AP Exams in 2015: What Changes to Expect

AP exam season is approaching — but this year is different. Some of the exams have changed in 2015.

Read on to find out about which exams have changed — and how those changes will affect your test-prep strategies and the testing experience itself.

U.S. History


The changes to the U.S. History exam, though not extensive, have been particularly contentious. Based on revisions to the curriculum that the exam covers, the new exam guidelines draw focus to minority experiences in America.

Proponents of the new test have argued that it places greater emphasis on critical historical inquiry and that it is not ideologically distinct from past exams. Critics from various states (including Georgia, Colorado, and Texas) have claimed that the new guidelines cast too negative a light on American history and fail to address many important historical moments adequately. Oklahoma has even proposed a ban on the new test because of these substantive changes.

Students taking the exam this May will be asked to undertake critical analyses, such as demonstrating their understanding of different perspectives on the same phenomenon.


In addition to revisions in the tested curriculum, the new exam also features some small structural changes. Students will now have 50 minutes to work on Section 1, Part B (short-answer questions) — an increase of five minutes. They will now have just 90 minutes to work on Section 2 (free response) — a decrease of five minutes. Some of the short-answer questions will require students to analyze historical source materials.

How to Prepare

These changes aren’t dramatic — but they will serve to make previous practice tests less representative of the current test. The College Board has released a new practice exam for students, as well as two new sets of practice questions for teachers. Students preparing for the new test should use these materials judiciously, as they are the only ones that reflect the new test. Older materials will still be useful for practice, as long as students take note that these will differ slightly in content content (including fewer questions on minority experiences) as well as format.

Physics 1 and 2


The former Physics B curriculum has undergone much more extensive changes. Physics B has been split into two distinct one-year courses: AP Physics 1 (find official resources here) and AP Physics 2 (find official resources here). AP Physics 1 is intended to correspond to the first semester of algebra-based college physics, while AP Physics 2 corresponds to the second semester of algebra-based college physics.


The new exams both have similar structures to their Physics B counterparts; the first half of each exam is a 90-minute section with 50 multiple-choice questions. There are 20 fewer questions than on the Physics B exam — meaning that students now have nearly two minutes to answer each question.

The second half of the Physics 1 exam consists of five short-answer questions (whereas Physics B included six or seven); the second half of the Physics 2 has four. In addition to having to answer fewer question in the same 90-minute time period, test-takers will now encounter a new question type: One question on each test will be an experimental design question that asks students to explain how they would set up an experiment, gather evidence for that experiment, and discover relevant areas of uncertainty.

How to Prepare

These radical changes in the test will make it very difficult to use previous tests to prepare, as the previous test covered content that is now split between two exams, but in less depth and detail. Old tests should be used cautiously and with the understanding that questions on the new test will cover subjects more thoroughly and will be written with the knowledge that students have substantially more time to work on each question. As a result, students should be particularly careful using the limited practices resources that College Board has provided to help them prepare for the new tests.

AP Seminar

A limited selection of schools will be participating in the new AP Seminar program. AP Seminar, a prerequisite to next year’s new AP Research course, is designed to be a small, interdisciplinary course that fosters creative thinking across traditional disciplinary boundaries. Details on the course and how the College Board plans to assess students can be found here.

Upcoming Changes

Stay tuned for updates about other upcoming changes. In the spring of 2016, the AP Art History, AP European History, and AP Research exams are changing. The following spring, look for new versions of the AP Calculus AB and BC, AP Computer Science Principles, and AP World History exams.

Final Thoughts

Whenever a test changes, the students who get the first new version of the test have the most difficult task as they prepare. The good news, though, is that everyone in your cohort has it equally rough — so the changes should not pose a huge disadvantage to you personally.

To ensure that you’re making the most of the available resources, use new practice materials judiciously. They are limited in number. Additionally, look at the resources that the College Board has provided to help you understand what content you can expect to see on the test. Finally, talk with you AP instructor(s).

APs have changes planned for the next two years, as well; stay informed about the schedule of changes.

Visit the Noodle page on AP courses for further information, where you can find authoritative articles and ask questions of Noodle Experts.