit testing organization said in a statement. "Working with partners, we're investing so these students have the tools and connectivity they need to review AP content online and take the exam."
But some educators and counselors remain worried.
"I don't want our children, especially first-generation low-income students, to be intimidated about taking these tests," said Sanjay Mitchell, coordinator of college and alumni programs for Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School in the District of Columbia. "I don't want them to risk their health and sanity just to be able to take the tests, so they can ultimately, maybe get some college credit."
Mitchell, whose school serves a significant number of disadvantaged students in the nation's capital, said many of them live in situations where it is hard to carve out the time "to really sit and do this without getting interrupted, without falling into a lot of distractions."
He viewed a College Board online presentation on the testing plan Thursday evening. "It heightened my concerns," Mitchell said afterward in a text message. "And made me more skeptical."
This week, the large and influential University of California system gave a vote of confidence to the College Board's effort to rescue the AP exams. "UC recognizes the effort that students have already applied in these challenging courses and will award UC credit for 2020 AP exams completed with scores of 3, 4 or 5, consistent with previous years," the university said Wednesday.
In a message to high schools, the College Board spelled out Friday how exams will be structured and held.
They will be given from May 11 to 22, with each subject taken on the same day at the same time worldwide.
There will be makeup sessions for each test from June 1 to 5.
Most exams will have one or two free-response questions, and each question will be timed separately. Students must submit answers within the time allotted for each question.
Students will be able to take exams on computers, tablets or smartphones. They can either type and upload responses or write them by hand and submit a photo via cellphones.
There will be special arrangements for assessing students in art, foreign language and certain other subjects.
The College Board said the exams will be "open book/open note," but students will not be allowed to consult others during the test.
"We'll take the necessary steps to protect the integrity of each exam administration, as we do every year," the organization said. "We're confident that the vast majority of AP students will follow the rules for taking the exams. For the small number of students who may try to gain an unfair advantage, we have a comprehensive and strict set of protocols in place to prevent and detect cheating."