Take a HEIC: Make Sure AP and Other Test Uploads Work from Your iPhone and iPad

Originally published at: https://tidbits.com/2020/05/21/take-a-heic-make-sure-ap-and-other-test-uploads-work-from-your-iphone-and-ipad/

Apple adopted the space-saving HEIC image-package format early. That choice, coupled with a poorly coded test submission site from the College Board, caused problems for students taking Advanced Placement tests this year. Here’s how to avoid trouble.

This student failed the AP test because of this issue:

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I think there should be finer control when sharing photos in iOS. When you share a web page, there’s a little “options…” link that provides access to different sharing formats (link-only, Reader or PDF). It should be the same with Photos. If your default format is HEIC, you should have the option when you share to do so in a compatible format.


So, Glenn…what if you go to Settings > Camera and there is no “Formats” choice?

I’m on iOS 13.5 with a 6S,

Same here on my 2016 SE. I suspect only newer iPhones have camera hardware that justifies additional format options like HEIC.

The 6s does not support HEIC. iPhone 7 or later for iPhones.

Now I get it.
Thanks Doug and Simon!

Straight from the College Board’s “Testing Guide,” which all students should have read and followed:

" * Acceptable file formats: .png, .jpg, .jpeg"

The real problem is that many students today, while expert at using their smart phones, have limited or no experience working on computers. Few know how to type (with more than just two thumbs). Few know common file formats (or even what a file format is). Few students know even how to change a file’s name: to many students, there is a listing “somewhere on the cloud,” preferably in “recent files” that they access. Folders? Organization? Drive space? Forget it!

That’s absolutely true (and I have a neighbor who teaches music at Ithaca College who rants about this regularly), but in this case, they’re not being tested on their technical skills. There are high school students as young as 14 who take AP classes in topics like music theory, art history, and psychology, so it’s definitely a stretch to assume that they’re all going to be capable of this. We went through this with Tristan during high school and he was pretty technically capable (plus he had extremely technically capable parents). We’re talking about kids—they might know a lot in some areas and be complete dopes in other ways.

What’s frustrating is that the College Board, an organization with over $1 billion in revenues, anticipated this problem but still opted to develop a testing system that couldn’t accept the industry-standard image formats used by some of the most popular devices in play. It’s a documented image format, not a Mars landing.


Learning basic computer skills is only a matter of exposure and experience. There are toddlers who figure out the electronics thrust onto them. Little kids now get smart phones and tablets. They often learn how to use them better than older folks simply through play (which is really the best way to learn).

Still, we as a society now expect adults to be able to use computers. Should we not prepare our youth with that knowledge? When I was a kid, all boys were required (I was fortunate enough) to take wood shop and metal shop. I was the last generation that had to learn how to use a slide rule (yes, I had a clip to hang it from my belt). Computers and typing should be considered required skills. It’s not an academic issue: it’s a skill issue.

As for the College Board, yes there were glitches, but they pivoted extremely fast in this pandemic. They have a worldwide constituency. The more variables introduced, the bigger their problems in this unprecedented event. I understand why they would limit submissions to a given list of file formats. Think of all the students who are in the Google Classroom environment. I imagine that they tried to attach .odt files or even just links to their files “somewhere.” Could it have been better? Yes. Could students have read and followed the rules? Yes.

We went to the moon and back in less than a decade back in the 1960s (I watched it live). Now, they are saying that to return, it will take longer than our effort in the 1960s. THAT is something I don’t get. We now know all of the unknowns and we have experience with so much more. That is the state of our nation. Going to Mars? Not anytime soon.

A friend of mine has a kid who got hit by this (Android phone) and it’s apparently not a minor inconvenience, as the test has to be taken again, studied for again, and paid for again. Very unfair when it was not like the student did anything wrong or tried to cheat in some way.

What I don’t get is why the accepted image format list is so short. What difference does it make? It would be trivial to feed a document into an automated conversion routine. (There are online ones that can convert thousands of formats.) This could be done post-process, if the system saved whatever file was sent to it instead of rejecting it (I’m not sure what actually happened with the submitted file).

I definitely don’t fault the students, as HEIC is used automatically on most recent devices and few users even know the image format changed. I often got bit by this in the past when I transferred files (photos and movies) from my phone to my Dropbox and later tried to view them on a Mac running an older OS and was stunned to see they wouldn’t open. I thought something had been corrupted at first, until I realized it was just HEIC. (Once I upgraded my OS many months later, suddenly those files were viewable.)

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One word about the longer time to get to the moon today: “Out-sourcing”

HEIC is far from an “industry standard” yet, and I’m not at all surprised that it was not on a list of common formats. But image conversion is extremely common and effective, and there was no reason to disallow any of the known modern formats.

I fear that ship sailed long ago. I wrote about the problem in TidBITS back in 2009.

Yes, but not by failing them on unrelated tests.

Your article provided extensive insights for the time. A decade later, not much has changed except phones, pads, and chromebooks (dumb laptops) have become more toy-like in the sense that they are closed environments. Yes, anyone can download and install applications (if they have been vetted by their respective hardware firms), but the core relationship of the operating system is roughly invisible and unavailable. And so, user skills continually dumb-down.

And that is where I have a huge beef with Apple. Now, In understand that their Mac business is dwarfed by iPhones. But, why in the world has Apple been on a relentless push to dumb-down Macintoshes in order to resemble iPhones more? Yes, I know that they want an easy on-ramp from iPhone users to Macs, but once they get to Macs, the functionality is now disjointed, unlimited, and perhaps most importantly, NOT FUN! Apple has become the man on the giant screen just before being hit by a sledgehammer!

I agree, and I don’t understand why the College Board didn’t prominently feature clear information about acceptable formatting in their instructions for submitting answers. Quite often when I fill out forms online and I did not do something correctly, the form will be flagged when I first attempted to submit it so I could fix it. Since the College Board positions itself as a technological leader in the education field, it’s the least they could have done.

Although about a million years have passed since I took the SAT test, I remember it was expensive to do so. Will the kids who got screwed have to pay to take the test again? Maybe the College Board just want to make a billion or two extra bucks? What about the kids who cannot afford to take the test a second time? It’s not like these kids have parents that can afford to shell out millions of $ to bribe College Board exam proctors like Felicity Huffman and others in the lifestyles of the rich and famous crowd did:

Every test has requirements. Imagine taking this test before the advent of computers and smart phones. Would students have had to drop their tests at the post office by a certain time? In that case, would we not have expected our students to know about postage stamps and how to deposit their mail into the correct mail slot? Right now with mail-in voting, we require voters to sign the backs of their envelopes (in California); otherwise, the ballot is invalid. We expect people to follow directions. If directions are clear, precise, and provided with sufficient advance notice, then there really is no excuse for not following directions.

In this case, testing for a college-level course requires knowing how to use a computer, or at least a smart phone and its camera as a proxy. If a student cannot perform those basic tasks, then are they ready for college? When I attended college (pre-personal computer days), my professor told us to bring blue books to our final exams. I had never heard what a blue book was. I certainly found out quickly (in pre-Google days). In today’s equivalent, many students just assume that someone will take care of the details if they do not invest the time to read and follow directions. Again, that is not college-level thinking or action.

I teach only five class periods. For this year, that’s about 140 students. During this distance learning environment, I have had students submit files to me as e-mail attachments. The results have been chaos. Many students have no idea what “files” are. Literally! Students type answers on screen and then use their phones to take pictures of their computer screens and send me those (enormously large) photo files. Others send odd file formats. Others send links to cloud-based drives that require passwords I do not have. And, I am dealing with just a small number of students in the same geographic area.

Now, extrapolate those problems to tens of thousands of students around the world! If the College Board did not limit or standardize their submission to a well-publicized and common list of file formats, they would have been met with a tsunami of disparate materials, all of which are required to be read by paid readers (high school and college teachers) spread around the country and who themselves have their own personal computers to deal with.

Given the short time available to develop alternate plans, it is perfectly reasonable for the College Board to have limited the file types. They clearly publicized the allowable types well in advance and even offered practice upload sessions. I don’t personally know any students who participated in the practice sessions, and only a fraction of my students actually practiced writing FRQs (free-response questions) prior to the exam. Why? I can’t tell you.

The College Board did what you asked…if students bothered to read the instructions. The problem, I am guessing, is that many (most?) students nowadays have no idea what formats their files are in. See the attached graphic.