Exactly How Hard Are AP Tests and Classes? (2024)

Exactly How Hard Are AP Tests and Classes? (1)

Sure, they can help you get college credit and make your transcript more impressive. But are AP tests hard?

The answer isn't an easy yes or no. You need to consider many factors, including your own academic strengths, your school, and national score statistics. We'll guide you through these different factors and help you decide for yourself how hard AP tests will be!

The AP Test Versus the AP Class

There are two factors to consider when deciding how hard an AP subject is: the difficulty of the AP exam itself, and how the AP class is taught at your high school. Your score on the exam will affect whether you can get college credit for the class. Your grade in the class will affect your GPA and overall transcript impressiveness.

For example, if you're wondering, "Is AP Biology hard?", the answer depends on a few factors. AP Biology could be a very tough course at one high school but an easy A at another, depending on the teacher and curriculum.

The exams, however, are pretty similar year to year. Some are harder than others, though your experience will depend on your personal strengths.

In general, all AP classes are challenging and the exams are difficult, since they're meant to be at the same level of an introductory college class. That said, we'll explore some factors that could make an AP class and test harder or easier.

Exactly How Hard Are AP Tests and Classes? (2)

How Hard Is It to Pass an AP Exam?

Earning a passing score (3+) on the AP test proves that you mastered the material and are able to study for a college-style cumulative exam. Doing well on the AP exam can help you get college credit and give your college applications a boost.

It's important to think about how hard an AP exam might be for you before signing up for the class. The average passing rate is around 65%, so your odds of passing an AP exam are generally good. However, just because the odds are in your favor, that doesn't mean you can slack off—far from it, in fact!

The odds of passing with a 5—the highest score—are quite low on any exam: between 10% and 20% for most tests. They are even lower for popular tests, such as AP English Lit and AP Environmental Science, which have 5 rates below 10%. This is likely because a wider pool of exam takers results in more less-prepared students taking the test.

Check out the table below to see the 2022 passing rates for all AP exams:

Exam Name

Passing Rate (3+)

5 Rate

Art and Design: Drawing

88%

15%

Chinese Language and Culture (Total Group)

87%

49%

Art and Design: 2-D Design

87%

11%

Seminar

83%

12%

Research

83%

13%

Spanish Language and Culture (Total Group)

82%

24%

Spanish Language and Culture (Standard Group)

78%

16%

English Literature and Composition

78%

17%

Calculus BC

77%

41%

Japanese Language and Culture (Total Group)

75%

49%

Art and Design: 3-D Design

74%

6%

Physics C: Mechanics

73%

26%

French Language and Culture (Total Group)

72%

13%

Italian Language and Culture (Total Group)

71%

23%

Gov. and Politics - Comparative

71%

16%

Physics 2

70%

16%

Physics C: Electricity & Magnetism

69%

32%

French Language and Culture (Standard Group)

69%

8%

Computer Science A

68%

27%

Biology

68%

15%

Italian Language and Culture (Standard Group)

66%

11%

German Language and Culture (Total Group)

66%

20%

Chinese Language and Culture (Standard Group)

65%

16%

Computer Science Principles

64%

11%

Spanish Literature

64%

8%

Music Theory

62%

19%

Art History

62%

14%

World History

62%

13%

Statistics

61%

15%

Microeconomics

59%

18%

European History

59%

14%

German Language and Culture (Standard Group)

58%

8%

Psychology

58%

17%

Latin

57%

11%

English Language and Composition

56%

10%

Calculus AB

56%

20%

Japanese Language and Culture (Standard Group)

54%

16%

Chemistry

54%

13%

Environmental Science

54%

9%

Human Geography

53%

15%

Macroeconomics

52%

16%

Gov. and Politics - United States

49%

12%

United States History

48%

11%

Physics 1

43%

8%

Source: College Board. For language rates, "Total" includes all students, while "Standard" includes only those students who didn't indicate they speak this language at home or spent more than four weeks studying it abroad.

Note that a lot of AP classes self-select for motivated students or students with experience in a subject—especially the ones with very high pass rates, such as Chinese, Calculus BC, and Spanish. Even though these exams have high pass rates, they're often viewed as some of the hardest AP classes to pass.

Also, notice that exams with some of the lowest passing rates, such as Environmental Science and Human Geography, are ones many students say are the easiest. These exams have lower passing rates because younger high school students who are less prepared for AP tests often take these classes. In addition, many students simply underestimate them and don't study enough. As a result, these exams can be easier to pass, but you have to be prepared to study and not expect to pass without some hard work.

If you are studying for a test with a particularly low pass or 5 rate, be sure to do plenty of multiple-choice and free-response practice so you can get that top score. Also, consult our scoring guide to learn how to come up with a target raw score while practicing.

Furthermore, instead of just going off the pass rate table only, think about the subjects you've traditionally been strong at—these will likely be easier APs for you to pass.

On the other hand, if there is a subject you've always struggled with, the AP exam in it will likely be hard for you, even if it seems as though a lot of students are able to pass it every year.

How Hard Are AP Classes?

So what about the classes themselves? Is AP Chemistry hard? Is AP Psychology hard? How about Statistics or English?

How hard an AP class itself will be for you is important to consider. In general, a B in an AP class is more impressive than an A in a regular course. However, if your GPA is getting dragged down by a bunch of AP classes, that's not the best outcome either.

After all, your GPA is very important in college admissions and is used to calculate your chance at getting scholarships, too. Therefore, you want to make sure that you challenge yourself but don't spread yourself too thin.

Exactly How Hard Are AP Tests and Classes? (4)

Of course, getting an A in an AP class is ideal.

The difficulty of an AP class will depend on your school and its grading policy (some schools weigh AP classes so getting lower than an A won't necessarily drop your GPA below a 4.0).

AP class difficulty also varies a lot from teacher to teacher. Some teachers won't assign a lot of work but will expect you to study on your own. Others will keep you busy with nightly assignments, practice tests, and projects.

As an example, I took both World History and US History AP courses in high school. Both AP tests are considered difficult: you have to learn a ton of material and also be able to write quality free-response answers in a short amount of time.

However, even though the tests were similarly hard, these two AP history classes were taught very differently at my school. For AP World History, we were given reading assignments out of the textbook and unit tests, but there were not many daily assignments or projects. Basically, we were expected to keep up with the material on our own, and, as a result, I had to independently handle much of my own studying for the test.

For US History, we had textbook readings, outlines, vocabulary lists, and research projects. Our teacher also held many after-school and Saturday study sessions. The class itself kept me very busy, but the assignments were important practice for the AP test, and so there was less I had to do on my own.

World History was fairly easy to get an A in but a tough test to pass. By contrast, US History was tough to get an A in and a tough test to pass.

There is no right way to teach an AP class. But as a student, you should be aware of your strengths and limitations. Do you do better directing your own studying, or is it helpful for you to have daily assignments to force you to stay on top of things? Being able to answer this question will help you choose AP classes that play to your strengths, and also let you get good grades and pass the exam.

In general, there is a lot of material to cover in AP classes, so they tend to be more challenging than regular classes—especially courses like AP Calculus, AP Biology, AP Physics, US and World History, and English. These are all much harder than their regular or honors equivalents.

Some exceptions are AP US Government, which some schools cover in a semester because there is less material, and AP Environmental Science, which has less memorization than AP Biology and AP Chemistry do.

Still, how hard any one AP class will be ultimately depends on your school and the teacher. Find out about the teacher and curriculum of an AP class before signing up to make sure it's a good fit for you and your study style. (See our post on which AP class you should take to learn more about scoping out classes.)

Exactly How Hard Are AP Tests and Classes? (5)

How to Decide Whether an AP Class Is Too Hard for You

It's often difficult to determine whether an AP class will be too difficult for you. Here are some tips to lend you a hand for both before and after you sign up for an AP class.

Before You Sign Up for an AP Class ...

#1: Think About the Classes You've Already Taken

For example, in order to take AP Biology, most schools require students to take regular or honors biology first. The more background knowledge you have of a certain subject, the more likely you'll do well in its corresponding AP class.

If you don't have a ton of prerequisites for an AP class, think carefully about whether the class will be out of your reach. It'd be very tough to take on, say, AP Physics, if you've never taken a physics course before!

#2: Can You Find a Copy of the AP Syllabus?

Looking at the AP class's current syllabus can help you find out what the workload is like and how the teacher integrates practice AP exams into the course. You can also talk to current students and ask about their experiences in the class.

#3: Find Out the Passing Rate for the AP Test at Your School

If the passing rate for the AP test is low, recognize that you might have to put in a lot of work on your own in order to pass it. If it's a high pass rate, though, that's a good sign that the teacher has a strong AP-prep curriculum in place.

#4: See Whether There's a Summer Assignment

Many AP classes kick off with work over the summer. If you already have summer plans that will make it hard to complete the work, think carefully about whether you can fit that class into your schedule.

Exactly How Hard Are AP Tests and Classes? (6)
Past you may owe present you an apology for taking on a tough AP class.

After You Sign Up for an AP Class ...

#1: Evaluate How Things Are Going at Your First Midterm

What's your grade so far in the class? How are you doing with the teacher's style? How well are you getting the material? Consider dropping to the regular class if you are seriously struggling, but try to push through the first marking period. Just make sure that you don't pass your school's class- change deadline!

#2: Reevaluate at the End of the First Term

If, by the end of the first quarter/trimester, your grade hasn't improved or you don't think you are understanding the material, seriously consider dropping to the regular version of the course. It's not worth taking the AP exam if you're certain you won't pass—and it's definitely not worth damaging your GPA over an AP test you won't pass!

#3: Before Dropping, Explore Extra Resources

Don't just drop an AP class right away; rather, try to explore other resources available to you, such as in-school tutoring, private tutoring, online resources, and study groups.

If meeting with a study group once a week or doing your own online practice problems helps you keep up with an AP class, then consider pushing through.

However, if you try adding an outside resource and are still seriously struggling to understand the material and make it through the class, it's better to just drop to regular and focus your efforts on other advanced classes.

What's Next?

Read our guides to learn more about AP tests, such as how long they are and how can you deal with exhaustion. Also, learn about how AP tests are scored. The first step to getting a 5 is finding out the minimum raw score you need to earn one!

Have you taken the ACT or SAT yet? Not sure which one you'll do best on? Read our guide to choose the test that's right for you.

If you've taken the SAT and want to improve your score, check out our guides to improving your Reading, Writing, and Math scores.

Taking the ACT instead? Learn the vocabulary you need to know, all the most important grammar rules, and how to write an ACT essay.

Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!

Exactly How Hard Are AP Tests and Classes? (8)

Halle Edwards

About the Author

Halle Edwards graduated from Stanford University with honors. In high school, she earned 99th percentile ACT scores as well as 99th percentile scores on SAT subject tests. She also took nine AP classes, earning a perfect score of 5 on seven AP tests. As a graduate of a large public high school who tackled the college admission process largely on her own, she is passionate about helping high school students from different backgrounds get the knowledge they need to be successful in the college admissions process.

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Exactly How Hard Are AP Tests and Classes? (2024)

FAQs

Exactly How Hard Are AP Tests and Classes? ›

Generally, all AP classes and tests are very challenging. They are designed to be at the same level as an introductory college class.

Are AP classes actually hard? ›

AP classes can be challenging, but that doesn't mean you're not up to the task. If you're willing to work hard and if you're prepared academically, you should be able to succeed in an AP course. And remember, students benefit from taking AP courses and exams no matter their score.

How difficult are the AP exams? ›

In general, AP exams are considered challenging and are designed to test students' knowledge and understanding of college-level coursework. The exams cover a wide range of subjects including math, science, social studies, English, and foreign languages.

What AP class has the hardest exam? ›

10 hardest AP Exams evaluated by pass rate
AP Exam NamePass Rate (Score of 3 or Higher)Percentage of students who scored 5
1. Physics 145%8%
2. United States History48%11%
3. United States Government & Politics49%13%
4. Environmental Science53%8%
7 more rows
May 28, 2024

Are AP classes harder than A level? ›

A-levels are known to be more difficult than APs due to their in-depth nature and lengthier content. AP (Advanced Placement) courses, on the other hand, are part of the American educational system and tend to be more flexible, allowing students to take a broader range of subjects.

Is it OK to fail an AP class? ›

What happens if you fail an AP class? If you fail an AP class, then your GPA will likely drop as it would for a normal class. This grade also shows up on your transcript. However, you may be able to retake the class the following year to raise your grade and increase your GPA.

Is getting a 1 on AP exam bad? ›

The College Board has observed that students who get a score of 1 or 2 on their exams tend to do better on future AP exams, meaning that even if you score a 1 or 2, there's still a benefit to it!

Why do so many students fail AP exams? ›

“The students need to recheck the practice material throughout the semester to see if what they're learning in class seems to mesh with what they'll be asked on the exam. Students who aren't in touch with the pending exam questions are blindsided by low exam grades after succeeding in the course itself.”

Is it OK to get a 4 on an AP exam? ›

For these reasons, an AP® score like a 4 looks great on your application. If you score a 3 or higher, then more selective colleges will begin to accept your AP® exam scores. The score of 4 is deemed by the College Board as “well qualified”, meaning that you know the material and could do well in the college class.

What is the least passed AP class? ›

At many high schools, AP Physics is notorious for its difficulty level. In addition, it has the lowest overall pass rate of any AP exam.

What is the most popular AP class? ›

According to the College Board, AP English Language and Composition is the most popular AP class. This AP course was taken by 520,771 students in 2022. AP United States History, AP Psychology, AP Calculus AB, and AP Spanish Language and Culture follow after it respectively.

How hard are AP classes really? ›

AP courses are more difficult than the usual high school class and also require passing an AP exam at the end of the year to gain the college credit. These exams are very specific tests on everything you've learned in your AP class that year. They are the summation, the end cap to your entire time in that class.

Is 4 AP classes too little? ›

Aim for four to eight AP exams in your junior and senior years. For competitive Ivy League schools, admission officers also want to see AP courses for core subject areas and additional courses. If possible, aim to pass about seven to 12 AP exams if applying to these highly selective schools.

Is AP chem or physics harder? ›

Based on College Board pass rates, AP Physics 1 is more difficult than AP Chemistry.

Are AP classes really worth it? ›

Students looking to earn admission to highly selective colleges should take multiple AP classes to bolster their applications and demonstrate they can handle challenging coursework. Some college admissions experts recommend taking as many as 7-12 AP courses before applying to the most elite universities.

Do colleges really look at AP classes? ›

Colleges and universities use AP exam scores as a factor in the admissions process, but they do so while considering them alongside the student's GPA, extracurricular activities, and other application information. Said differently, AP exam scores are just one factor in making admissions decisions.

Are AP classes hard for freshman? ›

The workload for an AP class is immense and a lot to take on, especially when transitioning from middle school.

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