Technical difficulties derail AP Spanish Language and Culture exam

Students unable to record speaking portion of test due to confusion regarding audio recording program “Audacity”

Every May, dozens of students file into various rooms at Palo Alto High School to take the Advanced Placement Spanish Language and Culture Exam. This year, while most finished the test and left between 12:30 and 1:00 p.m., a small group of students had to stay behind, on hold with College Board for over an hour, waiting to take the speaking part of the test again.

The test is comprised of two sections, each worth 50 percent of the final score. Section I consists of multiple choice questions based on listening and reading passages, while Section II is comprised of a free response, in which there are two writing responses and two speaking activities. The problems began with the speaking activities.

In order to record the spoken words of AP test takers, Paly-distributed computers are equipped with Audacity, an audio recording program. However, for some students, the audio never recorded after they pressed the record button on their computers, resulting in further confusion over which buttons to press in order to record.

“I would press the record button and it wouldn’t record,” sophomore Eoin O’Farrell said. “By the time we got it working, it was mid-way through the speaking bit.”

According to O’Farrell, around 12 students from various rooms who had issues recording the speaking section were taken into the same room after the other students were released.

“First off, they had to call the College Board to check if we could even redo it,” O’Farrell said. “We called up and were put on hold for about an hour. Then after, [the College Board] told us that we might have to do the whole second part [free response] again. After about an hour and a half, they said we could do the listening bit alone, so they put us all in one classroom and made us do it over.”

While the students were able to retake the sections they were not able to record properly, many other students had difficulty with the program which elongated the test. Even though they were eventually able to record, many classes had to get help with setting up Audacity and getting the headphones to correctly record the audio, among other things.

“Once we had finished the reading, listening and writing portions of the test, we thought we only had about 20 more minutes left to do the speaking portion,” junior Kelly Swanson said. “It ended up taking about 45 minutes just to get the computer set up so that we could be able to take the 20 minute test.

“College Board had sent CDs for us to record on, but the Macbooks at Paly are the newer version and do not have CD drives. We had to set up the recording application, Audacity, which took a long time but could have gone quicker if teachers and other staff had helped set it up beforehand.”

The many issues encountered using Audacity to record the audio portion of the test raises questions about how the test could be better administered going forward to prevent a repeat of this years’ problems.

“I think the system and methods should be tested before being used each year and instead of having a slideshow showing us how to set up our computers, they should already be set up so that we do not end up staying until 1:30 or 2:00 in the afternoon,” Swanson said.

O’Farrell feels the use of a more simplistic audio program would solve the complication problem.
“Maybe [we shouldn’t] use Audacity,” O’Farrell said.