Tips on Proctoring AP’s (with Audacity)

We know proctoring AP language exams can be a stressful time for everyone involved: students, proctor, and IT.

To help alleviate stress, College Board has released an official guide on how to use Audacity, a free audio tool for Windows/Mac, to capture student’s oral responses during the exam (official CB guide link).

What’s missing from this guide are common problems that could happen on test day. Our years of experience with the exam have exposed us to all kinds of problems that could happen and ways to prevent them. So why not share them?

In this blog post, we will address these problems, our tips, and our recommendations to make test day as smooth as possible with Audacity.

This post is broken down into problems that could occur for:

  • IT team
  • Students
  • Proctor

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Before we begin, here are some links to familiarize yourself with:

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Common Issues and Tip & Tricks for IT Team:

 Tips: Classroom setup prior to exam

  • Make sure each computer has a functional headset attached
  • Proctor has device to play out College Board’s AP audio CD
    • If using a computer, make sure that the proctor can log into the machine
    • If using a computer, make sure the computer has a working CD drive
  • Speakers are loud enough to be heard by all students
  • Each student is sitting at least 8 feet away from each other
  • Provide proctor with a backup device to save student recordings (USB, external hard drive, etc.)

Tips: Computer setup prior to exam

  • All computers should be plugged in (especially laptops)
  • Install Audacity and put shortcut on desktop
  • Make sure headset is plugged into the computer (and mic is not muted)
  • Select the correct input/output source on the computer
  • Select the correct input/output source in Audacity
  • All students should be able to log into the computers
  • If IT team wants students to save recording on desktop, student should have write access
  • Turn off power-saving settings (ie. screensaver, etc) to prevent accidental log-out during the exam
  • Ensure recordings saved on desktop are not deleted if students log-out of the computer
  • In order for Audacity to save file as .MP3, LAME compression library must be installed.

Tips: After examination

  • Student recordings are in .MP3 format
    • If student recordings are not saved as .MP3, open student’s Audacity project and save them as .MP3.
  • Each student’s recording must be burned onto CD as a “Data CD” and not as an “Audio CD”
  • Have enough CD-Rs available for submission to College Board

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Common Issues and Tips for Students:

Problem: Audacity is not capturing student recordings

Solution:

  • Some headsets have a mute button. Make sure the mute button has not been accidentally pressed.
  • Make sure the correct input source is selected in Audacity.

 Problem: Audacity captures student recordings but I can barely hear it…

Solution:

  • Make sure the volume on your computer is turned up
  • Make sure the student is close to and is recording into the microphone and not any other device. Try to use a headset with a microphone instead of the computer’s internal microphone.
  • Make sure the headset is calibrated properly. In Mac, go to “System Preferences” then “Sound” then “Input” tab and make sure the correct input source is selected and the input volume is adjusted accordingly.

Problem: Which button do I press to record?

Solution:

  1. When you first start the “stimulated conversation” section of the AP exam, you will hear a prompt in the audio: “Now press record…” Students will then press “record” in Audacity. DO NOT press the “stop” button again until the end of “cultural comparison” portion of the exam or the end of the exam.

CAVEAT: Accidentally pressing record after stopping (not pausing) a previous recording will create (2) separate soundtracks as shown below. When this happens, you will have to save each soundtrack as a separate .MP3 file and then combine then into a single .MP3 file before submission to the CB.

  1. To stop recording between the “stimulated conversation” and “cultural comparison” sections, simply pause the recording by pressing “pause” button even if the audio CD prompt asks you to press stop to stop recording. To start recording again for “cultural comparison depress “pause” button to continue recording. Again, only press “stop” button at the very end of the exam.
  2. At end of “cultural comparison” section, finally press “stop” button to stop your recording.

Problem: How do I export the audio file?

Solution:

  • In Audacity, click “File”, “Export”, then make sure to choose .MP3 and not .WAV

  • Then save it as your 8 digit AP number in the appropriate folder (e.g., 12345678.mp3)
  • Also, save the Audacity project in that folder just in case the audio was not processed properly. To save project, click “File” and “Save Project”.

Problem: What is this error message I see when I try to save my recording as .MP3? 

Solution:

  • LAME MP3 encoder is not installed on your computer. Audacity cannot save audio file as .MP3. Contact your proctor or IT staff. See instructions in the early part of this post for how to install LAME.
  • If proctor or IT team is not available, hit “cancel” for now and save your project. Do not close out of Audacity, log-out or restart your computer

Other tips:

  • Do not log out or restart your computer after you are finished with the exam
  • Do not label your .MP3 with any other information except your 8 digit AP number
  • Stay calm, you are almost done with your AP exam!

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Common Issues and Tips for Proctors:

Problem: Audio playback (ie. skipping, etc.)

Solution:

  • If using computer to playback audio, make sure that computer has a working CD drive.
  • Have a backup device in case CD drive skips
  • Ensure all students (including those in the back of the classroom) can hear the audio CD over their headsets
  • Play audio cd using external speakers if possible

 Tips: File collection

  • Ask students to label their audio recording with their 8 digit AP number instead of their names
  • Ask students to save file as .MP3. If .WAV or any other format, ask student to re-save the file as .MP3 or open up student’s Audacity project and re-save file as .MP3.
  • Ask students to save their audio file in designated folder
  • Before leaving the exam room, collect a backup copy of each student’s recording (ie. on flashdrive, network drive etc.)

 Tips: Preparing recording CD for submission

  • Ask students to name their recordings as their 8 digit AP number
  • Burn CD for submission as “Data CD” and not “Audio CD.” For macs, instructions to make a “Data CD” can be found here https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT1328
  • Double-check to see if student audio is on the CD after cd-writing is complete
  • Affix the appropriate 8 digit AP number to CD

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All the best with APs! Rock them! Tweet or contact us if you have any questions!

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