On May 10, just a few days before Advanced Placement tests were scheduled to begin for high-schoolers around the world, a Reddit user, Dinosauce313, created a new subreddit, APTests2020. Its stated purpose? “A community of students taking the 2020 AP Exams and wanting to use online resources while doing so.” As a result of coronavirus, all AP testing has moved online this year. Students are taking modified, shorter versions of the traditional tests, and this year’s iterations are open-book. Using class notes, or even Googling during the test, is kosher. The College Board, the organization that administers the exams, says wasting time doing so will not ultimately be beneficial given the way the truncated tests are written. What is not kosher, however, is conferring with another person during the exam. So Dinosauce313’s proposed efforts would be grounds for consequences, should any students get caught participating in a collective testing scheme.
Some things about Dinosauce313 didn’t strike other Redditors, namely real high-schoolers preparing for their exams, quite right. The account was created at the beginning of April, just a few weeks before the subreddit’s debut, and spoke in a lexicon that read more how do you do, fellow kids than, well, “How do you do, fellow kids.” On several social platforms, a theory began brewing: Dinosauce313 was actually a College Board employee setting a honey trap to catch would-be cheaters and disqualify them. The College Board had previously announced it would be using “digital security tools to detect plagiarism,” a nebulous description that some interpreted to mean this alleged sting. “No teenager speaks like this,” one TikTok user said in a video, breaking down the College Board’s alleged actions. The same day the APTests2020 subreddit was created, Trevor Packer, the senior vice-president of Advanced Placement and instruction at the College Board, tweeted that the organization had “just cancelled the AP exam registrations of a ring of students who were developing plans to cheat, and we’re currently investigating others.”
A spokesperson for the College Board directed Vulture to the company’s policies on online testing security. There it says the College Board “will be monitoring social media and discussion sites to detect and disrupt cheating” and “may post content designed to confuse and deter those who attempt to cheat.” The spokesperson also told Vulture the College Board “is not setting up accounts and starting discussion or social-media threads encouraging students to cheat, such as the ‘Dinosauce313’ account or r/APTests2020.” Still, some high-schoolers remain unconvinced. “I know that they are tricking people with accounts they have made to click on Google forms so that it traces who was cheating,” Kayla, a junior from Texas, said of rumors she’d heard. Even if the sting isn’t real, the distrust high schoolers feel towards the College Board is — and many remain convinced the College Board is behind Dinosauce313. “Don’t even try it, y’alls curriculum literally taught us how to find all of your accounts,” one Twitter user said.
Interactions with Dinosauce313 on Reddit quickly became a resounding chorus of “okay, boomer.” That prompted the user to double down on trying to prove itself otherwise by posting Drake and Bernie Sanders memes —which only made the chorus grow louder. Seemingly no one interacting with Dinosauce313 was under the impression it was actually a student looking to cheat on AP tests. Instead, other users in the subreddit responded with their own memes and jokes, giving a digital middle finger to the College Board. “It truly is sad how it’s almost like College Board wants kids to cheat in order to fail them by making up ‘resources’ and putting out fake information online when they explicitly said that it is ok to use your class notes and even the internet during the exam,” Victor, a senior student from New Jersey, said. Another new account, fuckdinosauce313, later appeared in the APTests2020 subreddit, claiming to be trying to lead a coup to take over the community and “really fuck over the College Board.” It promised roughly the same thing: Anonymity and a way to game the 2020 AP system.
One high-schooler, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said they came to the sub after learning about it first on TikTok. “I checked out their [Dinosauce313’s] posts and they definitely seemed fishy, like someone trying to sound like a teenager. I wanted to see if it was really College Board so I sent him a PM saying, ‘hey I want to join for my AP US history test, this is the link right?’” The link the user sent was a Grabify link, meaning when Dinosauce313 clicked it, the student claims they were able to see the account’s IP information. (The user’s account has since been suspended from Reddit, likely for posting said information and violating Reddit’s content policy around posting personal information.) Results of this attempt to catch Dinosauce313 and link the account to the College Board were, however, inconclusive and the alleged connection appeared, at best, coincidental. Still, these details only fueled the fire online.
Reddit wasn’t the only home of these conspiracies. Over on Twitter, theories swirled about a different account — the now-deleted @wishxart — that students believed was also the College Board masquerading as a test-taker. That account was created in May and counted the College Board among its followers, which raised suspicions for some. Its avatar photo, according to one Twitter user, was cribbed off Instagram. Sentiment toward the company among some students has grown incredibly hostile in recent weeks, creating a perfect environment for these theories to flourish. High-school students, who under regular circumstances would already be stressed out about their exams are finding themselves facing added anxieties — remote learning, confusion about what course materials would be on tests, access to appropriate technology — under the new testing structure.
To understand how these theories spread, picture a Venn diagram. On one side are teenage internet natives and on the other side are high-achieving high-schoolers. The overlap is a group of incredibly digitally literate students who are nervous about their transcripts and college futures, many of whom feel the College Board — the nonprofit organization that also oversees the SAT — is a greedy and monopolistic gatekeeper of higher education. (The base cost for one AP exam taken in the United States this year was $94, but some schools charge additional administration fees. Prices are higher for students in other countries.)
Frustrations with the College Board were only furthered by a growing number of students who faced problems with their online exams, finding themselves believing that the organization put more energy into smoking out cheaters than helping students trying to do things above board. Both Kayla and Victor told me they were among the many students who have reported technical difficulties submitting tests last week and now will be made to take their exams again later this spring. “I know of at least five students in my calculus class who had the same issue and will be requesting to retake the exam in June,” Victor said. He complained of browser lag, which made him “uneasy” while taking a timed test with a limited clock. “I tried to shake that feeling off and carried on taking the test.” When time came to submit his work on the first question, he was repeatedly greeted with an error pop-up. “I felt stressed and powerless, like a year’s worth of hard work just went down the drain,” he said.
“When we embarked on the effort to offer AP Exams online, we created tools to help guide users through this new experience. After the first few days of testing, our data show the vast majority of students successfully completed their exams, with less than 1 percent unable to submit their responses,” the College Board said, via a statement. “We share the deep disappointment of students who were unable to complete their exam — whether for technical issues or other reasons. We’re working to understand these students’ unique circumstances in advance of the June makeup Exams. Any student who encountered an issue during their Exam will be able to retest.”
“I tried calling their customer service multiple times but did not have any luck talking to a representative,” Jess, a student in New York who is scheduled to take four AP tests and, despite successful test runs, faced computer issues during her Calculus exam. “The only solution I was given online was to request for a makeup exam in June, which is unfair that I should have to wait that long, possibly forget information, and put myself through more stress because of their errors.”
Melissa Orendorff, a parent in Virginia, said her son also had problems with submitting the same exam. She’s one of over 15,000 people who have signed a petition asking the College Board to allow students to re-submit their completed exam work, with time stamps, rather than having them take the tests again in a month. “If the College Board trusts their students to not cheat on the exam that is online, the trust should also apply to the legitimacy of the time stamps,” Jess said.
Jess told me she doesn’t put much stock in the Dinosauce313 theories and has instead been focusing her energy on circulating a proposal she hopes the College Board will see, pleading the case for students, like herself, who feel it is unfair that they will have to take the tests a second time. “But I would say, if these rumors are true,” Jess added. “If they’re taking the time to make fake accounts to catch cheaters they should be making accounts to catch students in the same position that I am.”